Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Tangier/Casablanca with Mohamed Arejdal, a Studio Visit on Track.

Posted in Reviews by berenicesaliou on November 12, 2009

It’s about 9am at Tangier train station. Mohamed and I got in the crowded and already overheated train. Direction: Casablanca. We find an empty square of seats and sit down. We start talking about insignificant things. The travel is about to start. 7 hours, at least…

My phone rings. The TV is about to arrive at the exhibition. They want me to explain the project. “Why didn’t they warn us?” I ask Mohamed.
“Oh you know, the TV….” he says.
Alright, at least the artist is there. I phone him. “Mohamed – his name is Mohamed, too – the TV is on its way. They want to see the exhibition. They will interview you, ok?”
– “Oh, that’s nice, he says, but I don’t want to be on TV you know!”
I throw a desperate gaze at the other Mohamed, the one in front of me, who is actually the artist’s friend. He laughs. “Of course, he says, I knew he would refuse!”

The travel continues, as slowly as I calm down. Outside, the monotonous barren landscape unfolds, sometimes punctuated by characteristic small villages. “You want to see something?” Mohamed asks, probably feeling that I need some distraction. “Sure!” I say.  He takes a catalogue in his bag. I recognize the catalogue he submitted for his final graduation from Tetuan’s National Fine Art School. I remember his viva and especially one video, particularly insightful. I also remember his focused and charismatic attitude and the inadequacy of the teachers’ comments. “We can’t tell about your videos because we don’t know anything about video. We want to see some paintings.” they said. I remember how I so wished I spoke Arabic…

Mohamed starts turning the pages from the right to the left and translates the summary, from Arabic to French. I think to myself: “I should take a pen…this is going to be interesting” but I just cannot. I feel like it would break the casualty of this quite intimate moment. Things in Morocco never happen the way you have planned then, nor when you have planned them. They just happen.

Mohamed explains to me that art is for him a tool that helps him to go toward people; it is also a way for knowing himself better. He shows me several works following the unfolding of the book. One of them – or rather the way he talks about it – catches my attention. One day, he decided to ask the first person he met on the street to draw the way to the nearest pharmacy. The first man he crossed explained to him how to go there but did not take the pen. The conversation went on and on for about two hours. The old man had never had a pen in his hand. Finally he gave up and rather angrily drew a line and a dot. Mohamed followed the drawing of the man and stopped at a place he assumed was matching with the end of the line. There he asked the same question to the next person he met and followed the indications of the improvised “map”. The whole action lasted 3 weeks. At the end of the process Mohamed had met all sorts of people, persons who insulted him, who took him to the place he wanted to go, who could perfectly draw the way, some who are still friends with him today. He also possessed an incredibly wide range of drawings he started to organise and connect as to create a new map of the city.

Mohamed doesn’t really show works. He tells stories. Stories about himself, stories about his life, about his doubts, his hesitations and his joys. He told me how the sensation of being schizophrenic led him to create this strange bifid portrait where his left side shows a shaved scalp and a beard whereas his right side is beardless but with hairs. He told me how he went out like that, how he met the amazed gaze of people and listened to the ironic commentaries of his friends and of his family. He also explained to me the context within which he created the video I noticed the first time I met him. And I realised that my understanding of this particular work was really far away from his original intentions. I told him how this video evoked to me a critique of the religion’s omnipotence in Muslim countries and we discussed about the different interpretations one can have of a work depending on culture, sexual identity and experiences. We kept talking until he went out of the compartment for a cigarette. I relaxed on the seat. We had been talking for about four hours and we still had plenty to say. This is when the slow and repetitive rhythm of the train enveloped me and my eyes closed softly…

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