Curator's choice: Hicham Khalidi tees up a special venue for the Marrakech Biennale

Hicham Khalidi interviewed by Mark Sheerin | 13 February 2014

Curator’s Choice: Hicham Khalidi on putting contemporary art into a Moroccan museum

Black and white photo of a curator
© Achraf Bendaoud
Curator's Choice: in his own words...Hicham Khaladi talks about showing visual art in a unique and historic venue in Marrakech for the city's fifth Biennale

“So palace Dar Si Said is a museum of Moroccan art and it holds the collection of General Said and was taken over by the French in the 1930s. It was the house of Said. It's a huge, huge palace that became a museum made by the French, but actually never changed.

You go in, everything's old, left behind; there's no money to renovate. They had a collection of 5,000 pieces, really unique, which they keep everywhere [laughs]: in closets and everything. The curator is frustrated; she's working with us. So you have to see it as a huge villa, a beautiful villa, but really run down and left behind.

Some day, I hope there will be something more there you know, that people will understand what‘s at stake at this moment. And so all of this is heritage: what do we want to do with that? But Moroccans don't have many museums; we don't have archives or collections in our tradition.

We have an oral tradition and that's why we don't have any museums and also the whole thing about adopting museums from the West, like the Middle East is doing: I don't know. That has nothing to do with our connection with the past.

The Biennale theme, Where are we Now?, is trying to deal with a connection with the past and trying to find its own tradition. How to deal with this friction between the different ideas of the West and the Middle East, between Africa, Islam or Christianity: all these tensions in between.

This is exactly what Walid Raad’s work is all about. It's all about this idea of copy pasting the Western model into the new space where it doesn't fit, and with all the tensions that come with that, regardless of what the structure of the country has.

In the Middle East there's a big problem. It was in the news the other day that with the World Cup, between 400 and 1,000 people have died building stadiums. But that's a copy-paste, which has nothing to do with the existing infrastructure.

But in Marrakech we’re going into a space that has a structure, that needs money, that needs a decision. We have a collection of 5,000 artefacts, which are really old and what do we do with it?

Because if we don't do anything with it then it's going to go. Then your heritage is gone and we only can make history, by the narratives. We only can make history if we've got the objects. That's how people make narratives.

The research behind it is even more important and we don't have that because the whole industry, in the 60s and 70s, it was partly French and so on and on. History made us what we are now. But what is the future?

To use Dar Si Said as a venue came about quite naturally. When I walked into the space with Walid, who is one of the artists, he showed me work that he had made in the summer, when he was thinking about being here.

And then something happened to that space, and one way or the other all of the artists chose to engage with it. These are really small interventions with the space. Everything we have presented in that space tended more to abstract, more to abstraction.

They occupy an in-between world where it is difficult to figure out what they are. I left it open to the artists chosen, but you have an idea of someone's oeuvre, and so you know what someone's capable of so you do steer people but you also leave it open at the same time so with luck it comes together and this time it came together.

It’s a difficult space for people who are not knowledgeable about contemporary art because it will be hard for them to find the work. That’s what I wanted, but I'm going to be there also giving tours and having a dialogue. So I'm going to spend the whole month of the Biennale there.”

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Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter

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