Where are we now?

Per: Julien ANTINOFF  

As the fifth edition of the Marrakech Biennale comes to a close, Made in Marrakech had the opportunity to sit down with Vanessa Branson, founder and president of the Marrakech Biennale, and discuss the events of the past month. Mandy Sinclair reports.

It was an event that had the city buzzing not only during the opening day, or the opening weekend, but throughout the month.  With events taking place at various venues around town, Marrakech became a contemporary arts museum.   One of the most noticeable successes during this year’s biennale was the number of young people in attendance.  And this is something that Branson comments on.

“I think it’s really interesting how many young people came to the Biennale. A lot of international events just attract the older, more established, richer, curator/collector types. The Marrakech Biennale was heaving with creative youth and that just means it has so much future potential.  They all flew in specifically for the event. It’s just fantastic the number of enterprising people who just knew this was the place they wanted to be.”

But now it’s time to start the de-installation process, and start planning for 2016.  So we had a chance to sit down with Branson and discuss the past month.

Where are we now, one month later?

VB: I simply don’t know. I think it’s a really good time for reflection. We need to close the event, prepare the archives and collect the testimonials, close the accounts and do a bit of self-assessment. We need to think about if we’ll do another one.

M!M:  How do you measure success?

VB: I think another personal reward is the number of spinoff events that are coming out of the Marrakech Biennale. I had dinner with a couple that have an art foundation in Palma Mallorca and they are hosting an exhibition of Moroccan art because of seeing it at the biennale. Hearing of film collaborations that are coming from it, sales of artists’ works.  I think we’re at the foothills at the moment, but the Shanghai wants to take a number of the exhibits to China.  These are phenomenal possibilities that are coming.  

M!M: What was challenging?

VB: Fundraising is always challenging and keeping light on your feet.  You must remain optimistic.  Communication is the big challenge on all levels – through the organizations (we have 450 participants) plus all the people working around that. So we’ve got some lessons to learn. Press was great this year. But communicating all the great things going on is a massive challenge. But this is also the nature of Marrakech too.  You have to get a bit lost sometimes. That’s the gloriousness of this city, getting lost down a derb and finding something unexpected.  I think it’s a good metaphor for navigating your way through Biennale. But considering we’re a small team, I think we did a pretty good job.

M!M: What are you most proud of?

VB: Our relationship with Cadi Ayyad University. Alia Radman and Maia Holtermann have done an astonishing job working with the student interns., giving them confidence, teaching them, opportunity to reach their potential. It’s a very happy exchange. Alia has worked on finding them proper work placements after they’ve completed their internship and I think half of them have proper jobs afterwards.

M!M: What was the most eye-opening experience for you?

VB: There were moments where you’re really touched by something extraordinary.  Bouchra Khalili’s, the choreographer, piece that she did on the station concourse with her dance group was absolutely astonishing. It was cold, and it was this incredibly moving and painful performance.

I think there was a moment with Anthony Horowitz and Rupert Everett where their conversation became so intense, you thought one of them was either going to storm off the stage or something really interesting and the whole audience was just holding their breath and drawn right in to this extraordinary relationship that was developing in front of us on stage.

The opening night at Bank al Maghrib and I was with Clive Alderton the British ambassador and a young girl came up to us and told us how amazing it was, she’d never seen anything like it. She went home and brought her family out to the event and was beside herself with excitement that something so different was happening in town.

Those are three highlights that to me were moments that really stand out.

M!M: In general, what was the reaction from the public?

VB: The arts are difficult. You’re not just going to get something handed on a plate. The people who made the extra effort to navigate their way through the program, will get more out of it.  You’re not just going to be entertained; it’s not like going to a movie. Everyone gets something personally out of it. And that’s just the same with all the arts. You need to sort of surrender and be open to ideas. So I think it’s a whole range of responses. But on the whole I think people are very surprised that we’ve pulled off such a monumental program.

M!M: What was your favourite exhibit overall?

VB: I think it’s the Bienvenue a Marrakech outside the Bank Al Maghrib with the upside down letters, glowing out over the square.  It just sums up the whole biennale to me.

M!M: What can we expect in 2016?

VB:  The Marrakech Biennale can stand proud amongst any other international arts events.  I think that a lot of serious cultural organizations will want to take part in 2016.  I also think a number of galleries will want to move in to town. I think a lot of artists will want to come and spend more time here. And I think that Marrakech, but could, it’s not quite there yet, become a contemporary cultural hub, there’s a critical mass here now.

M!M: There’s a roundtable on architecture at biennales.  Will we see architecture in 2016?

VB: I don’t know.  It’s something we want to investigate but we have to be very careful to keep our artistic independence from commercial forces. It will be slightly more complicated with the architecture, but not impossible and obviously it’s a fascinating subject and very relevant one to the city. 

M!M: If you could do one thing over again, what would it be?

VB: Probably dancing till 2a.m. with the hundreds of young kids at the closing party at Beldi Country Club on opening weekend. It was FABULOUS. It was an amazing moment of “we did it!” we survived.

Interview by Mandy Sinclair