Mohamed Melehi ( 1936 - 2020) was a leading figure in Arab abstract art and one of the original founders of the Casablanca Art School (together with Farid Belkahia and Mohamed Chabaa)  an avant-garde group that radically questioned cosmopolitan abstraction and art pedagogy within the context of colonial powers and influences. 

His work resists the East/West divide resulting in a dialogue between Moroccan traditional and popular craft, whilst also connecting to the Hard Edge painters of the 1960s. 


Following his primary studies in Tetouan, Melehi studied from 1955 in Seville and Madrid, and from 1957 in Rome where he would also become the first African-Arab artist to exhibit his work in the avant-garde gallery Topazia Alliata, which would later recommend him to museum minds such as Lawrence Alloway. Melehi’s journey in transnational abstraction earned him an assistant professor position at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1962. He then moved to New York and was included in the 1963 Hard Edge and Geometric Painting of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). He returned to Morocco in 1964 when Farid Belkahia appointed him as a professor to teach painting, sculpture, collage and photography at the Casablanca Art School. He joined the core group of artists—Ataallah, Belkahia, Chabâa, Hafid and Hamidi—to set up the most radical postcolonial arts platform with the inauguration of the street/manifesto exhibition Présence Plastique in 1969. Melehi co-founded the journal Integral (1971–1978) and the Asilah Arts Festival.


A painter, graphic designer, teacher, muralist, and cultural activist, Melehi is a pivotal and leading figure for postcolonial Moroccan art and within the history of transnational modernism. In his paintings we sense the spirit of aesthetic revolution and the exhilaration of post-Independence Morocco.  


Mohamed Melehi was born in Assilah, Morocco in 1936. He graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts, Tétouan, Morocco, in 1955. He continued his studies abroad, learning fine art in Seville and Madrid, sculpture in Rome, and engraving in Paris. In the early 1960s he travelled to the United States, where he studied at Columbia University (with a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation) for two years before returning to Morocco in 1964. It was during this time that Melehi began to explore his cultural heritage as a primary source of inspiration and started using a bolder, more brilliant colour palette.

Melehi was Professor of Painting, Sculpture and Photography at the Casablanca School of Fine Arts from 1964 to 1969. In 1969, he organized the first open-air group exhibition, held in Marrakesh medina’s Jemaa el-Fna Square. Eliciting much acclaim from the public and art critics, this exhibition radicalized the country’s contemporary art scene. In 1978 Melehi and Mohamed Benaissa created the Al Mouhit Cultural Association, a non-political organization with purely cultural objectives. The result of this venture is the Asilah Cultural Moussem, an annual festival held every summer. A highlight of the festival is the mural painting event, first held in April 1978, a project which has revitalized the formerly dilapidated appearance of the artist’s birthplace. Asilah is now celebrated for its vividly coloured murals, many of which have been created by Melehi.

Melehi was the President of the Moroccan Association of Plastic Arts. He is former Director of Arts for the Ministry of Culture (1985 – 1992), and ex cultural consultant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operations (1999 to 2002) of Morocco. 

He has held numerous solo exhibitions including a retrospective at the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), Marrakech (2019), the Mosaic Rooms London (2019), Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris (1995), and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (1984). He has participated in group shows in Casablanca, Tangiers, Rabat, Marrakech, Baghdad, Algiers, Dubai, London, Paris, Rome, Zurich, New York, Chicago and Montreal. 


His work is held in international museum collections that include: Tate, London; British Museum, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; and, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; and Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut.


His works were recently a part of the Casablanca Art School group exhibition at Tate St Ives (27 May 2023 - 14 January 2024) curated by Morad Montazami, in collaboration with Sharjah Art Foundation, where the exhibition will open in February 2024.


Melehi passed away in Paris in October 2020.