In Morocco we have the farthest western reach of the historic Arab world. With it came a brilliant culture, learning, architecture, laws, and one of the world’s most involving religions.
While Islamic fundamentalism may not exist in equal degree throughout the Arab world, it nevertheless shows its presence everywhere. Strictures, taboos, and social limitations take their toll on attempts at Western style expression and artistic development. Nowhere is this more evident than in the artistic contribution of women.
Here, women painters, sculptors, writers, even musicians are the exception. Even the crafts are largely the domain of men. In relatively liberal Rabat, women, let alone women artists, are nearly invisible. In this culture it is largely men who take to the streets, run the shops, businesses and institutions. Compared to women, men live a relatively enriched life of fellowship and commerce. Women stick to family and domestic duty. Few drive a car, attend classes, or even read anything other than the Koran. While literacy for men is in the 50% range, it’s estimated at only 30% for women.
Democracy is still largely a dream in this Kingdom. There’s a population explosion and 20% unemployment. The average age is 21. For many Moroccans, something better is not easily seen or immediately attainable. As I paint here I feel a sense of my own privilege and good luck. Children watch, make fun — we exchange our smiles. Women frown on my self-indulgence. Old men wonder what the infidel is doing here.
PS: “Women are no more than house pets.” (Carmen Binladen, Swiss-born ex-wife of Yeslam Binladen, half-brother of Osama Bin Laden)
Esoterica: It seems to me that it helps when the locals find out that the infidels are friendly, fair, gentle and decent. And while it may appear stupid to them that a grown man or woman would play with paints in this way, they might also come to wonder about the foreign places that would accept this activity and be curious as to its uses and values.
Grateful for “free” environment
Aleta Pippin, Santa Fe, NM, USA
All of us who live in a “free” environment have much to be thankful for. Personally, if I couldn’t paint, I don’t know what I’d do with myself. I must also thank the Berthe Morisots, Georgia O’Keeffes and Mary Cassatts who paved the way for women artists. Lest we forget, it hasn’t been that long since women artists were not considered professional.
Religion starts out pure
Liz Schamehorn, Washago, ON, Canada
The Koran gave women legal rights to divorce and inheritance when it was first written between 610 and 632. It was later that men, influenced by pre-Islamic culture, took away these rights and imposed the veil. Every religion starts out pure and ends up corrupted by those who use it as a means of exerting power over others.
“…for our God and your God are one and the same, and it is unto him that we all surrender ourselves.” (Koran 29:46)
Plein air experience
Sirce Kwai Giveon, Lantana, FL, USA
Today began my first plein air painting into my next phase of life. I am an art teacher in the public elementary school and I decided it was time for me to go out and paint. It was also the first day I received your letter and observations. I have dragged my paints to the Middle East and painted across the water from Jordan. Painting from the Israeli shore, as a woman, was safe and not unusual. No one thought I was wasting my time. A newly arrived Russian child came up and watched me until I was done. Neither of us spoke a language in common but she loved art. The painting was not spectacular, but the experience was.
Brahim Bouhamadi of Morocco
Carol Allison, Albuquerque, NM, USA
While teaching a workshop in Morocco I met an artist named Brahim Bouhamadi. He is a watercolorist with rare talent and his work as a naturalistic realist does not avoid the portrait. He has paintings of some of the people of various parts of Morocco, however he does mostly landscapes of the various towns. He now lives here in Albuquerque, NM.
Making the world a better place
Hank Tilbury, Kansas City, USA
“Muslims have not contributed anything to mankind ever, period.” With that sweeping statement, Vickie Nadolson dismisses a culture that has made immeasurable contributions in the fields of art, music, mathematics and poetry, among others. How much do you really know about Islamic culture, Vickie, aside from what you’ve learned from Fox News Network? Yes, I find certain well-publicized aspects of the Islamic worldview reprehensible, but, to paraphrase you, “the fact that you can vilify an entire culture disgusts me,” and it contributes absolutely nothing toward making this world a better place.
Muslim friends enrich
Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, ON, Canada
Vickie Nadolson’s response to Islamism is exactly what got us into the mess we’re in today. Go back into the Christian religion to witch hunts and inquisitions and murderous popes and tell me which religion is more repressive? One need only pass through Grenada to see the Muslim gifts to the world which the “Christians” of their day all but destroyed.
My life would be so much less rich without the knowledge of my Muslim friends, who are actually fasting and working a normal day during this month of Ramadan. Besides being beautiful, they are multi-lingual, hard-working and energetic. I have seen for myself, living in France and visiting Morocco, the abject poverty of the old French colonies. I’ve met some questionable characters, but also some who sheltered and protected me, who accepted me and taught me. Like all religions, scripture is subject to human interpretation. It is not the fault of all that some fanatics have written their own destructive interpretation of the Koran.
Western art an anomaly
Nicoletta Baumeister, BC, Canada
Are you sure the women are not involved in anything creative? Isn’t art, as we in the Western world think of it, fairly new historically speaking? Isn’t art that revolves around the expression of a unique personality rather than a cultural tradition, religion or politic largely an anomaly in the huge catalogue of humanities creative output? Even in the applied crafts one can find the basic language of art (colour, line, form, texture, repetition, space, opposition, harmony and expression), especially in textiles. Do these women really do nothing except tend to children and home from sunup to sundown? Do they really think of nothing, communicate nothing? It sounds inhuman, and, therefore, unlikely.
Value is in the soul
Sophie Marnez, France
It seems to me that your point of view about Morocco is very North American. We have a tendency to think that those who don’t have a big bank account and comfort (with standardized hotel bathroom faucets) are way behind in civilization. I’m not that sure. Who are the gods of the Western world today? I’m very puzzled about the everyday- widening fracture between different cultures and the so-called supremacy of some above others. I think that the human beings are forgetting more and more that the solution is inside themselves, not outside. The value is in the soul, not in the belongings.
A world of freedom for all
Moncy Barbour, Lynchburg, VA, USA
I believe that you are teaching by example how the western civilization can be gentle, peaceful and caring. Art has many avenues; love is carried through many vessels. Your oceans are your colours, your ship is your brush and your treasures are in your heart. Let the old men and women watch you work. We can only hope that they may see your gift as an artist. But the children are smiling and that is a good sign. For their tomorrow is ours, and our children’s as well. Perhaps art can in a small way play her part as well as a hand-shake for a world of understanding and acceptance. A world of freedom for all. If you dare, hug one or more of those children. Dab a bit of paint on their nose. I can not say for sure as anyone would declare, but you know, I bet Vincent you-know-who maybe would have.
Jim Pescott, Alberta, Canada
The Morocco you write about reflects many of the conditions that exist elsewhere in our world. Your words easily bring a sense of both caring and frustration about the radical inequalities that exist in our world. These are the same feelings we own when we watch television commercials about unfortunate children in disadvantaged lands.
My first real life exposure to this was in Mexico when I left my hotel compound to explore the non-town areas of the Yucatan: beautiful people everywhere living in an incredible disadvantaged poverty. Unlike Morocco, this was not based on an Islamic fundamentalist environment, in fact I suspect the elements of the Yucatan environment may be found to be much closer to home. But like your experience in Morocco the people watch you and wonder what you are really doing here where they live. And we begin to tolerate their questioning stares and think about how we are, who we are, relative to everyone else.
The word ‘tolerance’ is used much these days in reference to other peoples, other cultures, other beliefs. It means things like to abide, to endure, to allow. Tolerance really is not a very proactive concept, so perhaps this is part of the problem in our world when we say we practice a ‘tolerance’ of others: we work through negative feelings of hate, dislike, suspicion, etc. We practice a neutral tolerance when we really need to practice understanding, acceptance and love. Is art able to communicate this when so many regional, national, cultural and religious conditions exist? Or is this the task of the viewer? Are local people able to look at your art and express feelings about it?
The Mouses’ Dance
oil on canvas painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Gerten Basom who wrote, “Playing with paints is never an “idle” thing. Alas, to those who perceive it this way. I hope you enjoy your time in these eye-opening cultures! And thanks for your continued, shared adventures and experiences!
Also Paula Rey who wrote, “So many times I have woken in the morning to say, ‘How did I get so lucky?’ To be born in the beautiful pacific northwest, to be so privileged… there are so many other places on the planet and I have the fortune to have the freedoms, the plentifulness of everything.