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"The Fine Arts School of Tétouan, it is a bit as if we were racing alone and coming first!" Abdelkhrim Ouazzani exclaims, smiling. After twenty years at the head of the only national arts institution of higher education in Morocco (known as INBA), the man who sees himself more as an artist than as a director officially announced his retirement on the 7th of February 2014, his sixtieth birthday.
Mohamed Chebaa, Saad Ben Seffaj, Ahmed Ben Yessef, Said Messari, Faouzi Laatiris, Hassan Echair, Ilias Selfati,Younès Rahmoun, Safaa Erruas, Batoul S'himi, Amine El Gotaibi, Mohamed El Mahdaoui, Mohamed Arejdal... the list of the young and less young INBA graduates with a career is long. Created by painter Mariano Bertuchi under the Spanish protectorate in 1945, the Fine Art School of Tétouan originally aimed to distract the women of the Spanish military. In 1957, shortly after the independence, King Mohammed V inaugurated the current building and appointed Mohamed Sarghini Director. The name still resonates in the minds of the Tetouanese. The first Moroccan director of the Fine Art School, Sarghini forged the reputation of INBA by basing its teachings on the Spanish model, with Moroccan teachers who provided mainly technical courses.
This situation lasted until Abdelkhrim Ouazzani came back to the Fine Arts School of Tétouan after a training course at the Yankel studio in Paris. He says: "When I returned from Paris, I wanted to change everything. I wanted to stop the anatomy and perspective courses. I was revolting against the conventional system. I no longer wanted this director/student relationship. With Sarghini, we created the course visual writing. It was a course in analyzing artworks based on improvisation. In the morning, no one knew what would happen. It was a workshop, a laboratory. We were discovering things little by little, like on a blank canvas. It was fresh, we were having fun. It was happiness."
Today, this atmosphere of flexibility, a bit unstructured, still reigns at INBA, which has three departments: Visual Arts, Graphic Design, and Comics/Animated Movies. These courses, which are sometimes held at random times, take place in the following studios: sculpture, space and volume, painting, drawing, graphic arts, engraving, 3D animation, and, newly created, ceramics. The 120 students — with 30 newcomers per year — are handpicked. Asked about the recruitment criteria, artist and Professor of Graphic Design Hassan Echair replies: "The criteria for recruiting INBA students is that there are no criteria, since there is no clear cultural policy in Morocco. We do not really know what the department expects from us, so we select students mainly on their sensibility. To me, the motivation is very important: desire. I am not interested in what they know, but in what they will learn. As a teacher, I form characters that are able to address artistic creation from a personal point of view."
It is desire indeed that allows INBA to stay on course. Despite quite a spacious building, a pleasant garden, about forty computers and a Wi-Fi connection, the school is painfully underfunded. Underpaid professors and contract workers, a budget that does not allow inviting professional speakers, a glaring lack of supplies, an almost empty library, and students working with their personal computers and equipment... art education’s international standards seem far away. Hassan Echair explains: "We do not have the budget to follow things through. Students fund themselves and it is very difficult. Furthermore, with over 36 million inhabitants, great cultural diversity, 6 regional languages, and an incredibly rich arts and crafts field, Morocco has only one National Fine Arts School. There should be others to enable us to examine our own culture, whether it be Arab or Berber or this window we opened onto Europe." Abdelkhrim Ouazzani says it the way it is: "The problem is that INBA is the only national art school in Morocco. It is a real shame that the degree awarded by the School of Casablanca is not recognized and that the municipality does not do anything for this school!"
Despite undeniable operational complexity, INBA has some interesting partnerships with the private sector and internationally. The Comics department was born thanks to a cooperation agreement with the Wallonia-Brussels region. Every year for eight years, the school has been hosting two artists from Toledo (Spain) for a five-month residency. INBA is linked to important industrial groups such as Jacob Delafon and Renault through agreements awarding scholarships to students. Thus, the recipe seems to work and the school contributes every year to the formation of future artists in this spirit of independence specific to it.
After assisting the artist Seamus Farrell for several years and spending a few months at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, the artist Mohssin Harraki is currently preparing an exhibition in duo with Joseph Kosuth at the Imane Fares gallery in Paris. He says: "I spent seven years at INBA, four of them trying to get in! The first year I used to paint. Then, in the third year, thanks to teachers like Faouzi Laatiris and Younès Rahmoun, I realized that painting was not for me. The fourth year, I went to Toulon Fine Art School in France for a 6-month internship. I came back to Tétouan for my oral examinations. There were not so many people that day, Faouzi, some students... INBA is mainly walls, that is to say, a space where a lot of people coming from all over Morocco gather. It is a warmth and a positive energy. Of course, some information circulates but what is crucial is the sharing and a degree of freedom that cannot be found elsewhere. Epochs pass at INBA, but to me, what is very important is that I was there as a student."
An open and welcoming place, far away from Rabat and its bureaucracy, where people come from afar to experience, meet, and feel free to create as they see fit. A beloved space, where teachers and stakeholders do not come for money and where students do not always know what they are looking for. Some embrace an entirely different career, others work in the publicity domain, others are artists... In February, with the departure of the Director, a new page will be turned. And if we may wish perhaps a little more of structure and surely much greater financial means for INBA, we especially wish that it will retain its spontaneity, its spirit of sharing, and this special breath of freedom.
French independent curator, lives in Marseille. As co-founder and Director of the Trankat Art Residency in Tétouan, she is heavily involved in Morocco.
Institut National des Beaux-Arts
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