Morocco becomes Africa’s gateway to Cuban art in landmark exhibition

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Morocco has made cultural history with the launch of one of Africa’s inaugural exhibitions of Cuban art at the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat.

The event hosted in the capital of the North African nation commenced on April 1, showcasing 44 pieces by the Afro-Cuban painter Wifredo Lam and marks the first time the work of Jose Angel Toirac is displayed outside Cuba.

Titled “Cuban Art: On the Other Side of the Atlantic,” the exhibition is open until June 16 and invites visitors on a journey exploring themes of isolation, economic embargo, heritage, and identity. It reflects a growing interest in Afro-Cuban artists and signifies a strengthening of cultural relations between Africa and the Caribbean.

Abdelaziz El Idrissi, director of the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, emphasized the significance of broadening artistic horizons beyond Western and European artists, stating, “It is high time the world moved away from Western and European artists… and concentrated on Caribbean arts.” He highlighted the importance of offering Moroccan audiences diverse artistic perspectives, beyond the familiar names like Picasso and Van Gogh.

“The Moroccan public might know Giacometti, Picasso or impressionists. We’ve seen them and are looking for other things, too,” El Idrissi added.

The genesis of this exhibition traces back to 2017 when King Mohamed VI of Morocco visited Havana and was captivated by an array of Caribbean Island arts presented by Alberto Magnan, a Cuban-American gallery owner.

Magnan expressing his excitement over Morocco’s pioneering role in showcasing Wifredo Lam’s works ahead of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), slated to honour the painter in 2025 said, “We’re kind of beating MoMA to the punch,” Magnan remarked, highlighting the significance of Morocco’s cultural initiative on the global stage.

The heightened attention from American art dealers and prestigious museums toward the once-elusive island reflects a fresh global interest in Cuban artistic expression.

In the wake of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba in 2014 and the passing of Cuba’s former president, Fidel Castro, in 2016, Morocco has emerged as a nation demonstrating renewed fervour for Cuban art.

Strategically placed in the Northwestern part of Africa with access to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco, a nation with proximity to Europe and the West has produced renowned artists like Casablanca-born Jilali Gharbaoui, notable for his work which epitomised the fusion of European modernism with traditional Moroccan influences and Mohammed Ben Ali R’bati, a self-taught Moroccan painter known for his vibrant depictions of Moroccan life.

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Morocco becomes Africa’s gateway to Cuban art in landmark exhibition