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Northwestern University

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Program Name

Morocco: Culture and Society


This paper explores the reference to traditional Moroccan craftwork in contemporary art, specifically in the microcosm of the incorporation of Arabic letters in contemporary painting. The line between craft and art, calligraphy and symbols is examined. What is the purpose of these designs and what meaning do they carry? Through interviews with five artists that employ this technique as well as conversations with other members of the art community, it was found that the artistic significance of these letters has changed throughout history. In the past, calligraphy, although containing some embellishing flair, emphasized the literal linguistic and religious meaning in the letter. The preliminary use of letters in modern art was a nationalistic statement as the Moroccan art community broke with the European. Now, the meaning seems to be a creative one: the personal quest to innovate by redefining a banal and familiar object. This adventurous and questioning quality is felt to be missing in the art community and one wonders whether artists like these five can drive a new movement – one that extends to the entire Moroccan society as well.


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