In September I did a two week artist residency at Green Olive Arts in Tetouan, northern Morocco. It is a beautiful city with a definite Spainish influence and pedestrian streets easy to manuever. I stayed at Riad Reducto, a lovely traditional hotel tucked away just inside the old medina. Walking thru the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was a constant pleasure and was filled with beautiful handcrafts as well as vegetable stands, (lots of cats!) and everything for the locals. I didn’t expect to feel so at ease there but everyone was friendly and helpful.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as to the traditions of this Islamic nation – for example – if I would feel compelled to cover my head and dress more conservatively. But I found that my usual jeans, t-shirts and sweaters were not only accepted but were the common attire for many of the younger set. The one thing I did find unnerving (and rather irritating) – the pedestrian streets were lined with cafes – just for men. In fact, it was hard to find places where women were welcome to have coffee or dine besides our hotel restaurant – which luckily was quite wonderful.
At Green Olive, I had a shared studio with plenty of light, a large worktable and a small etching press at my disposal. I chose to visit Morocco because I was intrigued by Moorish design, the textiles, the colors, the crafts, etc. I had some ideas of what I would work on in the studio, but that totally changed once I got there. I’ve done a number of artist residencies over the years, and I always find that something shifts in my artwork – whether it’s the use of color, the change in imagery, or new inspiration from the surroundings. When you are working in a new environment, you can’t predict how you will be influenced and the work you produce. I love that!
Archetypal symbols have been the main focus of my work for the past twenty-five years so it was a surprise to me that my work shifted to the figure while there. As a woman artist brought up in the Western World (and a feminist), I couldn’t help but be affected by seeing the Islamic women covering their heads and bodies with scarves and djellabas (like caftans). There was a certain anonymity created that intrigued me. I held no judgement, but rather a curiosity about my Moroccan sisters. Working at the etching press, a series of monotype prints (one of a kind images) entitled Anonymous in Morocco evolved.
I also created an artist book – inspired by the sacred geometry, symbols, and decorative arts in Morocco. I collaborated with a local leather maestro to create the leather covers. The finishing touch was to write inspirational sayings and quotes that are dear to me. This book will be a lasting momento of my time in Morocco.
The staff at GOA were all very accommodating and helpful. Rachel, one of the directors, took us on a tour of the School of Art & Design where young people were being taught traditional techniques of Islamic architecture & design; wood, plaster, textiles, embroidery, wood inlay, metal work, leather, etc. It was wonderful to see these traditional crafts in the making and to know that they will continue with the next generation.
I also offered a free monotype workshop to local artists with the blessing of the GOA staff. It was fun to share my processes and passion for printing – and make new friends at the same time.
Part of going to an Artist Residency is meeting other artists and learning about their lives and processes. My friend Jan Davis from San Miguel traveled with me, and was there working on her stories about previous experiences in Morocco as well as prints and textile work. Scott Ponemone did large-scale watercolors of Moroccan locals. Holly Woodward created artist books with her creative style calligraphy. Sara Gross, a ceramic artist, was about to begin as we were leaving. We also met local artists who, although we didn’t always share a common language, we did share a love of art.