• Mohamed Melehi is regarded as a major figure for postcolonial Moroccan art and of modernism in the Global South. Professor of painting, sculpture and photography at the Casablanca School of Fine Arts from 1964 to 1969, Melehi contributed to the cultural scene of Post-Independence Morocco on a grand scale: from public murals, to teaching, to publishing, to architecture. Melehi’s work forms a dialogue between Moroccan-Berber traditional and popular craft and, through his time in New York early in his career, the Hard Edge painters of the 1960s.

     

    Through his Moucharabieh series, Mohamed Melehi maintains a link with his 1960s works through the visual pattern of the wave. Melehi’s study of pre-Islamic art led him to identify the wave pattern as a structural unit or fundamental signifier in most of Afro-Arab visual cultures – from the Berber to the Mesopotamian but also Andalusian. His recent work encapsulates multiple, almost infinite, variations on a motif that suggests movement, uidity and sensuality; but also cosmological relations, playing out between the sun, the sea, the clouds, and the horizon.

  • 'Melehi’s recent works revive the paradox of the wave, that which is both organic and ornamental, but also ultimately has...
    Installation view of Melehi's exhibition Arabian Moucharabieh, 2020 at Cromwell Place, London 

    'Melehi’s recent works revive the paradox of the wave, that which is both organic and ornamental, but also ultimately has no beginning and no end. They reinforce Melehi’s contribution to the rethinking of decorative function and grammar of art, and echoe his lifetime commitment to mural painting and urban design. Melehi’s waves resonate both in the past and the present, as a visual metaphor for breaking the rules, expanding our vision, and broadening our minds.' Morad Montazami

  • The Moucharabieh series opens new possibilities and unconscious landscapes for envisioning the visual and psychological dynamics of the waves, at times close to optical hallucinations. Bursting out of the frame, with their plain surfaces, Melehi’s recently-painted waves retain a memory of Hard Edge formalism, whilst also creating visual margins, breaches and paradoxi- cal symmetries. Reminiscent of mashrabiya pierced window grilles, a typical feature of classic Islamic architecture, these new works with their waves and vivid chromatic sequences seek to reenact these old light- ltering devices.

    Conversely, these Moucharabieh waves also recall a very a different architectural experience, the twists, convolutions, enfoldments and overwhelming optical distortions of the Baroque. Melehi’s attitude is driven by spirituality and rarely by materiality. He has always considered that the power of art lies in the conceptual eld and act of imagination, in the capacity to generate beliefs and ideas; not in the sheer visual or aesthetic concern.

     

    Refections on Mohamed Melehi’s Moucharabieh SeriesMorad Montazami, Paris, September 2020

  • 'The wave is a versatile alphabetic tool. It is an organic element, a symbol of sensuality and form related to...

    Melehi in the studio, 2017, Photo by H. Chergui

    'The wave is a versatile alphabetic tool. It is an organic element, a symbol of sensuality and form related to natural movement like water, fire, music.  In traditional African art, there’s always a wave.' Mohamed Melehi

    • Mohamed Melehi, Moucharabieh in Four Colours, 2020
      Mohamed Melehi, Moucharabieh in Four Colours, 2020
    • Mohamed Melehi, Diagonal in Silver, 2020
      Mohamed Melehi, Diagonal in Silver, 2020
  • 'Hard-edge painting made me rediscover the abstraction inherent in Islamic art.  Morrocan art was always hard edge. My question was, what could we find in Morocco that was an expression of modernism?' Mohamed Melehi

    • Mohamed Melehi, Moucharabieh in Green and Blue, 2020
      Mohamed Melehi, Moucharabieh in Green and Blue, 2020
    • Mohamed Melehi, Moucharabieh in Silver and Yellow, 2020
      Mohamed Melehi, Moucharabieh in Silver and Yellow, 2020
  • Above: Installation view of Melehi's exhibition Arabian Moucharabieh, 2020 at Cromwell Place, London 

     

    In 1984, a retrospective of Mohamed Melehi at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (NYC) was presented as presumably the first large-scale solo exhibition in the US of an artist from Northern Africa. A landmark in Melehi’s artistic trajectory, that exhibition gave him the occasion to reconnect with the American art scene, which he had experienced so vividly between 1962 and 1964. In the attempt to highlight the importance of this event, the Bronx Museum of the Arts commissioned a documentary film about Melehi to the American video artist Shalom Gorewitz. The filmmaker and the painter return together to Melehi’s most remarkable site-specific and “integrated artworks”; as well as to the traditional mosques of the High Atlas, where Melehi documented outstanding decorative paintings and unexpected vernacular modernism.

     

    Below:

    Exhibition poster, Melehi. Recent Paintings, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, 1984-1985, Design by Mohamed Melehi, Courtesy Toni Maraini archives

     

    Painted ceiling, High-Atlas, 1968, Photo by Mohamed Melehi, Courtesy Safieddine-Melehi archives

     

    Fibula (Berber jewel), published in Maghreb Art n°1, 1965, Photo by Mohamed Melehi, Courtesy Toni Maraini archives

  • 'Taking pictures of these artifacts and bringing them to the Casblanca Art School was a way of inspiring the students... 'Taking pictures of these artifacts and bringing them to the Casblanca Art School was a way of inspiring the students... 'Taking pictures of these artifacts and bringing them to the Casblanca Art School was a way of inspiring the students...

    'Taking pictures of these artifacts and bringing them to the Casblanca Art School was a way of inspiring the students with their own but ignored cultural roots; to lead them to believe that there is a strong and local, not foreign, artistic expression in Moroccan culture, with its own right to modernity.' Mohamed Melehi

  • Above: Melehi works from the 1980s including a Berber carpet (from the private collection of Bert Flint) next to his soft and angular paintings | Installation view of New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School Archives, 2020 presented by Alserkal Arts Foundation, Courtesy Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, Photo by Musthafa Aboobacker

  • Above: Melehi works from the 1960s including his painting Sleeping Manhattan, 1963 (second from left) | Installation view of New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School Archives, 2020, presented by Alserkal Arts Foundation, Courtesy Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, Photo by Musthafa Aboobacker

  • 'Modern Moroccan art, of which Melehi is one of the most important founders, is fortunately widely embraced in its own country and Morocco will soon be a member of the great chorus of nations that have developed modernity. Imbued with a gentle power, Melehi is the creator of that art and will pass it on to future generations.' Jean Hubert Martin

    Image: Installation view of Melehi's exhibition Arabian Moucharabieh, 2020 at Cromwell Place, London

    'Modern Moroccan art, of which Melehi is one of the most important founders, is fortunately widely embraced in its own...
  • Mohamed Melehi

    Arabian Moucharabieh Exhibition at Cromwell Place, London October 15, 2020