Berber Art

I am enticed into a small alleyway, by a studio sign saying ‘Berber Art.’ A tiny white kitten cowers by the entrance of an artists' studio.  “Can I come in?” I politely ask a man who is hovering in the darkness; he quickly becomes aware of my request.

There is something magical that happens when you enter an artist's studio. I feel it every time.  Similar to walking into Santa’s grotto, where every child receives a gift. The power of awe is intense and you are never sure what to expect but you sense it will be good.

At the end of the shadowy hallway, I enter the colorful studio where I am introduced to Lahlou Mohamad, a young artist who, with arms outstretched, says “Welcome Madam, to my studio!”  Everywhere in Morocco, you are welcomed; trusting authenticity is another matter. He is smiling from ear to ear, happy to share with me his passion for art. I immediately pick up on the truth of this artist.  Sadly I am not a buyer, I am traveling and have no room in my luggage for any artwork. He is, nevertheless, happy for me to write about him; our creativity shares a sense of purpose.

Respectfully he first wants to show me the work of his father, a Berber painter who paints geometric houses in the Moroccan style.  Higher on the wall, on a large canvas, his father has painted men on horses.  ‘The energy is amazing,’ I remark.’ the painting is running so fast towards you that you can almost hear the breath of the horses. ‘

‘The Moroccan people like to buy this style of painting,’ he explains.  ‘They are very traditional in their choices.’ He points out his brother's work. Silhouettes of camels crossing the desert under glowing Sahara skies. 

He lowers his eyes as he wants to show me his work. He is humbled in front of his Father’s paintings. He is his father’s son.

Lahlou Mohamad’s work sits hidden between the majority of what seems to be typically popular. When he brings out his painting to show me in the light I can see more clearly.  These are abstract styles, he explains almost apologetically until he realises I have connected with him.

Like a child holding a gift, I feel lifted and illuminated.  This is the Morocco I want to discover. The colors, all work together to tell a hidden story.  I see a woman's face looking in two directions. My friend says she sees rowing boats at sunset, another can see caves cut into a mountain. Looking again, I discover people walking towards an open doorway where fabric shades hang like sails above their heads.  ‘Yes! Yes! Says Lahlou.

There is so much story in this painting          

“We sell more of this style now.  Especially to the European tourists. It is what they want.”

Starting his painting journey at 12 years old (he proudly holds up a small canvas to show me his first abstract images. Confirming that Lahlou Mohamad was looking for a style that depicts freedom of spirit from an early age.  Here in the alleyways of the Medina in Fes, he is embodied with styles that have lasted throughout the centuries. All artists love to rebel against the norm endeavoring to release their own emotions through their creativity. However, it takes a parent to pass a paintbrush into his child's hand, and when they do? they could be giving them a tool that could be setting them on a path to freedom. His father shares his skills and knowledge with both of his sons, it is up to them how they use it to develop their own stories. 

We can teach the rules to improve skills but we cannot teach free spirit.  That has to come from deep within our soul if we can teach ourselves how to bare it.

Holding his hand to his chest, an emotional Lahlou Mohamad tells me he has a dream to work with international artists.  Please look him up on your next visit to Fes and tell him you read about him on Xaloart. You can visit the studio of Lahlou Ahmed, situated in the Medina of Fes.

Berber wedding, painted by the father of Lahlou Mohamad.