Looking back at African Crossroads in Marrakech
Last December, the first edition of a pan-African creative industry summit called 'African Crossroads' took place in Marrakech. The aim of this Hivos initiative was to reflect on the future movements of the African continent and it was organized with, for and by the African (and diasporic) scene in the arts, culture and creative industries. Hivos and the Creative Industries Fund NL entered into a partnership for this purpose. The international teams that worked on projects in Egypt and Morocco – in response to the first series of internationalization open calls – were invited to organize an installation or talk during the summit, to provide further depth to their ongoing projects on inclusive societies. Journalist Willemijn de Koning, who is based in Morocco, has written an impression.
'We were keen to be part of this Hivos event because it would enable us to strengthen each other's networks and to publicize the projects supported by the Fund that are running in Morocco and Egypt. We have face-to-face meetings in the Netherlands, but it is just as important to organize them in the countries where the projects take place and where the international partners of the teams are based and rooted', explained Zineb Seghrouchni on behalf of the Fund.
The projects supported by the Fund are shown in Marrakech in the form of presentations and installations. The latter are especially popular. Dozens of participants gather in the sun around the food stand, of the project 'Play City', an original snails stall transplanted from Djemaa El Fnaa which symbolizes the interaction on the famous square in Marrakech that attracts many Moroccans and tourists. According to architect and originator Selma Maaroufi (NoRA, NL), this is a good example of an 'urban living room' she would like to see in Rabat. 'In Morocco, the public spaces are often too large, made for representation and conceived from the top down. We would like to create smaller and quotidian spaces close to the residents. A place for everydayness, casual gatherings and occasional performances that the local residents can appropriate.'
Further on, another group is discussing inclusiveness in the digital culture sector. The conversation is taking place under an installation that symbolizes the waterway in Tiznit, which is at the heart of the 'Learning with Tiznit' project. The team wants to breathe new life into neglected places around the waterway, connecting the Medina to the Oasis. Together with local architect Salima Naji, an expert of built and cultural heritage, they try to save and revive the memories of these places for the next generations.
'We are doing this by organizing workshops with local artists and citizens, for example in the Oasis we are making a nursery/plant museum. Later the museum will host educational programs for children, where they can learn about the importance of water and local plants.', explains urbanist Nika Jazaei. 'This way of working together and the fact that the citizens manage this place themselves with their own heritage reinforces the feeling of care and ownership. The 'modernization' of the city has endangered those qualities of the landscape into neglection.'
On the roof of villa Janna where the conference is being held, people are sitting in the stargazing platform, a round tomb woven with blue wool. This is one of the four projects that CILAS (Egypt), Sara Radi (Egypt) and Bureau LADA (NL) want to set up in a historic district in Caïro. The other three are a herb garden, a garden with fruit and vegetables and an energy space. 'By letting people work here with their hands during workshops, or simply reflect while looking at the sky, we aim to bring people together and put issues on the agenda, such as coexisting in a historic neighbourhood in 2018 or climate change,' says Karim Yassin Goessinger from CILAS and Lada Hršak from Bureau LADA.
On the second day, Sarah Frikech draws visitors to her local partner Le18 to present her research. Meknes is experiencing a new urban transformation, just outside of the city a large industrial park is being created. These developments were a reason for Frikech to research on the relationship between the city and the countryside. 'The role of water has a special history in Morocco. When you look at the city and it's history from the perspective of water you come across different aspects. Such as the social dynamics in the time of the French protectorate. And the influence of several water systems in times of climate change.' Ultimately, Sara Frikech wants to present the findings through models and a series of conversations, which she organizes together with Le18.
In 'Grounded Urban Practices', organized by René Boer (Non-Fiction, NL) and Omar Nagati (Cluster, Egypt), all the initiatives come together. The title refers to projects that creatives set up without any influence from – and even as a minor rebellion against – the government to take root with a space in communities. 'They are creating their own tools bottom-up as a kind of activism.' After the financial crisis in the Netherlands and the Arab revolution in Egypt, both Boer and Nagati frequently saw this type of project emerge. They are investigating this phenomenon and organizing encounters between Dutch people and Egyptians to exchange knowledge and make a book about it. In this way, they want to lay the foundations for future research.
African Crossroads has not only been important in giving visibility to the projects that were supported through the open calls, the event has conversely also had an impact on the projects themselves. 'Hearing what others are doing has made us refresh our ideas,' says René Boer. 'I've learned more about a wide range of projects and initiatives in the African context and the importance of meeting these changemakers face to face,' says Nika Jazaei. Selma Maaroufi notes that African Crossroads has corroborated her ideas. 'I have met others here who are involved with the same thing, and who share the analysis that in this part of the world public space very much tends to exclude rather than include, that strengthens me in my idea that an initiative such as Play City is indeed relevant and necessary.'