Artists and Art


Majorelle Gardens and YSL Museum

The Majorelle Gardens and Yves St. Laurent Museum are worthy of planning a visit to Morocco just to see them! Even though I’ve written a lot lately about my language learning, which has occupied most of my mind, it’s time to let you in on some other things I’ve seen lately.

After Christmas, we took a trip to Marrakech. I had visited Marrakech before. It was the first time I came to Morocco in 2012 and I was with my son. Even though I love Marrakech, I find it very aggressive and not a place I want to live, but love to visit. Given that, I was anxious to visit with my husband who has been there many, many times.  His experience and knowledge would make it a different experience, and it was. Over the next few days, I will tell you all about our visit and some of the major sites.

First, let’s start with the Majorelle Gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum, which is my absolute favorite. This was my second visit there. It is a two and a half acre botanical garden started in 1923 by the artist Jacques Majorelle. It took him forty years to build the garden. They recently opened an entirely new section which made the garden almost double the size of my prior visit.

In 1980, the designer Yves St. Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge purchased the property and villa located on it and began restoration. The villa houses the Islamic Art Museum and the Berber Museum and on the property but at a separate entrance is the Yves St Laurent museum dedicated to his designs.

Tomb of Yves St Laurent and his partne
Tomb of Yves St Laurent and his partner

The gardens are open every day of the year. It is one of the most visited sites in Morocco. It takes several hours to go through the gardens and the museum. There are cafes inside the museum properties, but also some nice restaurants and cafes located just outside.

We had lunch between visiting the gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum, which has a separate entrance, and it was the perfect break.

If you go to Marrakech, do not miss this garden! No photos are allowed in the museum.

The Cinema

Going to the cinema has always been one of my favorite pastimes. I remember when I was very young and RC Cola offered a deal for six bottle caps to get into the Saturday morning matinee at the Donelson Theater. My brother and I saved up, contacted our friends and set out for a morning at the movies.

When my sons were small, Sunday afternoons alone or with a friend in the dark quiet of the movie theater was just what I needed for relaxation. Even though I am an avid reader, there is something about being entertained with little to no effort that can be very appealing.

Hot summers in Boston with no air-conditioning pushed me to the cool, dark cave of the cinema to enjoy the air-conditioning and the latest in filmmaking. Whether it’s hot weather or cold, sitting in the theaters dark, usually with not many other people around, staring at the screen can really take you away.

Why don’t people go to movies anymore? I guess with the wide assortment of movies available on TV, internet, Netflix, Hulu, DVDs, etc., combined with movie screen like TV’s in peoples home makes it feel like an unnecessary effort and expense. Yet for me, it’s an entirely different experience. In the theater, dark and void of distractions, I can really let myself step into the big screen and become a part of the film. It takes over all of my senses and emotions.

Watching Casablanca at the Cinema Rif
Watching Casablanca at the Cinema Rif

In Tangier, we have the Cinemateque RIF. It’s a historic art deco theater which hosts film festivals and has an archive of films all its own. We sometimes see the latest Hollywood films, as in First Man, recently, but generally, there are foreign films of French, Spanish, and Arabic origin. The cinema also hosts a monthly series of English films on Sunday evenings, most recently Francis Ford Coppola films.
Cinema Rif
Cinema Rif

Over the years, I have enjoyed my share of Hollywood films, but have become bored with the predictability of most. I steer towards indie films and foreign ones now, which may lack the special effects of Hollywood, but have deeper, more interesting, emotionally charged topics.

The last time I went to a matinee in the United States, it cost almost $25 for the ticket, small popcorn, and a drink. That is probably another reason people don’t go anymore. The cinema here costs 50 dirhams or $5. The café inside doesn’t sell popcorn, but you can get a glass of wine, beer, or tea. If you really want popcorn you can buy it from one of the street vendors outside for 20 cents a bag, sorry no butter.

As winter approaches in Tangier, I’m looking forward to my movie nights at the theater.

The Asilah Mural and Art Festival 2018

Since 1978, the medina walls of Asilah turn into an art gallery with colorful murals painted on the walls during July and August. It was the idea of two artist friends who wanted to transform the decaying and deteriorating alleyways. Now it has turned into a month-long arts festival.

The Centre de Hassan II Recontres is where lectures are held for artists, writers, and musicians during the festival. Throughout the medina, you will find artists working or evidence of their finished products. There are street musicians as well playing throughout and wanting to get you involved with playing an instrument or dancing.

The usually peaceful medina is alive with activity. There are always many stores here with unusual gift items of handmade shoes, jewelry, candles, baskets, and more.

This year Asilah will celebrate its 40th year of the festival, which turns its wall into the backdrop for an art gallery. Events take place throughout July and August. We visited recently and found some lovely new murals. In June, we saw them painting the walls white to provide a nice new canvas for the artists.

This sleepy little town becomes fully awake in these summer months. As you approach the Portuguese walled medina, the beaches are full. Restaurant on the beach serve fresh seafood and horse and buggies carry visitors through the streets.

Vendors sell peanuts harvested from around the local area and the sea breezes give relief to the hot Moroccan sun.

There are restaurants available at any price point. On the lower end we like Yali, and on the pricier side (and you can buy alcohol) Casa Pepe.

To hear the music and see the wonderful new contemporary frescoes on the walls of the medina visit Asilah during July and August. Shopping is great here with goods and prices that you won’t find in many other places in Morocco.

Museum of the Resistance-Tanger

Just inside the Grand Socco lies a little-known museum called Espace de la Memoire Historique de la Resistance et de la Liberation a Tanger. When you arrive in the Grand Socco, face the medina and you will see the keyhole entry door in white and green to your left.
Through the door, you will see a large Banyan Tree whose branches take root several times on the surrounding earth. There are a large square and a house facing you. The exhibit is in the house.

Grand Socco
Grand Socco

Banyan Tree
Banyan Tree

On the day we were there, there was a celebration of the liberation, which took place on April 9, 1947. The Grand Socco’s real name is Place du Avril 9 to commemorate this day and the activities that happened in this square on that day. King Mohammed V, the current King’s father made a famous speech on that day.

Portraits of rulers of the past were brought outside for those in the area to enjoy. Inside the museum, there are more portraits, uniforms, and memorabilia from the time. Entrance to the museum is free.

The back of the museum runs against the beautiful hillside garden of Mendoubia. It’s a great place to take a picnic or to just sit and relax above rue de Italie, which is one of the most beautiful streets with the lovely architectural details. The strucutre of this palace is almost as interesting and beautiful as the exhibits contained within it. Pay particular attention to all of the beautiful mosiac details in each room, as well as the lighting.

Henry Matisse in Tangier

Henry Matisse is by far the most famous of the artists who visited and worked in Tangier. There were many artists, musicians, and writers who were drawn to Morocco and to Tangier specifically for inspiration. It is fun to explore and discover those people and the work they did here.

The artist lived in Tangier in 1912 for one year. He lived in room thirty-five at the Hotel Ville de France, which is located just down the hill from my apartment before you get to the Grand Socco. You can enter the hotel and visit the room, which still has the number 35 on the door. It is on the second floor and the other rooms have numbers starting with two hundred.

In the room are copies of some of the paintings Matisse completed while living there including the most famous one titled, Window in Tangier. The painting is the view from one of the hotel windows. The painting was sold directly by Matisse in Paris to a Russian collector, Ivan Morozov. After the Russian Revolution, the painting was confiscated. By 1948, it was donated to the public and now hangs in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

Poster of the Painting-Window in Tangier
Poster of the Painting-Window in Tangier

Matisse became interested in Islamic art of North Africa and his bold colors reflect the influence of African art on his work. Matisse searched for a new way to paint Morocco that was different than artists such as Jean Leon Gerome. He looked at the foliage, the designs of the buildings and textiles, the spectacular light, and the colors.
View from Matisse's hotel room
View from Matisse’s hotel room

View from Matisse's hotel room
View from Matisse’s hotel room

My research indicates that the last major exhibit showing the works of Matisse in Morocco was in 1990 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Oh how I wish I could see these works, but as of now, that will require a trip to Russia. It’s on my list.

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