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The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), Marrakech, is pleased to announce the inauguration of Art, a Serious Game, the group show open to the public from 27 November 2021 to 14 February 2022 and curated by Meryem Sebti, editor-in-chief of Diptyk magazine

Sourced primarily from the Fondation Alliances permanent collection, the show features over 80 works from 64 contemporary artists such as Mariam Abouzid Souali, Joy Labinjo, Simohamed Fettaka, and GaHee Park. This exhibition explores the theme of play through a variety of art mediums and emblematic works from the collection, as well as recent acquisitions.

Is the artist then this eternal child, reliving initiation to the world through toys? Certainly through the creation of an individual space of representation—within the limitations of a normative adult world—but also through experimentation with the arbitrary character of rules and codes that artists are free, always, to transgress. We might begin to define art itself by this scene of imagination, this fictional space in which we live out our first experience of the world. Indeed, since the advent of psychoanalytic theory, cognitive science has insisted upon the formative influence of play. Any object that a child might transform into a toy becomes, according to Freud, “something that he will make an image of”.

The toy is the child’s earliest initiation into art, or rather it is the first concrete example of art (…).” – Charles Baudelaire

In the exhibited artists’ works, toys become fetish objects of representation. This representation is notably pictorial, but not limited to such forms. Playing with symbols, meanings, material, technique, and technology; the activation of this diverse range of exploration reveals the scale of play inherent to the artistic practice.

The scenographic path of the exhibition takes visitors through seven themes, or seven categories of artistic games. Works by the duo of Fouad Bellamine/Mohamed El Baz as well as those of Mariam Abouzid Souali evoke the childhood of art, as representations of early memories that summon both ingenuous joy and nostalgia for the past.

With graphic interplay that tips the logic of perspective, Chourouk Hriech reappropriates the world to invent one that is more dreamlike, a charming imaginary where the accumulation of representations throws us into a sort of happy chaos.

Is it possible to make an inventory of the world? This is not the true question. Connaissance du monde (Knowledge of the World) is not an exhaustive representation of it, but rather a vision shaped by the artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, according to his own desire and imagination.

The recycling and transformation of matter and objects is another form of play, of imagination, reconstruction, and creation. Whether artists exploit pre-existing forms or invent them from scratch, they continue to draw from an infinite repertory of symbols, objects, or materials that they transform at will. In this manner, Malek Gnaoui rebuilds from nature, Calixte Dakpogan reassembles throwaways and scrap to bestow new life to elements gathered here and there, like Baudelaire’s alchemist in Les Fleurs du Mal, who inspires the poet’s words: “You gave me your mud and I have turned it to gold”.

Subversions of all kinds deal with the question of identity, identities, or multiple affiliations. Role-playing is a constant aspect of art, a screen that might reveal one’s own self-image or hide it behind a mask. Inspired by family photographs, Joy Labinjo raises issues about our idea of belonging and notion of identity, inviting us to rethink this established construction in more fluid terms, factoring in past and present as well as personal and collective subjectivities.

If identity is a perpetual quest for otherness, it is also head-spinning. Dispossession, self-abandonment, trance or extasy, again and again art plays with codes of seduction. GaHee Park excels in this game. Her paintings are a format for simultaneous narratives that depict romantic scenes where the idyll is short-lived, or equivocal actions in contradiction with their picturesque environment; the artist revels in this landscape of ambiguity.

Play becomes subversive in the end, turning into a game of dissent or deep disruption. Shattering certainties established beyond measure, destroying representations frozen in marble, toppling symbolic power and every form of domination. In his photographic series La salle de classe (The Classroom), Hicham Benohoud stages his students in enigmatic and often absurd postures, thus questioning the social and political context of Moroccan society, with its inherent inequalities and paradoxes.

The questions raised engender thought as well as introspection. Whatever the case may be, le jeu bears witness to a confident and joyously carnival-like world. Under its wave of subversion, we are confronted with a jubilant paradox: if the rules of the game are arbitrary, can they be played to the point of absurdity? Art, a Serious Game offers visitors a more relaxed and entertaining relationship to the world.

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