Making radical political and urban art in Tangiers is easy, as long as you don’t criticise, offend or upset either the reigning King or representatives from the Muslim faith. A collective of young political artists are finding their way slowly through this unusual paradigm and making art which is acerbic and has not yet led to terminal conflict with authorities.
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The Independent Border Art Factory has been open for 9 months in a large space overlooking the port. Situated some 50 meters from the hotel el Muniria, where William S Burroughs wrote The Naked Lunch in 1959, the atmosphere and energy would not be out of place in a western gallery. Managed by artist Azad Farishtah, who has recently moved from Montreal to Tangiers and through her own work is currently exploring issues of migration from sub-Saharan Africa, it provides space for other artists to both work and hold exhibitions and to sell work. It also facilitates opportunities for young creative entrepreneurs where graphic designers, web-designers, editors and writers can also share space there. Only several weeks ago it hosted a ‘multi-medium festival’ for artists of any genre to collaborate on a theme of Barzakh or ’Limbo’, specifically ‘how do borders (political, geographic, cultural) help to create or maintain a state of limbo’? It quickly becomes apparent that the name Border Art Factory refers unequivocally to political and cultural associations, wholly relevant to the migrant/refugee situation currently vexing Europe. In Tangier, as one of the most northern ports in Africa and closest to Europe, its relevance seems especially focussed.
Although referencing conventional and gender politics within a Muslim cultural landscape is undeniably difficult, perhaps anti-western sentiment is less difficult and possibly predictable. This and criticism also of other Arab states and their financially inter-dependent relationship with the west appears to exist in the work of French-Algerian artist Sonia Merazga. A large mural painted following a journey to Iran depicting the Shah with an image of Kim Kardashian holding a bottle of coca cola at his feet appears to roundly dismiss corporate western values. Another mural of a Saudi Arabian sheik with a petrol pump in his mouth and dollar signs forming the hood of his costume, with the words Power is Beauty, comments again upon materialism and a complicated economic inter-dependency. Although controversial these are sentiments which also exist in some quarters of the west.
Throughout the space large paintings, interesting and innovative installations and the assembled tools of artists provide a sense of a journey and progression. Photographer/videographer Ayoub Al Jamal and painter/sculptor Narjiss Jamoussi tell me a web site is being developed and that the collective are finding their feet. There is discussion of international links with other artists and art-houses and the name of artist Omar Mahfoudi is raised again and again, as examples of his art is pointed out to me. His large murals, tables created from tiled photographs and ripped paper, and installations, some controversial, are quickly sold. It seems he is also the co-founder, and works well with Azad.
The Independent Border Art Factory can be found at the edge of the Spanish Quarter. There are murals and graffiti on most of the streets outside and on a wall overlooking the port the words Border Tanger are written in large black paint. The address is Marina Building B, Ground Floor, Spanish Quarter, Tanger, Morocco. Although there is no current website, their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/borderartfactory?fref=ts and a series of youtube videos on the work of Omar Mahfoudi starts here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Higc9nrwDZc .