Optical Illusions That Visually Transform the Sahara
This Moroccan artist is using photography to question society
Sarah Ben Romdane
51-year-old Moroccan artist Hicham Benohoud has always been fascinated by reality. And that’s why he initially started his career as a painter but he eventually realised that he preferred photography. “Immediacy felt really important to me”, he says explaining how he felt tired of recreating reality, and decided to move his practice in to the realm of literally capturing it.
His Landscaping series—where he designed sculptural objects and placed them in the desolate plains of the Moroccan Sahara—explores the illusions that live within our perceptual reality. It might sound a bit abstract and far out, but he notes, “We are told to believe that our society is beautiful, when the other – truer – side of the story is darker”.
Benohoud’s work (which is exhibited in the world’s most prestigious institutions, like the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Tate Modern) is famed for his direct depictions and observations of the complexities and inner workings of Moroccan society.
Having started his career as a photographer when he was an arts teacher, where he chose to shoot his school students, Benohoud’s photographic work gradually became focused on portrait photography. Besides one series, where the Morocco-born photographer chose to shoot donkeys in a living room, the majority of his 25-year-long career has been centred on the human aspect. During this time, Benohoud lived in Casablanca and travelled to Marrakesh and Agadir in Southern Morocco every weekend. “I was so snatched by the dreamy and warm ochre desert colours”, he says referring to how his interest in landscapes unfolded.
But Benohoud didn’t want to approach these sci-fi-esque desert landscapes superficially. In fact, it’s in this spatial void that the photographer found the inspiration to explore society from a different, and less explicit perspective.
After spending six months on the ground creating conceptual architecture-scenes, Benohoud decided to interrogate the way we perceive things in society. “I wanted to play with optical illusion to shed light on the contradictions that inherently define Morocco’s society”, he says before adding, “because while we are told that things are beautiful, the other side of the coin is often tough”.
Emotionally passionate about his country, Benohoud’s ambition is to invite his people to question viewpoints, by deconstructing the filters through which we experience life. “That’s how you really confront truth”, he says.