New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School review

4 out of 5 stars
New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School review
Mohamed Melehi 'Untitled' (1975). Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, photographed by CapitalD.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

It’s always nice when art comes along and rips you out of your comfort zone, drags you out of your knowledge bubble and tears you from the established canon. You get so used to your idea art coming from books and museums, and being so proscriptive as a result, that it can all get a little staid sometimes. But then something like this Mohamed Melehi exhibition shows up and gives you a bit of a jolt.

Melehi is a Moroccan modernist. He spent time in New York’s ’60s art scene alongside all the big kahunas of the age, but came back to North Africa to help develop a new abstract language: one that would reflect his culture, and help shape it too. The result is a body of work full of curved lines and intersecting shapes, sun-drenched colours and patterned visual meanderings.

The bulk of the work ripples with blues and yellows and purples and pinks. In the arcing compositions you can see hints of Arabic calligraphy and shimmering heat haze. Melehi was passionately obsessed with the history of the Maghreb’s visual culture – the pendants and earrings, the rugs and clothing – and you can see its influence on everything here.

The show’s a bit of a mess, though. The rooms are too packed and screens filled with documentation block your view of the work – you just wish they’d let the art breathe a little.

But thankfully, the paintings and prints themselves are absolute stunners. It’s such a wonderful testament to the power of abstraction and modernism that with just this simple collection of curving lines and shapes, Melehi is able to create paintings so full of references and allusions that they couldn’t be anyone’s but his, and they couldn’t be from anywhere but there. This is brilliant Moroccan modernism, and we should be damn thankful that we know that’s actually a thing.


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