Exhibition: these Moroccans of the Beat generation who influenced New York

Exhibition: these Moroccans of the Beat generation who influenced New York
Exhibition: these Moroccans of the Beat generation who influenced New York

Friday May 24, at 7 p.m., the Dar D’art gallery, in Tangier, is organizing the opening of “Beat Generation, Artworks Exhibition”. The exhibition, made up of pieces from Hassan Ouakrim’s collection, will be held from May 24 to June 24. There we will admire works from the documents of Brion Gysin, Jean Genet, Mohamed Hamri, Ahmed Yacoubi…

Born in Tafraout in 1940, Hassan Ouakrim was one of the actors of the Beat generation in Tangier, before leaving for New York, to “represent Berber culture”, as he himself says. This story, as remarkable as it is improbable, is told in his autobiography, in English, “Memoir of a Berber”. A French translation is in progress. On December 24, the 2M channel broadcast a documentary by Hisham Aidi on Hassan Ouakrim, “The Thousand and One Berber Nights”.

Also based in New York, Aidi explains that there were “New Year celebrations, Yennayer, in different American cities in mid-January 2019, for the start of the year 2969 of the Amazigh calendar”, highlighting evidence the existence of Amazigh-Americans, of Moroccan, Algerian and Malian origin. Hassan Ouakrim, director, choreographer, art collector and dean of Moroccan culture in the United States, was able to recognize in this visibility the fruit of long efforts in which he largely participated.

At 14, he refuses to give Ben Arafa a gift
His memoirs begin when, aged 7, he was sent by his mother to join his father in Tangier. Unable to pay for secondary school, young Hassan, with his school certificate in hand, was then entrusted to an uncle in Marrakech. The teenager marvels at the street arts displayed on Jamaa El Fna square. He “connects to the fantasy” of the place, he writes. One day, a Sufi healer grabbed him by the wrist: “You’re not from here. Return to the north, where you came from.

And promises him “later in your life, you will end up leaving these lands… You will fly over the ocean… by the power of the baraka, the blessing of Sidi Moulay Brahim. When you cross the ocean, you will find great bridges on your way, you will have to spend the rest of your life in Blad al-Marikan, in America. Times are troubled: the future King Mohammed V is exiled by the colonial power. Hassan Ouakrim’s college designates him to greet the puppet replacement, Mohammed Ben Arafa, who will come to visit the establishment.

The 14-year-old young man decides that he would not give “a public gift to a false king” and is hit by the principal, furious at this refusal. Ouakrim returned to Tangier, where, after his baccalaureate, he attended theater workshops, mime and dance classes. In 1968, he founded Inossis, a Berber theater company that still exists, mixing ballet and Amazigh folklore. Ouakrim invented the name using cut-up, his friend William Burroughs’ “cut-up technique” which consists of cutting out a few words, then mixing the letters at random and accepting the result – “Inossis”.

It is then a question of removing the culture from the “indigenous folklore” despised by the former colonists, while offering a Moroccan and modern alternative to the powerful Egyptian pan-Arabism of the time. The Beats are there, and he works with them. Ellen Stewart, a legendary African-American director and founder of the experimental theater La Mama, often comes to Tangier. It was she who installed the painter Ahmed Yacoubi in New York in 1966, remembers Hisham Aidi.

Hassan Ouakrim imprisoned Donald Trump
And in 1972, Ellen Stewart invited Ouakrim to help her produce the play “A Night Before Thinking”, an adaptation of a story by the painter Ahmed Yacoubi by the novelist Paul Bowles. Ouakrim will become the artistic director of La Mama Maghreb. Nearly half a century later, he still lives in the East Village, just blocks from the theater. He joined the world of dance, jazz and, of course, high society.

During the 1970s and 80s, he organized monumental parties, big Arab, Oriental, Berber nights… for the jet-set. Including a memorable one, on the theme of the film “Casablanca”, for billionaire Carl Icahn. In Long Island, in the Hamptons, they bring in a World War II plane and place it on the beach. They recreate an international customs, like in “Casablanca”, with border patrols, checkpoints…

However, one of the guests was Donald Trump, then a real estate mogul. Carl Icahn asks Hassan Ouakrim to arrest Trump, tell him he is undocumented and imprison him. Hassan takes out his gun, looks at the businessman’s passport and puts him in a cage. The latter was not happy at all, says Ouakrim. Then they free him and join the party all together. But the long background work is of course that at the La Mama theater: plays from the Amazigh repertoire, dance classes, transmission of culture… Hassan Ouakrim worked for decades to make Morocco known to Americans. These few snippets of his story allow us to understand how his collection was formed, and the interest of the exhibition which opens this May 24 in Tangier.

A collection of internationally renowned artists
Bryon Gysin (1916-1986) studied Japanese calligraphy and practiced Arabic. His pictorial work attempts to associate the letter with painting and wants to refuse Western space, specifies the exhibition catalog. It is reminiscent of the experiments of Henri Michaux, around the same time.

Ahmed Ben Driss El Yacoubi (1928-1985) has been drawing in secret since his childhood and trained in painting with Jane Bowles, Paul’s wife. He took him under his wing and introduced him to Betty Parsons, whose gallery sold several of his “alchemical” works to Peggy Guggenheim. It was also Paul Bowles who translated Yacoubi’s stories, including “The Night Before Thinking”. In 1966, the artist moved to New York, where he painted in a loft at the La Mama theater. He died there in 1985. Mohamed Hamri (1932-2000), a native of Joujouka, was the chef and co-owner of Gysin’s restaurant, Les 1001 nuits.

In 1948, he held one of the first individual exhibitions of a Moroccan painter in Morocco. The autodidact will show his Fauvist work as far as Europe. With Hassan Ouakrim, whom he trained in dance, he participated in the creation of the musical group Joujouka.

The latter performs on the occasion of the fortieth birthday of King Hassan II, in the Mauritania theater. The sets are by Mekki Murcia. El Mekki Murcia (1934-1984) studied in a Spanish art school in Tetouan. He gained attention in 1953 with an equestrian sculpture of Mohammed V, commemorating his exile. He lived in Madrid for a few years, then moved to Rabat and joined the Bab Rouah workshop. He founded the National Association of Fine Arts, of which he became general secretary. Antonio Fuentes (1905-1995) was born in Tangier, studied fine arts in Madrid, went to live in France where he met Chaïm Soutine and Pablo Picasso, exhibited with Vlaminck… At the end of the Second World War, he returned to Tangier to paint and write there. His work is full of scenes from daily life in the city.

Alongside the works of these great artists, there are documents of Hassan Ouakrim’s extraordinary career, including photos of him with his friends, such as Randy Weston, Jean Genet, but also Donald Trump and even Mickey Mouse.

Murtada Calamy / ECO Inspirations

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