Murcia’s Manifesta, via Marrakech art fair over the Atlas Mountains and back again

This autumn I had the good luck to combine the Manifesta circus with my other passions of traveling and trekking. I joined Deirdre McKenna from Stills and her colleague Cheryl on a flight from Prestwick to Murcia. On the way to the airport I had the good luck to meet Jonathan Baxter, my current Shadow Curator to undertake a quick-debrief of the Red Herring events back in Huntly the previous weekend at Dundee station for which he needed to abandon briefly the Public Art symposium at DCA.

We whisked around Murcia and the highlights were the installations at the old Post Office, particularly impressive where their dealing with health and safety issues – integrating them completely in the curatorial process. The artist I was most interested in was Kajsa Dahlberg a Swedish artist who collected hundreds of postcards from Jerusalem to Stockholm written over the whole of the 20th century. The work was also beautifully displayed on top of a mirrored table, which allowed people to both read the content and see the postcard. But where was the promised dialogue with North Africa? Luckily our old friend Colonel was there who stirred that question up by offering his space to any of the few people from the North African region who were there.

Two nice features were to be found on the Manifesta square: a woman cooking North African food in a very exuberant colourful stall and a bunch of arts students from Amsterdam, who ran a biennial tourist memorabilia stall. A good meet was also Prof John Kennedy from Toronto who introduced me to a Turkish artist with visual impairment.

I left the Manifesta circus behind to embark on a 12 hour bus journey to Algeciras, from where the boat goes to Tangier. On the boat I had the good fortune to meet a group of Austrian truckers on their way to Mali, who kept me interesting company. On arrival in Tangier I hired a taxi and 2 brothers showed me round the town and its sights. Beautiful but also sad to see was a viewpoint to look over to Tarifa in Spain, out of reach for many of the people who sat there admiring the view.
Lovely in tangier were the old art deco cinemas, still fully in their heydays.
From there a most comfortable sleeper train took me straight to Marrakech where I threw myself straight into the Marrakech Art Fair, a very different kind of experience then Manifesta. The international circuit was very French / Spanish dominated and on show were a mixed kind of selection of works from mainly Moroccan and other North African artists. Sadly my French let me down during the symposia, so I decided to join a group to Dar Sabra , an unbelievable designer hotel with art works all over the place instead.
At night I picked up Nick who came in from Edinburgh and we went straight to Hassan Hajjij’s exhibition opening at the Hotel Bab.
Marrakech itself does into need the town is the venue. It is all there already. The big square transforms at night time into a spectacle of dance, food, music and other happenings; a real feast for the senses.
Deborah joined us the next day from London, which of course was lovely and made shopping n the Medina endlessly exciting. A most intricately woven Berber runner was the highlight of our purchases. For a day we also swung by Essayoura at the sea with its wonderful seafood.

And then we left for the Atlas mountains. We started our trek in Imlil with at mule, a guide called Ibrahim and a fantastic cook called Hassan. No need to tell the scenery was stunning and the food and service just brilliant. The refuges are a bit basic, but its all part off it. On day 3 we embarked onto Mount Toubkal (4200m) at the crack of dawn and later that day went all the way back to the valley full of orchards.

Back in Marrakech we took the train to Fez, which claims t be the oldest university town in the world, but what it really has to offer is the most amazing Medina which takes some 3 hours to get from one gate to the other. We stayed in a riad, which felt more like an Islamic museum then a hotel for all the mosaic, wood carving, fountains and stained glass it featured.
The highlight here like in Marrakech were the craft makers of all sorts. Most unbelievable were the tanneries, the sights and smells of which were more something out of a medieval history book. One spends one’s day wondering about all this hustle and bustle just interrupted by the lovely mint teas.

We flew back to London, where we stayed with our daughter Deborah in her Kensington flat. The next day I went to the Whitechapel Gallery, where I met with Peter Liveridge to discuss a residency opportunity in Huntly, and also with Rebecca Page who now works there; a stiff career move from being a young artist in Aberdeenshire not that many years ago.
The next day I had the very good fortune that my Mali-compagnon Kerryn Greenberg has organized a symposium with no less then 8 African curators, which was absolutely splendid. I was particularly interested in the work of Abdellah Karoum from Morocco who curated a project on the border between (now closed) Algeria and Morocco, an event that took place on both sides, thereby ignoring the enforced boundary. And then back with the sleeper to Scotland, where back in Huntly my lovely team has spread out all over my office copies of the long awaited ARTocracy book.

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