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Karim Rafi, for an art in ellipsis...

In the works of the Morrocan artist, noise takes on a meaning that is both artistic and political.
By Abdellah Karroum | Jul 2011

Karim Rafi is an interdisciplinary artist who began by experimenting with the production of the Slam concert (Festival Slam Klam) [1] and studying electronics and graphic design. He now enters the visual art world fully and forcefully with his radical project, The Show is Over, first installed in the exhibition, Fleurs, animaux, urbains, machines (Flowers, animals, urbans, machines), at L’appartement 22 in 2011. Blending the visual and the sonorous, the composition is made from an "assemblage" of materials used to produce sounds. The artist deconstructs these materials, altering their function and offering a new possibilities for viewing/listening. Karim Rafi produced his artwork as a manifesto that addresses the position of the artist in society, including the society of the spectacle. The work’s central element is the sound produced by the rubbing of a diamond placed on his turntable at a spot just beyond the record’s last groove. Placing the diamond thus, the artist proposes looking and listening to what is after the end of conventional and logical sound. It is a project that suggests a third time. This time would be narrated further than the history and the physical existence of sound in the space.

"Tout va bien (all is well)" was the message sent by Karim Rafi from his studio in Casablanca and placed on one of the tables in the exhibition project, Working For Change, proposed as the Moroccan Pavilion in the 54th Venice Biennale. For the duration of the Biennale, the artist continues to send a new page and a new message daily, sometimes accompanied by an image or sound. It is a book that is read at the same time that it is written, in ellipses...

From the artist’s very first experimental, graphic, and sound works, noise takes on a meaning that is both artistic and political. Such is the case with Cahos in 1995, when Karim Rafi wrote stories illustrated with images and sound. His projects develop like Pandora’s box or a library with multiple entry and exit points. Each new opening leads toward another new and nomadic track.

With its linguistic, graphic, and sonorous form, the artwork denounces the impossibility of a revolution and announces another possible revolution, in loop.

In an improvised dialogue, Karim Rafi proclaims the importance of sound for his intellectual, cerebral work. Sound "permits an escape from meaning and a liberation from the rational-irrational divide, from all logical construction." It is tied to movement, beyond the container and the drawn track. As for the image, "it illustrates something without clarifying it. It suggests. Instead of constructing, it deconstructs, which is to say a construction of non-verbal deconstruction."

The artist is a storyteller. When asked about the mixing of media and the navigation between art and politics, he replies that the story is not necessarily contained in textual formulation, or a specific mode of transfer. As for the verb, he defines it as "multicolored letters, elastic dough to chew, object and active sculptural material, agrammatical agreeable to aggregate."

The artist is interested in nomadic culture, its orality and forms of storytelling. This interest also connects to this third time in which things cannot be fixed. The artist’s interest in multiple meanings, rather than the singular meaning, demands ellipses and openings onto other possibilities. It is also important to emphasize the Amazigh idea in Karim Rafi’s work from a philosophical point of view with its notion of movement and looking continuously toward the future [2]. These notions also relate to speech and to the word Gnawa which comes from the Berber "Agnaw," meaning "silence" or "sage." Speech is also contained in silence, absence, to the image of the Touareg’s relationship to the earth and to the non-possession of that which is elsewhere, yet all the while projecting infinite possibilities of inhabiting this elsewhere. Orality necessitates co-presence to make the existence of the sound possible...

The spaces of everyday life and of social creativity offer an important source of visual inspiration and intellectual material for Karim Rafi’s artistic experimentation. The artist chooses markets and flea markets in particular in order to transform such spaces into museums or ecstatic movie theaters. His work in the markets of Casabarata in Tangier and Derb Ghalef in Casablanca are vivid examples. With both, the artist lived in the shops with their owners. And he worked with the owners to re-organize the shops’ merchandise, which was largely comprised of second-hand goods brought over from Europe, in a kind of recycling motivated by necessity rather than ecology. Karim Rafi’s interventions transform the spaces of daily life into poetic experiments and into places for developing his artistic vocabulary.

The only possible revolution is that of the sun which appears every morning. The idea of resistance would also be found in simple things: "Galilean Revolution / when the sun rises the stars set." Light confirms the circle’s revolution and permanent change in human existence, which is a permanent expedition towards an elsewhere that is largely unknown. The sensation of the infinity of space, of a sound wave’s micro-effect on the universe, of a letter of the alphabet on one’s tongue, brings the creator to search for a greater proximity to the secret of nature and the magic of the encounter and of conflict.

Karim Rafi approaches artistic creation along its margins. The center of the spectacle is hollowed out in order to spin around it, to better see the cyclops’ eye, as the artist says. And it is in multiplying the mediums, in blending languages and foundations that the artist suggests the miscellanea of this world spinning around itself and of its history repeating itself...


  1. In 2007, Karim Rafi initiated the SLAM & KLAM FESTIVAL (festival d'exploration poétique chaotique; Festival for Chaotic Poetic Exploration), a platform for sound creation and poetry in Casablanca.
  2. Amazigh (plural: Imazighen) refers to the Berbers of North Africa. The word comes from the Tamazight word for earth or ground and means becoming-free (liberté en devenir). Amazigh is a word that takes on multiple meanings and definitions in different domains, such as linguistic, sociological, and philosophical. For Karim Rafi, "it is a silent word that can be translated by the gesture of throwing a javelin in order to touch the horizon."

Abdellah Karroum

Independent curator and art critic. Founder/director of L'appartement 22 in Rabat, Morocco. Lives there and in Paris, France.

(Translation from French: Emma Chubb)

Working for Change
Project for the Moroccan Pavilion, Venice Biennale

2 June - 15 August 2011

Spazio Punch, Giudecca Island, Venice

Productions, meetings and projects by several artists

Abdellah Karroum

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