The prime movers behind the new museum are Moroccan art collectors Alami Lazraq and his 29-year-old son, Othman Lazraq, and their charitable association Fondation Alliances. Under the directorship of Othman, MACAAL is home to the Lazraq family’s private collection of contemporary African art, amassed over the past 40 years. Founded in 2009, Fondation Alliances is backed by the family’s real estate company, Alliances Group. Beyond MACAAL, Fondation Alliances oversees three other not-for-profit initiatives including the Al Maaden Sculpture Park inaugurated in 2013; a bi-annual photography award, La Chambre Claire; and the Passerelles (“Bridges”) program, encouraging young locals to explore the world of contemporary art and design through workshops, classes and museum visits.
Built on two levels and with 900 m² of exhibition space, the museum combines culture, leisure and lifestyle “This museum is a family museum. It is what I like to call a “human-scale” museum” explains Othman. “We want to spread the word outside the country to make Morocco and Africa shine. We’re trying to give a voice to young, emerging and established artists, to be proud of their roots in their continent and not just abroad” The museum was designed to speak the same language as the local architecture. The narrow pathways, labyrinths and archways create a sense of the “medina” (city) inside the museum while an accompanying sound installation by Italian artist, Anna Raimondo, brings the noises of Marrakech’s “souks” (markets) into the museum space.
“Africa Is No Island”, the museum’s first international exhibition which was launched last February to coincide with the first Marrakech edition of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair runs until August. It presents the work of approximately 40 emerging and established artists from across the continent. The curators are Baptiste de Ville d’Avray, Jeanne Mercier and Madeleine de Colnet, co-founders of African art platform, Afrique in Visu. A quote on the wall from Afrique in Visu delivers the message the museum hopes to spread through the exhibition: “Africa is not an island but rather a connected territory, full of possibilities.”
On display are a wide range of images – from hip-hop heads posing in their hoodies to portraits of Muslim women shrouded in their hijabs. Baudouin Mouanda contributed a series of black-and-white images depicting the hip-hop scene in the Congo with one image showing two men peering out from under their hooded sweatshirts. “The images go beyond boundaries, and it’s beyond just Africa,” says De Colnet. “It’s about how Africa and other countries interact and connect.” Another photographer from Burkina Faso shot fishermen at work in the Congo River. Joana Choumali, a photographer from the Ivory Coast, took portraits of people with scars on their faces. Namsa Leuba, based between Switzerland Guinea, “examines African identity though the Western imagination”, while Italian/Senegalese artist Maï- mouna Guerresi taps into Islamic art with her regal portraits. More extraordinary still, are Ivory Coast photographer Joana Choumali’s images of the last generation of African people, still performing superficial incisions on skin to create permanent identifying marks. The exhibition finishes with a work depicting the outline of Africa in an electric blue neon light bathing a set of open French doors in a soft glow as if to say that Africa welcomes you.
Marrakech is an ideal location for a contemporary African art museum because of its close proximity to Europe, its place as a tourist destination, as well as its reputation as a cosmopolitan hub. The city also has a thriving creative scene, made global by artists like Hassan Hajjaj, whose work has received worldwide attention. “We don’t have that many places like this in Morocco” says Othman. “MACAAL is bringing back the African voice here in Morocco. It is something very important touching all of us, as Moroccans, as Africans”.