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The Moroccans: Photographs by Leila Alaoui

From June 07, 2019 until September 22, 2019Mondays through Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Closed on from 5 to august 25
Casa Árabe exhibition halls (at Calle Alcalá, 62) Mondays through Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Free entry until the event’s capacity is reached.

For the first time in Madrid, Casa Árabe and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco are displaying this exhibition, within the framework of the festival PHotoEspaña, the twenty-second edition of which is being held this year.

The exhibition The Moroccans shows us a very personal journey taken by young photographer and video artist Leila Alaoui (1982-2016), who tragically passed away as a result of the injuries she sustained in the terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on January 15, 2016, while she was working on a report about the status of women commissioned by Amnesty International. In this sense, the exhibition is also an attempt to pay homage to her career as an artist, of course, but also as a committed individual. The thirty portraits which we are presenting were taken at rural locations in small towns and communities spread out all over Morocco. In the words of Leila herself, they are based on the “filter of her intimate position as a Moroccan with the goal of revealing the subjectivity of the people appearing in the portraits.” And there can be no better context for raising awareness about the work by this great photographer among the audience in our country than the PHotoESPAÑA festival, which is now holding its twenty-second edition.

Leila Alaoui created the photo series The Moroccans from 2010 to 2014. In the series, she does not show the usual everyday scenes of Moroccan life, but instead created portraits in the strictest, most classical sense of the term. Richard Avedon, one of the greatest portrait photographers of the twentieth century, said,  “A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he’s wearing or how he looks. It is involved in what takes place and, therefore, has the power and ability to influence the outcome.” This is clearly the idea underlying Leila’s work: nothing which appears in her images seems stolen. The mobile studio which she took with her on her trips down the roadways of Morocco leaves no room for doubt about what she hoped to get out of the subjects whom she photographed: she wanted them to take on a pose, a somewhat antiquated expression, but one which managed to situate the artist’s work within a broad historical context of secular images.

It is impossible to remain apathetic when observing the powerful pictorial dimension of the images by Leila Alaoui.  Like the three great masters of portraiture, Tintoretto, Van Dyck and Ingres, she uses a customary technique in her portraits: the neutral background (black in her case), which requires a frontal view.  As in classical portraits, the place held by wardrobe, whether sumptuous and colorful or simple and commonplace, plays a role: it makes viewers forget the subjects’ bodies. One can tell that seduction was not what Leila Alaoui sought when taking these portraits of men and women. Quite the contrary, the disappearance of their bodies under clothing permits a true epiphany of faces. Because of this, after walking amid her works, what we are left with are these faces and their gazes. Gazes that leave the space with us when we exit the exhibition hall.

The Moroccans is being shown for the first time in Spain, paying homage to the career and lifetime commitment of Moroccan photographer and video artist Leila Alaoui (1982-2016). This exhibition was made possible by the generous contributions of the Alaoui Foundation, PhotoEspaña, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakesh, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Spain, Galleria Continua and Helicon Axis.

[Based on a text by curator Guillaume de Sardes]
The Moroccans: Photographs by Leila Alaoui
11. Tameslohte (Marrakesh-Safi 2010) ©Leila Alaoui Foundation