Author Archives: sebasvds

Day 11 – Casablanca architectural tour, CasArts & L’Boulevard

Casablanca Skyline

Hectic schedule of our last day in Casablanca somehow helped reduce the tension of the last day of the Orientation trip – the last day to see more, learn more, get the souvenirs, take more pictures and do whatever we can to seize the day and make the impression of the overall trip as much as possible intense and everlasting.

And the day was undoubtedly an eventful one.

Aïcha el Beloui of Casamémoire

It started with the architectural tour with Aïcha el Beloui, an architect who is a part of the Casamémoire organisation, devoted to preservation of architectural heritage of Casa(blanca). The group was very eager to learn as much as possible about the city, whose vast space kept revealing traces of various cultural traditions of nations occupying and populating the area. The story of architecture was intertwined with the story of development of Casablanca, how it became one the leading cities and the largest of North Africa, now numbering around 3 million inhabitants and 3.6 million in the wider Casablanca region.

Cathédrale Sacré Coeur

The first curiosity we learned was its name  – “Casablanca”, as the world knows this city – which is obviously not an Arabic word. Aïcha explained that the name comes from “Casa Branca”, meaning “white house”, which was given by the Portuguese in 16th century, with a later Spanish adaptation into “Casa Blanca”, while remaining “Ad-Dar al-Bayda” for the Arabic speaking population.

But the history of this place starts much before the Portuguese. It was first inhabited by the Berbers, with the record of their presence from as early as the 7th century. The first name for the area was Anfa, still used for the historical centre, which designated a small kingdom formed in the Roman days. After being fought for by different dynasties between the 13th and the 15th century, it became an independent republic. However, the Portuguese came not long after, destroyed it and then used the ruins of Anfa to build a military fortress in 1515, while the town, Casa Branca, grew around it. For a long time the city did not prosper, until, in the 18th century, Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah decided to populate it and make it a centre of economy, bringing people from different places to live there and giving it the official name Casablanca. The city steadily grew in terms of its of population, but also its economy, achieving its progress in commerce in the days of the European crisis in the mid-19th century. Continue reading


Day 10 – Les Abattoirs de Casablanca / Fabrique Culturelle

Nature and Landscape-exhibition

After our visit to the Société Générale Maroc, where we got our first (pretty unsettling)  introduction to the local contemporary art scene (or rather the absence of such a scene if I understood things correctly)  by Professor Mohamed Rachdi, the director and curator of “the only museum of contemporary art in Morocco” and “the biggest exhibition place of the country”, I didn’t really know what to think. Can it be true  – as Mr. Rachdi has suggested – that there’s no education, no debate, no reflection whatsoever on contemporary art in this country? Can it be true that generations and generations of Moroccan art historians, critics, curators and scholars were lost? And what about the public? Do they love contemporary art? What are people asking for?

Haco De Ridder and Mohamed Rachdi

Unfortunately, Tine Colstrup is back in Denmark and I’m in Belgium at the time of writing this. We didn’t manage to exchange our views on the visit to the exhibition,  as was our original intention. Nevertheless, I hope that one of these days Tine will find time to share her impressions on the qualities of the current theme exhibition “Nature and Landscape”  as she is far more qualified to do so than I am. (Tine wrote a study about landscape in art). Continue reading

Orientation Trip 2011 on YouTube

We’re back home from our Orientation Trip. The coming days we will upload new blogs and images from our visit to Casablanca. Meanwhile you can have a look at some videos we made on our YouTube channel:

Day 9 – Aissa Dione, textile designer

Our next appointment is with Aissa Dione at her textile factory. The search for her place takes our bus to an hour of wandering through the streets of Rufusque, once a town of its own, now a suburb of the expanding Dakar. The ride shows us Senegal that is much less painted by its colonial past than Dakar, and much more mad and hectic in the autonomous world of its own. In a way, it reminds us of Bamako with its disorganised architectural and social shapes, but still with the aggressive Senegalese dynamism of the street that is right the opposite of the serene atmosphere of the Malian capital.

Aissa Dione

When we get to the factory, the location suddenly makes sense – it would obviously be very difficult to have that amount of space in Dakar. The factory is very large, it appears that it could have around 3000 m2, with the looms positioned all around the hall, most of which, surprisingly, without an operator in that particular moment. The building is massive and very impressive, and Aissa tells us that it once used to be a French military barracks, then a peanuts storage, then a Lebanese ice-cream factory, and now she has been extensively investing in its renovation for the last 2 years.

We met Aissa the night before, during the introduction dinner at Le Kadjinol. From the first encounter it was obvious that she was a professional, competent and firm, very much experienced in international communication. Beside the plan to visit her the day after, Aissa kindly, but authoritatively, suggests interventions in our programme, advising whom should we meet from the Senegalese art scene, that she has been part of as a painter and gallerist for 15 years.

So only a day later we are at her space and she guides us through it, interrupting the history of her work with occasional explanations of the origin and purposes of certain machines.  Continue reading

Day 9 – l’ Ecole des Sables / Jant-Bi (Toubab Dialaw)

After some detours and thus somewhat later than planned we arrived at L’Ecole des Sables. Notwithstanding previous agreements we seem to arrive unannounced and to take the grounds by surprise. Anne Mbaye who is responsible for the administration very kindly shows us around and informs us on the history and the policy of L’Ecole des Sables / Jant-Bi foundation.

Ecole des Sables / Jant-Bi

The school was initiated in 1998 by well-known dancer and choreographer Germaine Acogny and her husband Helmut Voigt. The first years it was located in the village of Toubab Dialaw, but after a few years they started constructing an infrastructure and buildings on an idyllic site overviewing the sea. There is a theatre, rehearsal spaces, residencies and even a restaurant.

Two remarkable things were mentioned: The first is that in the 1960s the notion of ‘contemporary dance’ (‘art dance’, academic dance) was totally unknown and underappreciated in Africa, where dance was being considered as a social event. As such it was / is mainly practised by women, whereas the ‘African contemporary dance’ is mainly done by men. Germaine Acogny has developed her own dance idiom and more or less invented African dance.

Dancers following a class at Ecole des Sables

The second relevant remark was that this could only have happened through the stimulating support of president Senghor (1906 – 2001). Senghor in the 1960s and 1970s has been en pivotal figure in the development in Senegal of the contemporary arts at large.

If we consider the information we’ve received until now it’s hard to perceive and appreciate how the cultural climate and infrastructure would have been without him. Nevertheless under subsequent president the situation hasn’t improved. Hence the remark of Anne Mbaye: “In Senegal we don’t wait for the government anymore”.  Continue reading

Day 9 – Dutch interlude with Erik Pol in Rufisque

Time for lunch. And yet another occasion to revise some of our stereotypical preconceptions about nationality and customs. This continuous process of self-critical re-evaluation is one of the most valuable rewards of travelling in our large, heterogeneous international group. Oddly, I find it easier to listen to other people now that I’ve come to appreciate, respect and even admire them on this long and sometimes very tiring journey.  (Frankly, it would have made more sense to be fed up with everyone by now, no?) To my own surprise, I happily readjust some of my previous assumptions, opinions and expectations every day. I must say I like it. It feels good to broaden your views, raise your mind, improve your thoughts, really travel…

Erik Pol & Veerle Wenes

Okay, this lofty digression may sound a bit out of place here but I’m serious. Even if I was actually going to comment on a very light & slight cultural question. I mean, the Dutch notion of lunch is a popular joke amongst us Belgians.  (We think of buttermilk and sticky industrial bread). Having lunch with Erik Pol induces me to adjust even this general notion. We enjoy a great meal on the terrace roof of his beautiful house in Rufisque. The view is grand. The food is outstanding : fresh home-grown  products (oh, that coriander!), local cuisine… Is Erik really Dutch? Anyway, his excellent cook is Senegalese. As Veerle, with her typical gracious style, reminds us of. She starts a well deserved round of applause for Erik’s Senegalese cook. Yes, we’re grateful. Continue reading

Day 8 – Architecture School, Black Music Worldwide, diner at Le Kadjinol

On our 8th day we visited the Maison des Esclave at Goree island. We will soon put more information and images about this visit on our blog.

Maison des Esclave - view on the ocean

After our visit to the beautiful island of Goree and the impressive Maison des Esclave we drove to Point E to visit the architectural school of Jean-Charles Tall who’ve we met on our first evening in Dakar, and gave us an introduction to Dakar together with Koyo Kouoh.

Jean-Charles Tall started the Architecture College together with a group of architects in 1990 when the Senegalese government closed the only official architectural school in the country.

More then 90 students are studying 2 till 3 years at the school and get a certificate which is validated by the Senegalese Ministry of Education. After 3 years they are official ”technical engineers”. If they want to become an architect they have to study an additional 4 years.

Jean-Charles Tall

The school is a private school and is not receiving any financial support by the Senegalese government and was initially financed by the architects who erected the school. The Architecture College is also offering education to students form outside Senegal (Comoros, DR Congo, Mauritania etc.).

Architecture College

The Architecture College wants to be a space for reflexion and feed the cultural climate in Senegal. This is why the school not only focusses on architecture but also on cultural heritage, urbanism and environment. For Jean-Charles Tall it’s very important that students get confronted with both theory and reality. Last year he let students visit shanty areas in Dakar to confront them with everyday realities.

After the visit of the architecture school we had a gap in our programme and Jean-Charles Tall advised us to go to the Maison de la Culture Douta Seck, to visit the Les Musiques Noires dans le Monde. When we arrived at the centre we were told that the centre was officially closed due to unpaid bills in the last couple of months (which seems a common problem for cultural organisations in Senegal).

We asked kindly if it they could re-open for our group for just one hour, which seemed to be possible after some negotiations (and bargaining!).

Sacred figures of Black Music, the start of the exhibition

The exhibition was an interactive introduction to the story of black music. The route through the exhibition was thematic and started with a room with 21 translucent columns which presented the 21 ‘sacred figures of black music’. These ”monuments sacres” were Senegalese artist Youssou N’dour, B.B. King, James Brown, Oum Kalthoum, Bob Marley, Ali Farka Touré and even Elvis Presley! We all got a audio tour with touchscreen so everyone of us could listen to his or her own favourite black music.  Continue reading