Abdellah Karroum: Thank you for your introductory question to this forum. I would like to take this opportunity to say hello to my friends and colleagues around this table, as I have met almost everyone in his/her own space on the continent. The visits I made during the last few years to Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, and Kenya were very instructive. I could see the similarities and the differences in the position of our curatorial research and work and the ways we all deal with the context of action. And meetings during the seminars at The Clark, The Tate Modern or MoMA were simply complementary occasions to exchange ideas about what we see in these capitals. The idea of Nka Roundtable for me is also a space to continue our professional exchange and intellectual discussion. Even if I initiated L’appartement 22, I consider this space a result of collective effort by people directly involved and others unaware of its existence. This is why sometimes I use “we” when talking about L’appartement 22. Nevertheless, I would like talk a bit about the context and the intellectual project of L’appartement 22.

First, I would like to start by introducing the social and political context in which L’appartement 22 opened. In late 1990s, The Kingdom of Morocco started to introduce the idea of participation in the political system and to bring the elite who, in the 1960s and 1970s, was in the opposition and proposed alternatives to the center of power. Abraham Sefarty returned to Morocco, as well as Abdellatif Laabi and many other intellectuals and voices with a potential to continue their opposition. At this time, building a new Moroccan image of political transition was not possible without including these oppositional forces excluded by the Makhzen (central government) twenty years before. Many intellectuals, who had previously been marginalized because of their progressive ideas, were increasingly integrated to different universities, bureaucratic posts, and national companies. Abdelkebir Khatibi took over the scientific direction of the IURS (Institut Universitaire pour la Recherche Scientifique) at the University of Rabat. Moreover, the leader of the opposition, Abderrahmane Youssoufi returned and became the prime minister under Hassan II. Thus the country officially began the so called “”Alternance politique” et “transition démocratique.”” The new situation is also connected to the free trade agreement between Morocco and the USA. The so-called “advanced state of Morocco in the European Community” was unattainable without the apparent openness of the Moroccan system to the ideas coming from the internal political opposition. I must say that the times coincided with the internet’s development, which made the censorship of intellectual production more difficult, while at the same time facilitating circulation of knowledge in every domain. The new aspiration of Morocco was to enter global system which required the mobilization of every economic and political force within the country. It is within this context that the visual art production began to receive official recognition; the same paintings associated with the opposition or new ideas in the 60s and 70s now became important objects collected by the economic elite since the 1990s.

My second point regards the conditions of appearance of L’appartement 22 in Rabat as a space of recognition of artists and expression of other individuals beyond the art field. In that context of transition, the Moroccan schools and cultural development centers were seen as producers of basic manpower needed by the multinational enterprises, and by the tourist industry. The universities are still under the regime in which human science are only fixated to knowledge about the past, and the application of law, whether it is Al-Shariâa (islamic law) or French law (droit français). Research is oriented to the past, more than to the future. In 2000, the country still only had two fine arts schools: the Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts in Tétouan built by Spain during the colonial period and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Casablanca build by the French during the Protectorate. These two institutions move very slowly, as they depend of the “good will” of the person in charge at the city council of Casablanca or of the Ministry of Culture. This situation says a lot about the degree of interest in education and culture as tools for planning social life. In 2002, the European Union offered aid to Morocco to build twenty-seven houses of cultures (maisons de culture), but only a very few have been really active in the years that followed.

From 1996 to 2001, I was continuously traveling back and forth between Morocco and France, meeting artists and scholars in both countries, before I completed my PhD in 2001. Then when I decided to work in Morocco, I realized that the majority of the young artists coming out of the two art schools were unable to formulate simple sentences or concepts to express who they are and where they want to go with their work. Then I imagined that the best way to make my contribution in Morocco would be to create a department of art at the university, based on personal development and sharing knowledge by inviting multiple participants. In order to make this project real, I met with Abdekebir Khatibi at IURS, and discussed starting research about “teaching art” in order to write the project and propose it to the University of Rabat… I was promising to build a new generation of artists in four years. But after a few meetings, and very fruitful discussions, we had to face the bureaucracy and I realized that it was impossible to translate this research into action within the existing system. At the time I rented an apartment in Rabat in order to be closer to the University we were trying to build. Following my disappointment that this did not seem possible, I decided to establish the program in my apartment situated in 279 Avenue Mohamed V (apt n°22) in Rabat, Morocco. I started by inviting two young artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and dancers to teach their experiences and, eventually, to show part of their work. The place is private, but it became public with the groups who attend or contribute to its program. The first series of program were talks called “leçon de… (lesson of…)” or exhibitions “JF_JH”…

With L’appartement 22, we wanted to make a statement using the evident intellectual rupture between the past and the present, and then to define a strategy to draw future projects as contribution to the new society. We believed in this new reality of transnational research and local action, and these projects were also complicit with many other individuals and groups beyond our borders.

Only a few months after L’appartement 22 opened in Rabat, other spaces opened in other cities…