A survey exhibition of Mohammed Chabaa, the pioneering artist who helped forge a new art movement in post-independence Morocco in the 1960s and 1970s, is among the three new shows that opened at Abu Dhabi’s Cultural Foundation on Sunday.
Titled Mohammed Chabaa: Visual Consciousness, the retrospective is the first to be presented outside of Morocco since the artist's death in 2013. Like his peers Mohamed Melehi – who died in October after contracting Covid-19 – Farid Belkahia and art historian Toni Maraini, Chabaa innovated artistic forms that referenced traditional Moroccan and North African crafts.
The exhibition encompasses works throughout the artist’s career from 1957 to 2012 – paintings, graphic art, sculpture, interior design models and archival material.
Born in Tangier in 1935, Chabaa studied at the Fine Arts School of Tetouan in Morocco before continuing his studies in Italy in the early 1960s. He eventually returned to his home country, where he became an educator and a key figure in an avant-garde movement that sought to democratise art, bringing it to urban spaces and to the public through festivals and workshops.
His works are also associated with the Casablanca Art School, the name for an institution and a group that included Melehi, which aimed to weave together art, artisanal craft, geometric abstraction and designs that were reflective of a new, post-colonial Morocco.
Chabaa’s paintings are often gestural and geometric, marked by angular lines and vibrant shapes. In his later works, he also experimented with minimalist works that borrowed from various calligraphic styles. During his life, the artist also worked as a muralist, graphic designer, critic and writer.
His retrospective at the Cultural Foundation coincides with the group exhibition, Murals of History, which includes works by 15 artists from the UAE. The show features murals that draw from elements of Arab art history, integrating Islamic and contemporary styles.
The artists included in the show are Abdulrahman Abdalla Al Dark, Ali Ahmed Kashwani, Aladdin Abdeen, Fatma Al Hammadi, Gary Yong, Ghanim Mubarak, Hamad Al Shamsi, Mohamed Gourashi, Mohamed Khaled Al Jneibi, Rafeea Abdulla Al Khyeli, Rafiaa Hussain Al Nassar, Reem Al Mazrouei, Simrin Mehra Agarwal, Shahul Hameed and Sultan Al Ramahi.
The third exhibition, From Cinderella to Sindbad: German and Arab Timeless Tales, focuses on the flow of knowledge and cultural exchange between Germany and the Arab world. The art of storytelling and narrative traditions are highlighted through a display of artefacts, including ancient papyri, archival material, as well as books, games and comics.
There are also rare manuscripts, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's handwritten notes in Arabic and rare editions of works by the German Brothers Grimm and the Arabian Nights.
As part of the exhibition, a programme for children and adults includes a marionette show, storytelling and writing workshops and readings of folktales about Sindbad, Cinderella, Sinuhe and other characters from both literary traditions.
In a statement, Reem Fadda, the director of Cultural Foundation said that the trio of exhibitions “aims to present exhibitions and programmes that build and expand upon our visitors’ existing notions of art history especially from the region and contemporary cultural practices”. She added that visitors will be able to see an “artistic vision that came to define the post-independent cultural awakening in Morocco” in Chabaa’s retrospective, as well as see the contemporary styles of UAE artists in Murals of History and “discover the ways in which disparate cultures can exchange ideas and knowledge through the medium of stories” through From Cinderella to Sindbad.
All the exhibitions, which run until September 20, are also available as virtual galleries online.
More information on the Cultural Foundation can be found on culturalfoundation.ae