Amidst the buzz of the north medina on Souk Ahal Fassi Street, go through the doors to Maison de la Photogrpahie and you immediately enter an oasis of calm; clean white walls bedecked with balconies dripping with plants, and curtains gently billow in the breeze protecting the photographs in the galleries which surround the central courtyard. Bold monochrome portraits of Berber women in traditional dress and heavy jewellery hang on the walls of the ground floor space and introduce you to some of the earliest images in this collection (spanning 1879 to 1960). The archive comprises photographs, glass plates, postcards, newspaper articles and other visual paraphernalia documenting Marrakesh as well as Fez, Tangier, Casablanca, the Sahara and Atlas Mountains – offering a rare insight into what captured past visitors to Morocco’s interest. I enjoyed being introduced to photographers I had previously been unaware of, notably Arevalo who shot a moving portrait of a young, black male with a bald head and piercing sad eyes, wearing an oversized cotton garment, as well as Marcellin Flandrin’s 1920’s images of Casablanca, and various photos of the Berber people, their houses and landscapes throughout the 1940’s by Jacques Belin and Pierre Boucher. The riad building with its intricately tiled floors also added to the experience, offering a space to view a photography collection perfectly framed and hung in a different context – outside of a typical contemporary gallery setting – which complemented the works. As such a wealth of Marrakesh’s architectural history has survived, many of the archival images of the city capture the Bahia Palace, Saadiens Tombs, El Baddi Palace, Medersa Ben Youssef or everyday activity in the souks, just as my contemporary photos did, and there was something comforting about appreciating the same things as explorers at the turn of the last century did.
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After exploring the southern medina and its breath-taking palaces and tombs on my first day, and the museums, galleries and souks of the northern medina on my second day, I hesitantly left the old town and ventured into the New City on day three. The streets are wider, the architecture blander, and a sudden sense of calm exudes – as traffic lights and order replace humans, mopeds, bicycles, donkeys and carts vying for space in the narrow hubbub of the medina. Not far from where the designer owned a home in the city, you’ll find the Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakesh. Only in existence since 2017, the museum is housed in a stunning purpose-built terracotta brick and pink stone space commissioned by French architects Studio KO who echoed the couturiers fascination with slight lines and curves. The vast 4,000 square metre space comprises the Yves Saint Laurent Hall, a temporary exhibition space, a gallery space, an auditorium, library, bookshop and serene café and outdoor terrace. The main hall displays fifty pieces from the archive collection (spanning 1962 to 2002) including the Piet Mondrian inspired dress, the infamous ‘le smoking’ jacket, the pea coat, and several garments where the Moroccan influence and its vibrant colours, nature and heritage shine through, most evident in the bougainvillea cape and Berber inspired dresses. The temporary exhibition space compliments the main hall showcasing sculptural dresses created by Noureddine Amir, suspended against a black background and mirrored walls. The auditorium helps enliven these clothes further by displaying a montage of the designer at work, YSL catwalk shows and photo shoots, as well as past controversy including Yves Saint Laurent himself posing naked for the labels’ debut aftershave in 1971! The gallery space contains a series of photographs of Catherine Deneuve modelling a YSL collection utilising Marrakesh’s carpet shops, spice souks, decorative tiling and bustling main square as a sublime backdrop, and reinforcing the affiliation between the designer and this city.
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