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“Art is an universal language: it would be a shame not to use it in this way” | Othman Lazraq

A trained architect, Othman Lazraq is an avid collector of African art. He is dedicated to the promotion of African art and, together with his father Alami Lazraq, Founder of The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), which opened its doors in 2016.


You started collecting art at a very young age and are now one of the preeminent collectors of African art in the world. Where does this interest stem from?

My parents have been collectors of modern and contemporary art for as long as I can remember. I grew up surrounded by art, so this instilled a real passion for collecting within me!

View of the exhibition E-Mois, MACAAL, 2017. Courtesy MACAAL

You were a good friend of the late photographer Leila Alaoui, who died during a terrorist attack in Burkina Faso in 2016, as well as an avid buyer of her photographs. What is it that interests you in this medium and Alaoui’s work in particular?

Photography is the medium of our generation. In the 21st century, a time of intense globalization, communication and visual saturation from the excessive circulation of information/images, our world has become increasingly enthralled by photography. I find it fascinating to observe the multitude of possibilities it offers.

As for Leila, she was extremely important in my development as an art lover and collector. She’s the one who introduced me to this world. For me, she was an inspiring woman whose passion for photography was contagious.


You are an architect by training – do you believe that your architectural background has an impact on the way you look at and appreciate art?

Yes of course! Architecture shapes and exercises the gaze; volumes, colour schemes and lighting are very important in architecture. I consider that this discipline can act as a source of inspiration for other artistic practices. We, as an institution, aim to embrace this.

Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL). Courtesy MACAAL

In 2016, you opened The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech, together with your father Alami Lazraq. What was it that led you to make the step from collecting art to opening an institution for the public, and why did you choose Marrakech as its location?

It is a project my father had been thinking about for a long time. In my family, we collect not only for fun and pleasure, but also so that one day we can share this collection with as many people as possible. We strive for art to be more widely enjoyed by the people of Morocco. Art is not meant to be hidden, it should be exhibited. As for the location, Marrakech is very interesting because it is the cultural and artistic capital of Morocco as well as being a gateway between Europe and Africa. But above all, it is the birthplace of our family collection.


What difference has MACAAL made to the art scene in Marrakech since its opening in 2016? Do you feel the city has become more conscious of its artistic heritage and role as a center for African art?

Marrakech has always been a cultural platform, but in recent years, Marrakech’s cultural offering has diversified considerably and many institutions and initiatives have emerged. As a private museum of African contemporary art, the first of its kind in the Maghreb, we have humbly contributed to the enrichment of the cultural scene.

At MACAAL, we are used to developing and growing with the help of strategic collaborations and partnerships. This is why, since our arrival on the Marrakech art scene, we have multiplied our connections with other cultural actors in the city. The best example is Marrakech Art Week, which we intend to launch in February 2019, which followed a successful collaboration with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and many galleries and museums in the city this year. It is initiatives like this that have truly revealed Marrakech’s artistic potential and positioned it as a new hub of contemporary art.

MACAAL aims to represent Africa in its entirety, but North- and Sub-Saharan Africa are often seen as quite distinct regions – especially in terms of artistic production. How does MACAAL aim to overcome this or are these “differences” perhaps just erroneous perceptions?

At MACAAL, we are fighting against this perception. The African continent cannot be separated into 2 areas, there are 54 distinct countries in Africa and more than 2,000 dialects spoken on the continent. Similarly, there are as many artistic expressions.

It is true that Morocco felt more aligned with Maghreb than the wider African continent but I no longer believe this to be true. Thanks to His Majesty King Mohammed VI, Morocco is now opening up to Africa and this is reflected in Moroccan artistic production. Our culture is getting richer every day, which is great.


For anyone interested in African art, newcomers and connoisseurs, which other institutions, based in Africa or outside, would you recommend?

First of all, I would recommend institutions on the continent such as the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat (Morocco), the recently open Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town and the beautiful NIROX Foundation in Johannesburg (SA), the Photography Museum in Saint-Louis (Senegal) and the Fondation Zinsou in Cotonou (Benin). As for abroad, I’d say the Centre Pompidou, which was one of the first institution outside the continent to exhibit African art, Tate Modern in London (UK) & Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (France) which have a significant African contemporary art collection, and Fondation Blachère in Apt (France) which has for decades promoted and exhibited African contemporary art.

Significant initiatives are happening on the continent and elsewhere and it is just the beginning of it!

Leila Alaoui, Souk de Boumia, The Moroccans Series, 2011. Courtesy MACAAL

Art is often credited with being a bridge between different cultures and even considered a potent soft power in diplomacy. Have you ever experienced this first hand, say through the perception of an individual work of art, an artistic performance, or MACAAL’s programming?

I am fully aware that art can be extremely powerful and is often a source of progress. At MACAAL, we do use art as a bridge between different cultures. We consider that it can be a tool for bringing people together at all levels: social, cultural, national and international; without any consideration other than what brings us together. Our mission, beyond promoting contemporary African art in Morocco, Africa and around the world, is to democratize access to art, to make it accessible to all types of audiences. To do so, we regularly organize public visits, workshops, conferences, concerts, performances, open doors; and that’s marvelous to see how well it worked until now.

Art is an universal language: it would be a shame not to use it in this way.


And one final question – do you have a favorite Art Dubai Portrait?

I’ve been following the Moroccan artist Meriem Bennani for a while now and her portrait further explores her humorous use of digital technologies and practices.


Watch Meriem Bennani’s Portrait here

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