Until January 14, 2024, the Tate St Ives in London, UK, will be hosting the first-ever major exhibition dedicated to the Casablanca Art School. This revolutionary art school, whose bold approach proposed a new visual culture following Morocco’s independence in 1956, is being honored. Reflecting a new social consciousness, artist-professors such as Farid Belkahia, Mohamed Chabâa and Mohamed Melehi transformed this institution by encouraging artistic experimentation, moving away from Western academic traditions and drawing inspiration from existing local culture. This exhibition will explore how teachers and students at the Casablanca Art School have combined traditional Berber skills, materials and visual languages with modernist influences from Europe and North America, creating a space to reimagine contemporary Moroccan art and its relationship with everyday life.
Working in fields such as painting, sculpture, graphic design, architectural mural painting and many other media, the artists associated with this school have placed art in the public space and promoted it as a shared experience. This landmark exhibition brings together works by some 20 artists, including vibrant abstract paintings, urban frescoes, handcrafted objects, typography, graphics and ceramics, as well as an archive of rarely seen prints, vintage newspapers and photographs.
The exhibition will highlight how key representatives of the group moved beyond Western styles and teachings, encouraging students to explore abstract art and reconnect with Afro-Arab culture. Farid Belkahia, appointed Director of the Casablanca Art School, expanded the teaching team to include Mohamed Melehi and Toni Mariani (from 1964), Bert Flint (from 1965) and Mohammed Chabâa (from 1966), marking memorable years of artistic progress. This network of artists was inspired by the Bauhaus school of art, which abolished distinctions between art, craft, design and architecture, and reimagined its vision in an Afro-Berber context.
Looking back at key moments in the movement’s development, visitors to the exhibition will discover how the group experimented with interdisciplinary practices to form a new perspective, giving birth to a new wave of avant-garde creation that fused influences from decorative, moving and written forms. An important platform was the Plastic Presence exhibition, held outdoors in Jemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech and November 18 square in Casablanca, which remains a significant turning point in the history of Moroccan art. Other landmark exhibitions will be explored, such as the 1968 student exhibition held at the Pavillon du Parc de la Ligue Arabe. This exhibition marked the apogee of innovation and collective creativity; the multicultural experiences of faculty and students created a new perspective for the post-colonial era.
In the 1970s, the movement continued to grow and the school’s influence spread further and further afield. The 1974 Baghdad Arab Art Biennial brought together over 600 works, including those by artists from the new wave of Moroccan art. Meanwhile, the first Moussem-Festival Culturel d’Asilah in 1978, co-founded by Mohamed Melehi and Mohamed Benaïssa and spanning the civic spaces of the town of Asilah, remains one of the many lasting legacies of the Casablanca Art School’s cultural activism.
This exceptional exhibition highlights the Casablanca Art School, a revolutionary artistic movement that played a key role in redefining contemporary African art. Far from Western influences, the school’s artists drew on local traditions and reimagined art in an Afro-Berber context. Through a variety of media and approaches, they created a new perspective that paved the way for a post-colonial era of creativity and innovation in Morocco. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to discover these landmark works and understand the importance of the Casablanca Art School in the global artistic landscape.