In response to an invitation for participating in the 4th Marrakech Biennale 2012, "jamaa / collective" was formed in Marrakech in 2012 by several individuals, both Moroccan and international. This statement (available in Arabic, English and French) — a short analysis of the proposed exhibition and a description of the artistic process — is part of what is essentially an intervention for the 4th Marrakech Biennale.
The blog elucidates the collective's activity and documents several activities:
Proposal. Statement. Interview. Conversation. (2012)
In response to an invitation for participating in the 4th Marrakech Biennale 2012,جماعة was formed in Marrakech in 2012 by several individuals, both Moroccan and international. This statement (available in Arabic, English and French) — a short analysis of the proposed exhibition and a description of the artistic process — is part of what is essentially an intervention for the 4th Marrakech Biennale.
London and Marrakech-based Vanessa Branson, the president of the Marrakech Biennale, Art’s patron, and owner of the boutique hotel Riad El-Fenn, announced a 4th Marrakech Biennale as an event that “builds cultural bridges” with anextraordinary exhibition. Branson opened the foreword to the Biennale’s catalogue by saying that “over the last two years we have come across many new arts organizations and collectives, and it as a pleasure to offer the biennale as a chance to show their work to a large international audience.” Marking the specific cultural milieu, she described Marrakech as the “the city [that] pulses with creative energy — down every alleyway of the historic Medina people are weaving, carving, welding, stitching and painting.” Branson emphasized that “independent of any state funding”; the Biennale is supported by patronage of those who help “simply by contributing time, energy and attention to the project.”
The Biennale’s curators Carson Chan and Nadim Samman proposed a major international exhibition — Higher Atlas referring to the mountain range visible from each of the exhibition venues — which engages in site- and context-specificity at several Marrakech Biennale locations. The curators “imagined an exhibition whose elements would be completely conceived in response to the site and physically produced in Marrakech. In this way…. the biennale could further satisfy its missionto produce international cultural bridges through an exhibition project while avoiding the pitfall of content-importation that is blind to context.” More than 30 international artists were invited to create new site-specific commissions conceived and created on location with local craftspeople and manufacturers to potentially “become part of a contemporary Moroccan cultural identity”. Artists from Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Reykjavík, Moscow, etc., as well as four artists from the African continent — amongst them three Moroccan artists — were offered weeklong research trips to identify the cultural and site-specific context, in particular the El Badi Palace. After a change of site to different venues across the city — which are explained by the organizers due to outcomes of a national election in Morocco and the political changes in the Maghreb and Middle East regions — some of those artists started to produce works in Marrakech in February 2012, while others installed new site-specific works just days before the opening.
“A bilingual publication was imperative” to increase the likelihood of public engagement, therefore, the Biennale’s catalogue, was published in English and French, and made available for 200Dhs (€20,00). In his introduction Let Me Entertain You: A Consideration of Context and Audience in Curating the 4th Marrakech Biennale, curator Carson Chan argues for a pure aesthetic experience offered to a local audience, and emphasizes that exhibitions as such are “powerful social technologies”. Higher Atlas, in particular, “seeks to be an exhibition conscious of the sociopolitical and artistic context in which it operates”, while being “a source of pleasure, if not entertainment”. Chan also argues for an egalitarian selection of Western artists pre-dominantly based in cities like Berlin, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Moscow, or Reykjavík, whose practices fall under the terms of site- and context-sensitivity. He states that in a globalized world today these newly created works become ultimately local for the time of the exhibition, since they might be interpreted, or enjoyed, by a local audience that has “traditionally been exposed to very little of it [contemporary art]”. Chan puts forward a proposition that “the artwork’s significance, far from being externally determined and imposed upon the viewer, is reformulated as a subjective construction, its meaning fathered by the viewer’s aesthetic and intellectual reaction to it. “ In other words, regardless of art’s authors or origins, “for the period of its exhibition, it [art] must be considered local.” Acknowledging a wider international audience of this event, coming from Western cultural centers like London, Paris, New York and Berlin, one might argue that these artworks at the same time must be able to signify shared values between the local specificity and cultural universals.
Referencing Katarzyna Pieprzak’s book Imagined Museums: Art in Postcolonial Morocco (2010), Chan addresses biennales which “not only bring with them a diversification of how art is defined and culture disseminated, but the financial incentives from cultural tourism (i.e., increased hotel, restaurant, retail, and transportation revenue) and the suggestion of societal maturity [which will] have a visceral effect on the local economy and culture”. The curator specifies that for a nation who gained independence more then half a century ago, foreign “information, knowledge, or technology brought to the country should no longer be seen as an act of colonization.” More clearly, he argued in an online interview with ARTINFO Berlin, the debate of post-colonialism within an international exhibition context in Morocco “is like beating an old horse.” In a New York Times article, “Boldly bringing New Art to Old Morocco”, describing recent cultural activities in Marrakech, Chan argued that his exhibition takes place in a country (and culture) “like any other”, and his exhibition concept with prevalent focus on Western artists is designed for a public that is not “uniquely different.“
In the book Imagined Museums, Katarzyna Pieprzak, instead, asks: “How does a cultural elite that sees itself producing aesthetically modern works negotiate the socioeconomic disjuncture between their modernist ambitions and the lived reality of modernization and lack in Morocco?” She explains that because of a state-controlled cultural situation, predominantly private and corporate initiatives shaped the nation’s visual arts identity, which gears toward a limited circle. Pieprzak points out that “the historical trajectory of the establishment of these art institutions (private and corporate museums) points to a growing exclusion of the Moroccan public from art and patrimony at the same time as the social divide between the wealthy and the poor is widening in Morocco.” And, “[as] neoliberal economic policies replaced state modernization discourse in the 1980’s, financial institutions started investing in art, arguably as a spur to national development but ultimately to help themselves by creating global identities for their institutions and clients.”While Chan simply states a “lack of a true modern” in Morocco, Pieprzak analyzes this lack in the case of still unfinished National Museum of Contemporary Art in Rabat. She critically questions the future content of its exhibitions, archives and collections, and asks: “Who possesse[s] the taste for the arts?”, what willepitomize contemporary Moroccan cultural identity? Not limiting herself to institutions, Pieprzak gives examples of counterstrategies of artists, curators, critics and collectives, such as publications Lamalif, Integral, and Soufflés/Anfas from 1970’s, and contemporary initiatives like Aït Iktel community museum, an independent exhibition space L’appartement 22 in Rabat (run by Abdellah Karroum, who was also the curator of the 2009 Marrakech Biennale), and a collective La Source du Lion in Casablanca (one of its founding members, Hassan Darsi, is participating in the current 2012 Marrakech Biennale).Because both curators cite Pieprzak’s book to construct their arguments, it becomes evident that the current issue of Marrakech Biennale is deeply indebted to her research.
In his essay The Shifting Site, co-curator Nadim Samman describes the context-specificity of Higher Atlas with the thematic question “What is a threshold today?” He finds support with the American authors Galloway and Thacker, who argued “[i]nside the dense web of distributed networks, it would appear thateverything is everywhere — [there is] little room between the poles of the global and the local.” The exhibition site of the Théâtre Royal is described as a junction and “super-node…a multi-dimensional web of connected physical and discursive locations”, where the conceived art works “the works in the show textualize space and spatialize discourse”. Samman relies on examples ofToulouse-Lautrec’s Old Woman / Young Woman drawing, and Gestalt psychology to build an argument that the “visitors can consider sitehood (and cultural identity) as a series of connections.” The visitor, as the curator imagines, is “the figure on which perception is focused”, and therefore “viewing … requires a kind of intentional switching back and forth – toggling – whereby ground flips into figure and vice versa.” Samman concludes that, “Higher Atlas constitutes a series of explorations of the figure/ground nexus as it pertains to a particular node in our planetary and informatic networks.” Instead of making an attempt at “a woefully reduced snapshot of local practice and intellectual agendas,” the curator asks for “art that takes into account global networks/ground in a manner that goes beyond the kind of disenchanted postmodern impasse asserted by Baudrillard inSimulations — the image of a map of such detail that it comes to cover the whole earth, obscuring more than it reveals.”  He goes on to affirm, that “[we] need artists whose work updates the conception of mathematical sublimity for the magnitudes of the information age — projects that act as catalysts for the viewer’s apprehension of almost limitless information, inhuman speed and exponentially increasing space as an expanded field of moral/practical competence and interpersonal cooperation.” In facilitating artists that work with “successful strategies for communicating,” Samman proposes to reach “a wide audience from disparate backgrounds,” and hopes that their “endeavor provokes at least as much as it pleases” .
To address a post-colonial debate Samman quotes Abdellah Laroui, a Moroccan historian, to demonstrate that “the disavowal of Western culture cannot in itself constitute culture.” He goes on even further, almost six centuries back referring to Moorish control of Southern Spain, and states that to address political and historic reality of Morocco today would be “an essentialist, Arabocentric approach that relies on dubious myths of origin.” Instead of mentioning Spain’s Christian expansion of the time, exemplified by conquest of Muslim Granada in 1492, and Christopher Columbus’s ambitious voyage for Americas, Samman performs the same figure/ground gymnastics to point out that “historical conditions referenced by the designation “post-colonial” are here of the reverse order, with Southern Spain (Al-Andalus) only attaining independence from Moorish control in the fifteenth century.” To repudiate Biennale’s proposal one can easily revert Abdellah Laroui’s quote and ask: Can the disavowal of Moroccan culture for the purposes of staging a major international exhibition in itself constitute culture?
جماعة proposes an alternative to the Biennale’s quest for a purely aesthetic, entertaining and amusing experience. Through a public poster project جماعة offers to a public of Marrakech insights into Biennale’s proposals, statements, interviews and conversations, which were not always available or accessible to this public. Located outside of the exhibition, the posters display key words, phrases, notes and terms, which gave framework and idea to the aforementioned cultural event.جماعة actively asks the viewers to engage with the project through reading, interpretation, discussion and translation in order to negotiate the local context and cultural specificity proposed by the Biennale’s organizers.
جماعة uses posters, an originally Western format for activating a public space, as well as advertising, and relies solely on language for the dissemination of knowledge and information. Despite of almost 50% literacy rate statistics for Morocco at large, the literacy rates in urban areas like Rabat, Casablanca, and, arguably, Marrakech, in recent years have risen above 90 percent, according toThe State of the African Cities Report 2008. Thus, the poster project acknowledges not just a local public, but the nuanced issues of those who are in need of education, or those who might feel unaware or excluded by an exhibition of contemporary art defined through a Western discourse. With the act of translation of all its content into Darija and Classical Arabic, جماعة re-negotiates specific cultural and sociopolitical facets of the Biennale’s communication, using the inherent properties of language such as ambiguity, negotiability and subtlety. To borrow Tony Bennett’s words, جماعة creates “…a conversable civic space that…. functions across the relations between the different cultures.” Because, as Katarzyna Pieprzak states in her book, “European institutions and Moroccan bourgeoisie would not be the only ones to define how to understand the work: the everyday Moroccan should also hold that power.”
During the production time of this project information has been changed, updated or deleted from the Biennale’s platforms, for instance, the official Biennale website was updated on February 17, 2012. As part of جماعة ’s project a webblog and Facebook pages offer to the public documentation of all posters, as well as recent and archived articles related to the 4th Marrakech Biennale.
 Higher Atlas: The Marrakech Biennale  in Context, edited by Carson Chan,Foreword, by Vanessa Branson, Sternberg Press, 2012, p.6.
 Higher Atlas: The Marrakech Biennale  in Context, edited by Carson Chan,The Shifting Site, by Nadim Samman, Sternberg Press, 2012, p.44.
 Higher Atlas: The Marrakech Biennale  in Context, edited by Carson Chan,The Shifting Site, by Nadim Samman, Sternberg Press, 2012, p.50.
 Higher Atlas: The Marrakech Biennale  in Context, edited by Carson Chan,Let Me Entertain You: A Consideration of Context and Audience in Curating the 4th Marrakech Biennale, by Carson Chan, Sternberg Press, 2012, p. 70.
 Ibid, p.70.
 Ibid, p. 72.
 Chan references Maria Lind, a curator and critic, who recently been appointed artistic director of IASPIS in Stockholm.http://www.curatingdegreezero.org/m_lind/m_lind.html
 Ibid, p. 78.
 Ibid, p. 78.
 Ibid, p. 74.
 BLOUIN ARTINFO, Marrakech Biennale Curator Carson Chan on How the Arab Spring Has Influenced Exhibition-Making, by Alexander Forbes, December 12, 2011
 New York Times, Boldly Bringing New Art to Old Morocco, by Nicolai Hartvig, December 9, 2011.
 Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco, by Katarzyna Pieprzak, Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2010, Introduction, xix.
 Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco, by Katarzyna Pieprzak, Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2010, Introduction, xxi.
 Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco, by Katarzyna Pieprzak, by Katarzyna Pieprzak, Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2010, p.121.
 Source: http://appartement22.com/
 Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco, by Katarzyna Pieprzak, Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2010, Taking Art to the Streets: The Ephemeral Outdoor Museum as Contact Zone, p.127-158.
 Higher Atlas: The Marrakech Biennale  in Context, edited by Carson Chan,The Shifting Site, by Nadim Samman, Sternberg Press, 2012, p.38-67.
 Ibid, p.54.
 Ibid, p.54.
 Ibid, p.56.
 Ibid, p.56.
 Ibid, p.56.
 Ibid, p.57.
 Ibid, p. 44.
 Ibid, p. 58.
 Ibid, p. 58.
 Ibid, p. 50.
 Ibid, p. 58.
 Ibid, p. 60.
 Ibid, p. 60
 “… Morocco saw the largest percentage increases in the number of children enrolled in primary school from 1991 to 2005: from 56.7 percent to 86.3 percent and 35.3 percent to 72.6 percent respectively.” The State of the African Cities Report 2008, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), p.43
 Pedagogic Objects, Clean Eyes and Popular Instruction, by Tony Bennett, Configurations 6, no 3, 370-71, cited here from Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco, by Katarzyna Pieprzak, Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2010, p. 129.
 Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco, by Katarzyna Pieprzak, Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2010, p. 134