A Life of Art and Duty

Looking at the prodigious work of Mourad Benkirane, spanning almost half a century, feels like a deeply personal experience. I have known Mourad since we were both in elementary school, when he started experimenting with ink on paper, drawing pictures of magical hats and Charles Chaplin in black and white, but also using a variety of bright colors to reflect on nature, journeys, and cores—as the tree trunk will remain a motif throughout his life. I might call this period Mourad’s early Tangier phase. In Fez, during the 1980s, when Mourad and I were at the university, the artist turns to darks colors—black and dark red—to reflect on complexity, emergence and explosions. His bird-like creatures have enigmatic looks. In Portugal during the early 1990s, Mourad’s palette turns strikingly bright; we begin to see hitherto unseen shades of green, brighter reds, and more daring touches, as in the new version of the tree trunk. As he moves to France he returns to ink on paper, using black and red colors to deal with issues like double faces, prisoners, haunted cities, tombs, and the passage to the hereafter. There are more explosions, of course. In a way, it makes sense to see Mourad, following his French phase, taking up Islamic themes, using calligraphy, Koranic verses and the seal of the Prophet Mohammed to illustrate his religious passion. As the 21st century dawns, we see Mourad using bright blues to present a sunrise and waves—definitely a phase of abundant energy and optimism.

Mourad’s art is a record of his spiritual and emotional journey in life, but, in some ways, it is also a mirror to my own itinerary since he and I walked on the same paths together. It makes me see my friend with new eyes. We were together in Tangier and Fez during the 1970s and 80s, but I lost track of him when he left for Portugal and France, as I did for the United States. Looking at his work during this period helps me fill the gaps a bit. But what is truly amazing—even magical—is that a survey of Mourad’s art throughout the decades produces the very image I have always had of him: A solid, deeply humble human being possessed of great talent and creativity.
Anouar Majid,
Vice President and Managing Director
University of New England