1962 was a pivotal year for Moroccan modernist Farid Belkahia – he was appointed by the general secretary of the Moroccan Workers' Union as the new director of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Casablanca. His excitement at his new position encouraged the artist to search for a narrative uniting traditional Moroccan crafts with modernity. Belkahia was an active voice in the debate around post-colonial artistic modernism in Morocco, contributing regularly to the leftist cultural and intellectual journal Souffles from its launch onwards.
Throughout his career, Belkahia was opposed to the idea of a Western artistic influence and dedicated his entire oeuvre to developing the concept of a true Moroccan visual identity - a recurrent theme in the Arab art world at the time. For Belkahia, using the cultural heritage of Morocco in his shapes, materials, and technique was a way of rooting international modernism within a local context. To make sure he would achieve such a result, he surrounded himself with a group of artists now regarded as the founders of modernism in Morocco: Mohamed Chebaa, Muhammad Hamidi, Mohamed Melehi and Mustapha Hafid. This group, known as the “Ecole de Casablanca,” established the foundations of Moroccan art in the 20th century. These teachers were appointed to make sure a specifically Moroccan culture was emphasised and a stronger liberal practice of the arts was promoted. The group first exhibited together in Rabat in 1966. In 1969, they and three other professors from the school organised the Exposition Manifeste in Djemaa al-Fna in Marrakech, an open-air exhibition that sought direct contact with a larger public outside a confined art space which would be accessible by all. This was a very avant-garde idea within the Arab world. Later that same year, a similar exhibition was held in Place du 16 Novembre in Casablanca. The group’s main motivation was to shift away from the former colonial attitude that "Contemporary art in Morocco can only be naive art.".
Within this vibrant social, political and artistic atmosphere that Belkahia produced these two rare works. Foule, 1963 (Lot 1) and Bestiaire, 1964 (Lot 2) were both painted during the artist’s tenure as the director of the École des Beaux-Arts in Casablanca. Belkahia’s early 1960s works comprised a few main themes that were dear to him – shanty towns, the destitute people of Morocco facing social inequalities, and the beautiful landscapes of the desert. The artist spent a considerable amount of time studying his environment; the forests, deserts and animals. Both Foule and Bestiaire depict a naive, folkloric and mystical world where Belkahia leaves room for the imagination to take full shape.
In 1963, the first international exhibition in Morocco was organised: Rencontre Internationale des Artistes. Naima Khatib, the director of the Museum of Moroccan Arts at the time explained the idea behind this exhibition: "This exhibition was organised to accomplish two aims: first, to assert the existence and character of Moroccan painting; second, to invite the best known foreign artists to present their works in the same spaces, to allow useful comparisons to be made between all the trends and schools of the moment." Belkahia was asked to draw the catalogue cover of the exhibition.
Foule and Bestial were two works were in the former collection of Dr. Marcel-Yves Poirot. Upon his return from Prague in 1962, Belkahia met Dr. Marcel-Yves Poirot and his wife, who later became his second family. They spent most of their time at Dr. Poirot's home in the Gautier district of Casablanca, where they would socialise with the intellectual art crowd of the time. These works were gifted by the artist to Dr. Marcel-Yves Poirot, and this friendship is mentioned in Belkahia'a official biography written by his wife Raja Benchemsi.
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