Art shapes culture : thoughts on Morrocan art

« Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future. » 

Robert L. Peters

We can’t write about design without bringing aesthetics, beauty and art into the light. Design, as a practice and philosophy is the art of seeing and converting emotions, messages and meaning throughout form, colors, image and words. It is the combination of all the visual elements required to pass on a message. By doing so, most designers look upon a very important facet of Design which is the possibility to mark history and shift what is culturally seen as “popular” or “normal”. The standards of each society changes from one country to another, what is considered normal in Morocco might be seen as folkloric, exotic or obsolete in another country such as New Zealand or Austria. These pre-established standards are basically the creation of the country’s past might it be architecture, beliefs, trends, movements, clothing, crafts, culinary arts etc. What matters the most in creating this societal normality is fundamentally the visual past of the country.

iran-mosque-ceilings-m1rasoulifard-86__880In Morocco, the arabesque, mozaique and zellige are one of the key components of most ancestral and recent architectural structures. This design is made of geometrical forms aligned around a centrifuge point to create optical illusions and form patterns that remind the eye of the diversity we can find in nature, in the sky, in God’s creation and within the human psyche as well. Aniconism In Islam is one of the main reasons behind the proliferation of these geometrical figures and patterns. The first conscious thought regarding Arts was that representation is an evil challenge against the Creator, therefore seen as heresy. If we chose this example, we can realize how this design that is the materialization of a profound belief and system of thoughts created a culture of abstraction and symbolism in a country already rich in symbols (amazigh culture, berber tattoos, ante-islamic Moroccan tribes that used symbols as a way of expressing deep or inner concepts). After this design gained notoriety and power, the culture of “letting the mind guess instead of saying” became a norm. Which gave birth to a society in which being direct, open and precise is seen as a form of secularity and a lack of tact and subtility. Idioms and proverbs became a strong reminder of these thoughts like the well known Moroccan quote that goes “Don’t shoot the arrow of truth unless you coat it with honey”. If we analyze the form and content of this saying, we realize that chosing the arrow as a metaphor for truth is already a great indicator on how our society views truth: something hurtful that could and should be used with precaution. The same example could be used when studying Renaissance Art where exhuberance, “Sublime” and hierarchy became norms that molded the entire culture that followed the Renaissance era. It is true that culture creates design as well but starting from that perspective rather than it’s inverse will give us a fatalist conclusion that relies on culture and expects the latter to change in order to see new, revolutionary design. When we start, like we now did, from the fact that Design creates culture we can come to the conclusion that culture itself shapes the values of a society. To keep on with the zellige example, the culture gave birth to values such as a desire for harmony yet a taste for complexity, for subtility, for subliminal messages, a care for detail and ornamentation. We can note that there’s a common fear of void in Morocco and most Arab countries due to the arabesque repetitive nature. A true Moroccan object, living room, house, clothing or dish is a constant struggle to tame void and “manage space” as well as possible. This is the case of all things inspired by Orientalism: a fear of blank, almost like an artistic and aesthetical agoraphobia. “More is more” became the motto of our artists, sculptors, architects and creators. The more we give the eye to see, the more we can meditate the meaning and feel the true complexity of our own creation. To make this statement even clearer, we can take a look at the inverse value that Swiss design is known for which is a fear of anything that would endanger the space. Swiss design is known for minimalism, structure, order, a fear of repetition, ornament. “Less is more” is the motto and the less we have on a composition, the clearer the message. Swiss Art considers a design “perfect” the moment we can no longer take anything away while Moroccan Art considers a design perfect when we can no longer add anything.

When studying Art, I like to always keep in mind how well we can understand a country’s philosophy, history, movements and especially future by analyzing its Creative and Artistic scene. Each piece, no matter how singular it might be, gives us an anthropological element that has his own secrets, blindspots, meaning and purpose. If we take a look at how different Design forms are today in Morocco compared to how they were back then, and how each design is a challenge to the old fashioned way of ornamentation, we can easily realize that the Art & Design of the country -therefore the values that shape society and culture, are changing at the speed of light.

Peace out folks,



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