Moroccan artist showcases Palmyra in photo exhibition

The blend of beauty, history and tragedy in Khattari’s photos contrasts humans’ creativity, greed and aggression.
Sunday 03/11/2019
Visitors view a photograph by Majida Khattari. (Saad Guerraoui)
A tale of past, present and future. Visitors view a photograph by Majida Khattari. (Saad Guerraoui)

CASABLANCA - A series of captivating photographs by Majida Khattari went on display in a breathtaking exhibition titled “A la lumiere des corps” (“In the Light of the Body”) at L’Atelier 21 Art Gallery in Casablanca.

Khattari’s artistic approach emphasised the theatrical stage with Palmyra monuments taking up the background in her solo exhibition curated by writer Rachid Benzine.

The eye-catching photos were made at Manege Theatre in Maubeuge, France. Khattari used women’s bodies to express the destruction of the centuries-old desert city of Palmyra, pushing viewers to reflection.

“This exhibition is a reflection on some bodies that resist and reflect in situations of war and peace,” Khattari said.

“I purposely made reference to Palmyra, which was destroyed by war, because this city has witnessed many civilisations having lived and co-existed throughout history in harmony despite the difference of customs and religions.”

The Islamic State seized Palmyra, known to Syrians as the “Pearl of the Desert,” in May 2015, destroying monuments and temples and looting many archaeological treasures. The Syrian Army, backed by Russia, later retook the UNESCO-listed city.

“I wanted to demonstrate this resistance of archaeological sites with women,” said Khattari.

She chose to make the images at the theatre because, she said, “it is a scene where we can talk about the past, present and future.”

“My work is mainly on bodies in action. My photos are like performances in which I capture the instants of moving bodies,” she said.

The backgrounds of all the photos are dark colours, which reflect “terrible” substance while the foreground highlights the beauty and serenity of women clad in clothes that resemble sculptures and sumptuous dresses, some of which evoke traditional Moroccan embroidery.

“I work a lot on Arab and Muslim cultures. What we are witnessing in the Arab world in term of conflicts is heart-breaking and sad. In the same time, I feel that people are resisting and that we should demonstrate the beauty of this resistance,” Khattari said.

Benzine said there is the recomposition of life, the desire to collect the scattered ends of exploded and dirty lives and to move them from the shadow of pain to the light of the Renaissance in the composition of these photos.

“The clear obscures, the play of light, the tragedy that rubs beauty; yes, there is something consoling in these frames,” said Benzine.

The blend of beauty, history and tragedy in Khattari’s photos contrasts humans’ creativity, greed and aggression.

Khattari’s contemporary creations, inspired by Orientalist painting, take viewers to a dreamlike world where the photos immortalise women’s beauty.

The artist, who was born in the southern Moroccan city of Erfoud, scripts her performances using songs, music and dance.

The exhibition continues through November 5 at L’Atelier 21 Art Gallery in Casablanca.

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