art of resistance, Morocco

Remembering Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans.

moroccans/The Moroccans, © Leila Alaoui/

It seems way too early to pay respect to Leila Alaoui, talented French-Moroccan photographer, in MER’s Remembering sessions. After all, she entered 2016 full of power, only in her thirties.

Unfortunately, Alaoui succumbed to her injuries sustained in the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) terrorist attacks, only couple of days ago. She was among those (at least) 56  wounded and now joined those more than 30 killed.

Alaoui was born in Paris in 1982 and studied photography at City University of New York (CUNY) before spending time in Morocco and Lebanon.

Her work had been exhibited internationally in recent years, including at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, and was featured in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times and Vogue. Last couple of years she lived between Marrakech and Beirut.

One of her most beautiful projects was The Moroccans. About it, she wrote: “Morocco has a specific position in this backstory of photographers using the culture – particularly elements from native costume and architecture – to construct their own fantasies of an exotic ‘other’ world.

Souk of Boumia, Middle Atlas, 2011

Souk of Boumia, Middle Atlas, 2011

Foreign photographers often depict Westerners in Morocco when they want convey glamour or elegance, while framing local people rustic or folkloric, reiterating the patronizing gaze of the Orientalist.

My intention was to counter this in these portraits by adopting similar studio techniques to photographers such as Richard Avedon in his series ‘In the American West’, who portrays his subjects as empowered and glamorous, drawing out the innate pride and entitlement of each individual person.”

Alaoui embarked on a road trip through rural Morocco to photograph women, men and children from diverse ethnic and tribal groups including Berbers and Arabs. This on-going project served as a visual archive of the Moroccan traditions and aesthetics now disappearing with globalization.

004-leila-alaoui-theredlist

In one interview, Alaoui discussed the relationship many photographers have with Morocco: “A lot of negative experiences have given Morocco a very specific relationship to photographers, or people taking photos.

The Moroccans have the feeling their culture is being used – particularly when it comes to native clothing and architecture – and the photographers are trying to turn them into their own fantasy of an exotic ‘other’ world.

That’s one reason. But superstition and witchcraft also play a role here. For example, the collective consciousness still contains the idea that cameras rob people of their souls.”

Alaoui did her best to portray Moroccan people in a different way, allowing them a choice and taking her time to get to know them and their approach towards life and world.

Chefchaoun, Rif Mountains, 2010

Chefchaoun, Rif Mountains, 2010

It’s extremely sad that the world has lost Alaoui. I didn’t know her, but I knew her work. And through her work, it’s easy to see how she was one of those souls who always tried to bring people together, to raise awareness – make us look at each other and understand each other.

She participated in exhibitions aimed at raising money for those suffering in Syrian war, she was involved in the work of activists, journalists and human rights organisations working to improve the situation of migrants and refugees in Morocco (and other countries).

featured_Portrait-Leila-Alaoui-2/Leila Alaoui, photo via Tamyras/

Alaoui was interested in dignity, in humanity. She gave herself to that struggle. I hope she will remembered for that – it’s the greatest legacy one can leave.

//all images © Leila Alaoui//

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Mahdi ‘Amel: The Importance of Resistance

Remembering Samir Kassir: Life as Courage, Death as Silence

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

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