Sunday, November 25, 2012

Morocco: On the bus

The bus rides between cities often showed as much about the country as the cities themselves. Groves of olive trees stretched for miles across endless landscapes as men rode by the roadside on donkeys (or in trucks full of donkeys).

While waiting in one of the bus depots with a gaggle of European and Moroccan tourists, we fell in love with a tiny stray kitten (of which Morocco has no shortage) who we named Bertouche (after his American cat uncle Bert). He wandered around the cafe outside mewing and squeaking for food (we gave him some chicken on our way out) and then nestled into a flower pot for a nap.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Morocco: The Fishing Port

After a few days in Marrakech, Chris and I took a short trip to the seaside town of Essaouira. Swirling with seagulls, the beautiful 18th century is famous for its ramparts upon which Orson Welles shot his "Othello". The city, with its French, English, and Italian built architecture, feels both very European, Moroccan, and African all at once. The people felt more conservative than in Marrakech, in both dress and attitude towards the swarms of tourists trying to take their picture.

Usually I have not encountered the same resistance from people towards drawing as I have seen towards photography. With drawing, you are in a more vulnerable position since you have to wait and finish, so it feels less predatory and more reciprocal to me than photography. But in Essaouira, the people in general felt very hostile towards it, and one man was furious and ripped up the drawing I had done of him.

The only place this was not true, was in the fishing docks where everyone was very friendly, and interested in what I was doing. As an international port, the center of the city is the fishing dock where fishermen go out in bright blue fishing boats all through the day and bring back their fresh catches to sell on the docks and into the medina.

Early in the morning, the men prepare their boats and repair their nets to go out to sea.

Men wait as the fishermen bring in the latest catch.
Men and women along the docks wait to sell fish, rays, sharks, eels, lobsters, crabs, and any other type of sea creature you can think of.

Also at the fishing docks is the shipyard where a dozen ships are put up on dry-dock for repairs.

After drawing so long at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, it was wonderful to be able to see a completely different type of shipyard.  Here the men were repairing a sardine boat, with ribs exposed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Animation Screening with African Film Festival Inc.

My animation "Roots" was screened last night at Maysles Cinema in a program put together by African Film Festival Inc. and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute as a part of their fall film series "Untold Stories From Africa & The Diaspora".

Based on the history of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan, this animated short explores the ritual of coffins and burial as an unbreakable connection between the Africans brought to America as slaves and those who stayed behind in West Africa.

Very exciting to see it presented for the first time!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Morocco: The Red City

Our trip began with Marrakech, The Red City. Surrounded by African desert and thick red walls, Marrakech was more foreign even in the approach from the airport than I had been expecting. Because Morocco is so diverse and so close to Europe, I had begun to think before leaving that it would be more like a trip to a European country than an African one, but Marrakech quickly shattered that idea.

In a country as foreign as Morocco, it can often be difficult to break down the barrier between tourist and local: you don't want to be seen as another tourist, and they don't want to be seen as an exotic native. Being blonde and white makes me visible to every salesman from halfway across Morocco, so every person on the street is competing to try to sell something by the time I get there. It's often an overwhelming experience, and one that made us shut down a few times just from the stress of finding a restaurant.

I think that drawing on location often offers a unique experience to be able to interact with people in a different way. Because you are doing something new and exiting, people often drop their usual tourist routine and both groups let down their guard a little. While wandering around in the medina, Chris and I came upon a neighborhood that was completely residential, with not a tourist in sight, but still bustling with people. The walls of the quarter had been freshly washed with "Marrakech Red", and bright red and green flags hung from every building.

As we started to draw, people would smile as they passed, which was very reassuring in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Soon a gaggle of kids began to crowd around us, hopping up to see the drawings and asking to have each one of their portraits drawn. Some men and women came by to peek as well, and one man even shooed some of the kids away to help when he thought they were getting too boisterous. It is one of my fondest memories from Morocco because when you can engage with people on a personal level, where the differences aren't so great, it makes you feel more at home.

We stayed and drew there until sundown, under the latticed roof of the tiny maze-like alleyways, watching people and mopeds pass by, and kittens scamper down the dusty streets and across the rooftops.