North Africa’s creative capital city is quickly becoming Marrakech—known for its palatial gardens, art museums, and vibrant artistic culture. Now, the city is adding a world-class venue to the mix with the new Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, opening February 24.
It’s worth the trip alone to check out the gorgeous premises: The museum boasts 82,000 square feet of space, featuring 3 gallery spaces, conference halls, library, and a palm tree-filled garden. The terracotta and brick building was designed by Madrid architects Fuensanta Nieto and Enrique Sobejano in collaboration with the Casablanca firm of Omar Alaoui.
MACAAL is dedicated to the promotion of African art across a range of media and also offers educational programs for locals. It’s an independent, not-for-profit contemporary art museum and is certainly one of the first of its kind in North Africa.
The institution is a philanthropic initiative by Moroccan art collectors Alami (father) and Othman Lazraq (son), the latter also artistic director of Fondation Alliances, which aims to support contemporary photography. He is also the creator of La Chambre Claire, an art gallery in Casablanca.
The museum puts the Lazraq family’s private collection of modern and contemporary African art—which has been steadily growing over the past 40 years—on view to a broader audience.
The space also highlights the creative energy and cultural diversity found across the continent, as many African artists are often overlooked on the international scene.
The grand opening will feature two exhibitions; a selection from their permanent collection alongside a group show called “Africa Is No Island,” which features 40 African photographers.
“Africa is not an island but rather a connected territory, full of possibilities,” said co-curator Baptiste de Ville d’Avray, who worked on the show with Jeanne Mercier.
To Othman Lazraq, the museum is not just about promoting African art, especially contemporary work from younger artists, but also developing the base of art collectors in North Africa. The museum’s aim is to turn Marrakech into an international hub for African art, and with a dazzling track record, it's easy to see why it's well on its way. “For me, photography captures a moment in time, in a way no other medium can,” he said. “All the works shown in 'Africa Is No Island' are highly personal and tell a story about the sitter, the landscape, or the artist themselves.”
The goal is to build a strong foundation promoting African art similar to Cape Town’s recently-opened art museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. “Creating a large network in Africa can help the next generation of artists, critics, and curators,” said Lazraq. “For now, my team and I are seeing who can help us achieve this vision.”
“African art has become popular internationally but there is definitely a lack of infrastructure in Africa itself,” said Lazraq. “I think this has something to do with our mentality and perception that cultural policy is a secondary issue and not something to be prioritized. But it’s one of the reasons we hope to join forces with other advocates of contemporary African art based within Africa. We really need to bolster our engagement from within the continent.”
Some of the works on show now include photos by Namsa Leuba, who takes stunning portraits of African men among lush landscapes, from forests to deserts and stone thrones. There are also pieces by Joan Bardeletti, a French photographer who famously shot a series called Gays in Africa, for which he received a 2010 World Press Photo award.
Also included are conceptual photos by Ishola Akpo, a Beninese artist who has shot a series called “Daibi,” which shows Napo hunters in the Benin region of Savè.
The museum currently boasts both North African and Sub-Saharan African voices from all 54 countries on the continent. Each year, the museum will feature two different exhibitions to show alongside their permanent collection and will soon be launching an artist-in-residence program allowing African artists to live and work at the museum for three months.
“Marrakech is a multinational city and a huge tourist destination, and, as such, we are extremely lucky to receive many art lovers at the museum,” said Lazraq. “This city is a real melting pot of cultures and has always been a creative hub for a very long time; it has always been a source of inspiration for many, from Winston Churchill to Yves Saint Laurent and even for young artists today.”