Jan 8th, 2017, 04:48 AM

Uniting Cultures Through Art

By Lianna Bass
Fez Medina at night. Image Credit: Omar Chennafi
This year's Fez International Artist Gathering in Morocco explores the theme, "Art in the Time of Crisis".

The Fez International Artist Gathering, now in its second year, unites cultures from around the globe through art. This year the festival — created and organized by local Fez photographer and artist Omar Chennafi — is gathering artists and thinkers around the theme, “Art in the Time of Crisis.” 

The event will host five new art exhibitions, selected by German curators Pascual Jordan and Evi Blink, that blend photography, installations and paintings. Attendees will enjoy artwork covering a broad range of topics, such as the refugee crisis, war, Islamic extremism and lack of global education. Exhibited artists will come from all corners of the world, including up-and-coming figures such as Mohamed Charkaoui from Fez and Michael Grieve from Berlin.

Omar Chennafi
Photographer and artist Omar Chennafi, founder of the Fez International Artist Gathering. Image Credit: Omar Chennafi.

“We want to give these major issues a different perspective and open the dialogue,” says Chennafi.

At a time when images of war and violence proliferate international media, Chennafi believes that the festival is more important than ever. He hopes the showcased works will challenge stigmas surrounding Islam while examining the world’s ongoing conflicts through a unique and creative lens.

“Artists can talk to everyone because art is the opposite of dogma,” he says. “For me, religion without culture is extremism and culture without art is dogma.”

Fez Medina by Lianna Bass
A glimpse into the hidden treasures of the Fez Medina. Image Credit: Lianna Bass.

The festival will showcase Fez as an ancient city with a modern outlook. Attendees will have the opportunity to connect with the city’s impressive artistic community.

“Muslim culture celebrates art, but it isn’t given the right exposure,” says Chennafi. “We are trying to open up this conversation globally to show the world there is a place for art in Islam.”

Twenty-two new artists will be showcased at the event, including curator Neil van der Linden (Amsterdam); artist and teacher Mohamed Charkaoui (Fez); photographer Michael Grieve (Berlin); visual artist Madiha Sebbani (Rabat, Morocco); and Courtney Ewrin (USA), Senior Program Specialist at the Mohamedian League of Religious Scholars. Chennafi says that each year the festival invites new artists to incorporate fresh perspectives.

Many of the festivals events will take place in the Dar Batha, a 19th-century summer palace converted into a museum in 1915. 
Many of the festival's events take place in the Dar Batha, a 19th-century summer palace converted into a museum in 1915. Image Credit: Fez Guide

A foundational part of the Gathering is its emphasis on dialogue. Attendees will not only appreciate art, but also discuss its impact in four different panels, whose topics range from photograph to art and extremism. After the event, participants will be invited to share their feedback. The entire festival will be filmed, documented, and shared on social media. Coverage will also include one-on-one interviews with artists and participants.

The 2015 International Fez Artist Gathering.
The 2015 International Fez Artist Gathering. Image Credit: Omar Chennafi.

“We want to archive everything that happens, so that teachers and anyone who has an interest in cultural research can have access,” says Chennafi.

The Fez International Artist Gathering, with free admission and open to all, is held in partnership with The Goethe Institut, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Institut Français Fez, Conseil Régional du Tourisme, American Language Centre of Fez, Association Fes Saiss, Cafe Clock, In MACECE, Plan-it Morocco, Cercle des Souffles, L’Association Marocaine des Professeurs d’Allemand i(AMPA), Rumi Institute Near East University, PILOTENKUECHE, Morocco World News and The View From Fez.

For more information on the Fez International Artist Gathering, see www.fezgathering.com and the festival's Facebook page.