Some might call the Moroccan artist Mohamed Mourabiti a breast man. But the half-cupped forms he is fond of depicting are not so much inspired by the female chest as they are by the domes of Marrakesh’s ubiquitous mosques. Conflating the sacred and the sensual in this way challenges some viewers. Others are more ready to appreciate the up-close-and-personal expression of the untouchable.
By Bob Barry, Marrakesh
Sitting in his studio, in front of his paintings, Mourabiti recalls his first artistic endeavours. “I started at a very young age by drawing simple things like streets on pieces of wood or cloth,” he says. “But I quickly moved from the vertical to the horizontal.”
That reorientation was inspired by the rooftops of Marrakesh’s old houses or, to be more precise, the technology that was perched on them. “At first, I used to hate the sight of these satellite dishes and antennas. But seeing them every day, I eventually got used to them,” he says.
Mourabiti began to play around with these shapes, the sphericality of the satellite dishes ultimately leading him to the domes of mosques. “I found my way to this after a spiritual journey that took me through the zaouïa spread across Marrakesh,” he says, referring to the city’s many Islamic schools.
The mosques – forms essentially comprising a square and a half-circle – became his new focus. “I enjoy playing around with these domes. I like to isolate them, cut them into pieces or simply invert them as I see fit,” he says. Mourabiti is also known to decorate the domes with items he finds on the street, such as cigar stubs. His work also takes cues from the strong presence of both Judaism and Christianity.
“When I exhibited the seven breasts representing the seven saints who watch over the city of Marrakesh, I had to respond to numerous questions from visitors,” the painter says. “But my answer was always very simple: Didn’t every saint have a mother who had two breasts?”