Discovering Marrakesh | An Oasis of Street Art

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Twenty kilometres outside Marrakech, a haven for street art artists has emerged in recent years. Jardin Rouge has attracted more than 40 artists from all around the world to develop their style for weeks or months. Everybody invited by a foundation and the anonymous owner of the large garden.

In 2016, the 13 hectare large garden also opened to the public with a 2500-sqm art gallery called Art Space. Well-known French photographer Gerard Rancinan opened the new gallery with photos 9 by 15 metres large.
Later four street art artists, Jonone, Tilt, Fenx and Cedric Crespel, had a much praised exhibition and recently Russian artist Yuri Averin showed his art. It’s an odd feeling to go by car from Marrakech and leave the bustling city behind. After about 15 km driving past nothing except a few odd houses, the driver turns right, being surrounded by a dry wasteland with the occasional goat passing by. But suddenly, something green and lush in the flat landscape. And even before we enter the huge green area, you see walls covered with street art.
Inside the gates, famous German street art artist Hendrik Beikirch aka ECB has a Morrocan man on a large wal. A face created when ECB was invited guest at Jardin Rouge.

“In that way, I want to transform people I met and talked to here from anonymous to iconic. And to talk about their professions probably disappearing soon”, says ECB. His giant portraits are shown in many places around the world, among them are the United States, Italy and Germany. One is still here, the man who never left his village, not even for Marrakech. The 22 paintings have recently been published in a book “Trades – Tracing Morocco”.
At Jardin Rouge, we talk with communication manager Elise Lavigne, curator Estelle Guilié and others working at the impressive art centre and we shake hands with Jean-Louis; founder and builder of Jardin Rouge.
Politely but firmly he declines publicity. He wants to remain anonymous and refers to his foundation, Montresso. A foundation created to fund the large construction site and develop it as an ambitious part of Marrakech as an international art centre.

Jonone - a mural artist at Jardin Rouge.

Jonone – a mural artist at Jardin Rouge.

Montresso is linked to the ambitious Marrakech Biennale. Created by Vanessa Branson, the Biennale attract artists, collectors, journalists and art lovers from all over the world for three months. The creator of Jardin Rouge – the name Jardin Rouge is simply the property name – has designed and created the huge area himself. Jean-Louis has a Russian wife and does business with Russia. A couple of the invited street art artists at Jardin Rouge are from Russia, such as SY / Vitaly Tsarenkov, Vitaly Rusakov and Denis Tevekov. The French founder discovered his interest in art and artists early in life, and began collecting art in the early 1980s. In 1981 he started the Montresso Foundation.

Forty years ago, he started coming to Marrakech regularly, but it was not until 2007 that the construction of Jardin Rouge began. From the beginning, it was supposed to be a riad, a home for himself with extra spaces for artists the founder invited. But here the creator’s interest in publicity ends. He refers everything else to curator Estelle Guilié, handpicked for the job in 2014. She built a new organisation, where specially invited street art artists could stay and live in the area for shorter or longer periods. Those invited present an idea they want to carry out, a project with something they had long wanted to try. “In this way, we also create a relation and cooperation going beyond what is happening here. We are in the background, and help “our” artists with projects unrelated to Jardin Rouge. All artists who stay here leave a piece of art for us before they leave,” says Estelle Guilie.

As the creator is is French, there is a larger focus on French artists and French cultural life. A few Germans, Americans and Russians, however, have been invited. Recently, Jardin Rouge has also turned its attention on Africa. “Right now our focus is on inviting African artists from both Morocco and other African countries. We already have a few we have talked to”, says Elise Lavigne, showing us around Jardin Rouge. One artist with roots in Africa now staying at Jardin Rouge is Kouka Ntadi from the Congo. He is here with his Bantus, African pictures painted on walls or on rough planks.

Lately, Kouka has become known all around the world. “My images would not work on normal canvas. They would be too flat and uninteresting”, says Kouka. In the beginning, he used postcards from Africa, which he interpreted and painted on planks in his home country Congo. “There is no graffiti, no spray bottles, not even any walls to paint on in Congo. I wanted to do something in the streets that people would recognise. After all, when you look at it, in Europe it is almost only other graffiti artists who understand graffiti”, says Kouka Ntadi.
During his travels, he painted the entire world’s descendants, everybody had a relation with the figures he painted on the street. “It was in Latin America I received the first strong reactions. People recognised the costumes and badges and told me how I painted their descendants.

“Remarkably, the Congo is the only country where I had problems with my paintings. For the Congolese the pictures are violent and remind them of their roots and the colonisation”, he says. In 2017, Jardin Rouge, or actually Montresso foundation, reached beyond the beautiful garden by arranging a big exhibition in Rabat with Kouka Ntadi and French-Tunisian photographer Wahib Chehata. Three street art artists, Hendrik Beikirch, Tarek Benaoum and AbeilOne painted murals on different walls in Rabat. In the room next to Kouka Ntadi French street art artist RESO aka Cedric Lascours is working. Right now, he is reusing old jute bags, on which he spray paints. He also paints on compressed garbage found in Marrakech.

African picture painted on a rough plank by Kouka Ntadi from Congo.

African picture painted on a rough plank by Kouka Ntadi from Congo.

“Working with so much time as I do here is unusual. The difference is I use more time for preparation, finding the right bag and putting it up. For spray painting, I work as I did on the streets. Painting with spray is totally different from oil painting. You don´t need to wait for it to dry for months, it´s dry in a few minutes. It is the world’s most beautiful vandalism”, he laughs. His neighbour, French graffiti artist POES paints the eight deadly sins. “I was painting the seven deadly sins, but found out they actually are eight. I started with the forgotten one, which translates as Unusable Glory. It´s all is about the total ego of our era, our ever-growing narcissism. I’m starting of course with me, there are no bigger egos than street-art artists”, he laughs. Poes believes there are many myths surrounding graffiti. “Being illegal almost everywhere makes it revolutionary. You can be arrested and fined for what you have done.

Also Read: It’s time to go to Marrakesh!

“But for me, it has always been an ego thing, making sure many people will see my art. And I think that´s true for most graffiti artists”, he says. Suddenly he gets up. “We’ll create a wall together, all of us who are here now. Fun, it’ll be like going back to how it was when I started”. Well, maybe not quite. The long wall built outside mainly has a practical function. When the snow melts in the Atlas Mountains, great masses of water wash down and threaten Jardin Rouge. The founder, Jean-Louis, has built a long wall around his property. A wall that of course has to be spray-painted by the invited artists. We meet WoW123 aka Markus Genesius from Bremen, Germany. In his projects, he works partly with the test images from TV’s childhood.

Test images tell you there will be no more transmissions. “Today everything has changed. There is no limit to what you can see or be entertained by 24/7. When I show the test image pictures, I get all kinds of reactions. From those recognising what the image meant to young people who have never seen it. But it is always interesting discussions”, he says. We talk with Wow123 what it’s like coming from a world that was illegal and being an “artist” at Jardin Rouge. “I’m more a mural artist than graffiti. Sure, I’ve also made my spray painting and tags, paid my fine or done community service. But I’ve worked with many large murals since the late 1980s. It gave me more kicks working with others on large walls. The first I did in 1994”, he says.

Like many other street art artists, WoW123 travels a lot to inspire and to be inspired. “Last year, I was on the road more than 100 days with exhibitions, projects, or just to meet interesting artists. I see it as an evolution, graffiti and street art has developed in different directions that is very exciting. But it is not enough to stop illegal graffiti, it will exist as long as there is a need to express something”, he says. Other street art artists who stayed and worked at Jardin Rouge are MadC, Ceet, Cedrix Crespel, Tilt, Fenx, Neurone, 310, Kashink, Goodog, Tats Cru and Jober.
Now Jardin Rouge wants to become more outgoing. Art collectors, curators and journalists are now invited to stay at Jardin Rouge. In addition, each guest artist is represented in a small book. “We will soon be involved in eight different projects both in Morocco and elsewhere. We will also have more people working with us”, says Elise Lavigne.

This article was written by Urban Nilmander.

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