16 April 2023

Morocco, carrots to donkeys and barking dogs

The other day I was looking at some drawings I had made in Morocco during several trips there many years ago. This prompted some interesting thoughts about those drawing trips I undertook during that time, light years away now.

They were an adventure in lots of ways, but also kind of difficult too because I was spending all my time just drawing in the streets, and in Morocco, after a few weeks of this, one can easily be worn down. I rarely did anything but draw on these trips except to visit a few museums and rug sellers of course. And like the 'economical' means with which I drew, so too, were my small hotels and cafes as well. I moved with a quiet simplicity through life there.

I drew in all the big cities, Marrakech, Fez, Rabat, Casablanca and Tangiers. But I liked Essaouiria the best for its easygoing atmosphere on the Atlantic coast, and it's where I would invariably end up each trip. 

There I got to know woman who worked at The Alliance Française which was located in a large and lovely Riad in th middle of town. This French woman had come to Essaouiria from Paris a few years earlier and she was very happy with the move. She was curious about my drawings too so I suggested that she show them to her boss for possibly a small exhibition which I knew they set up regularly. I gave her a small book to show him. A few days later we met at a cafe and she told me that he didn't think a show would work for one reason or another. But I sensed that there was more to the story so I boldly pressed her on what he had thought of the drawings. With a Parisian shrug, she confessed that he hated them. I was briefly stung by the remark but then curious for an explanation so I asked, "Alors?". She went on to say that they were too depressing and too dark, apparently.

"OK", I thought" after pause, so I let it drop.

But it did suddenly give me a shock, and it shook me out of my solipsistic and dreamy notion about myself, one quite removed from the big world outside.  

And yes, I could understood that maybe they appeared dark and depressing to others, though I couldn't be sure, because for me, they simply revealed the hard truth of what we call, The Third World. To me, they are real, "juste", as the French might say.

Of course, many tourists and visitors do not see this side because they are chauffeured around in luxury mini-vans going from one luxury Riad to the next Palace, then onward to chic restaurants all over Morocco just because they can. The exchange rates are most advantageous in the Third World. 

So I had to suddenly reckon with the fact that these drawings of mine are not happy postcards of Morocco, nor are they for everyone.

But "Hey!"... I am drawn to sorrow like a donkey to a carrot, too late to change! 

But aside from this entire previous dialogue, there was this realisation that I was sensing, I was ruminating, really, as I looked at the drawings the other day. 

What it was, was the notion that I could somehow 'see' their faces as if they were imprinted in my mind even before I had started drawing from them.... And yet these drawing were made so quickly that this seems almost impossible to imagine.

But it created the impression that I could see the specific feeling behind the face of each person whom I was about to draw, as if I had already grabbed their expression in my imagination nano-seconds before commencing, and this seemed crucial to allowing me to draw them in the first place. Whew...Wow...

Curiously though, I never really spent much time thinking about this part of the process. I just went out into the streets and worked quickly, without thinking, as I was taught by Léo, my teacher many years earlier. 

No thought, so Zen,... and yet, something in this way of working moved me enough to keep going, day after day, week after week.

So yes, they rarely look happy because Moroccans are always working like dogs, and just like donkeys, they rarely look happy. It is a hard life and I am always attracted to these forlorn lives, forever, for I am not after vanity but humanity.

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