13 Feb

4 Questions With: Meriem Bennani

Meet the NY-based, Moroccan-born artist challenging femininity and globalisation

Written By Myriam Ben Salah

Meriem Bennani’s polymorphous practice spans video, drawing, animation as well as sculpture and digital experimentation; and more importantly, it dives into some humorous cracks she spots in the society of her native Morocco.

 

With tenderness and a razor sharp perspective, she tackles issues of femininity, religion, representation of females, family and traditions, while misappropriating the clichés one can project both from inside and outside Morocco.

 

 

Playing with the globalized and the vernacular, the New-York based artist creates a language that flirts with entertainment while overcoming forms, contexts and spaces, opening up new artistic models and cross-disciplinary languages.

 

Congratulations on your exhibition Sham & Hafida at The Kitchen! Tell us a bit about the project.

 

Thank you! The project is an immersive eight channel video installation where a 30-minute film is projected on sculptural screens.

 

In July, I filmed Siham and Hafida, two Chikhas (singers of Aita music) in the city of Safi in Morocco. They are both Chikhas from different generations who have a hard time getting along. Hafida is a veteran of the genre, who went through very strict and rigorous training, Siham is an up-and-comer who is super excited about connecting new generations to the music she lives for.

 

 

The film documents the two days I spent with each of them. We hung out, wooked, walked on the beach, rehearsed and went to the hair salon etc. It ends with this final reality TV-style scene where they meet in a cafe and try to get along despite some past drama between them. Aita music is composed of a revolutionary and poetic repertoire of songs written “a long time ago by people we have no trace of” in darija, the moroccan dialect, hence purely oral.

I think that the lyrics in these songs represent a very important archive of Moroccan history and language evolution because there is no written literature in darija. This archive has circulated through the Chikha’s bodies and also now through Youtube videos of their performances, which is something that I thought was very powerful, mostly because the Chikha figure is so misunderstood, stigmatized and abusively eroticized in Moroccan popular culture. The film is polygenre: sometimes documentary, sometimes hentai inspired cartoon, sometimes reality TV and othertimes soap opera.

 

What are you working on next?

 

I am taking some time to watch movies, read (aka start many books), look at stuff and explore new ideas.

 

Meriem Bennani

 

What do you miss the most about Morocco when you’re in NYC ?

 

My kids.

 

What song are you obsessed with at the moment?

 

Honestly so many songs ! There is this one song I have been listening to at least once a week for the past year though and it’s Ma Kain aalach nsidou by Aziz Berkani and Samar Raï, I love the vocals on it and how it starts like the middle of a song!