Rafael Canogar


Catalogue: Satellite Dish series (2001-2003)

Centro de Estudios Juan de Mariana, Toledo.

Organized by Toledo County Council and the School of Translators, Toledo. November-December 2003


In spite of heavy commitments and a hectic timetable, I find it impossible to come up with an excuse not to present the work of the painter Said Messari. This is especially true as the exhibition is in a place where both of us have common roots. I am talking about the town where I was born-Toledo.

Said Messari is a Moroccan artist who has settled among us here in Spain. He is the heir born of our common past which unites and, at times, separates our two cultures and which irredeemably destines us to understand each other.

I have visited Morocco on a number of occasions and am fascinated by its culture, colours and smells. When I see Said Messari’s paintings, I am taken beyond the purely aesthetic and transported back to that very same atmosphere which fascinated me when I first visited the country. In Said’s work we find the roots of his culture, its textures, colours, smells and symbols. But, his work not only a reflection of his understanding of pictorial space, it also has the added virtue of being firmly rooted in his search, with all its problems, for the most contemporary forms of modern art.

With the arrival of independence, Moroccan artists were confronted with a colossal task; to break away from certain popular traditions of pictorialism, while searching for a national identity in a modern westernised world. The challenge for these artists was to conserve and strengthen their popular artistic heritage by creating the morphology for a new language which they would then make their own. I believe that the work Said Messari is an example of this synthesis of identity, modernity and tradition.

The work of Said is essentially in the realm of “plastic arts”, rich in metaphors and with dimensions which transcend the purely two dimensional pictorial plane. At times, his work is a broken space, drilled and scarred – a battle field between the artist and his creation where the material itself is a testament to this hand to hand combat. At other times, the surface area of his work literally grows with the incorporation of elements and extra-pictorial objects. Astutely, Said gives these objects a new iconographic dimension as the carriers of ideas and messages. Intrigued by its sensitivity and expressiveness, I shall become an enthusiastic follower of Said Messari’s work from now on.




Gonzalo Fernández Parrilla


Catalogue: Satellite Dish series (2001-2003)

Centro de Estudios Juan de Mariana, Toledo.

Organized by Toledo County Council and the School of Translators, Toledo. November-December 2003


With a friendly hand on the shoulder, Said Messari welcomes us to the warm colours of his world. Once again, with his talent to flirt, he charms us into visiting the cold world of information technology.

In this series Said takes a wink at the wonders of satellite technology and the metal mushrooms which spring up on the roofs of palaces, apartment blocks and modest homesteads of his native Morocco. Playfully bouncing light waves from one mushroom to the other, Said Messari imagines the different worlds and images which are brought into these homes by these sporning metal contraptions. This new series of paintings and engravings is a reflection on the wonders and the contradictions of the Global Village.

The satellite dish is an object which has become a part of our mental and urban landscape-it is a symbol of our times which represents satellite communications and globalisation. For Said, these metal dishes, which he has ingeniously moulded into the stretched canvas of modest frames, have a more down to earth function. They have become of objects of craftsmanship to be played with, painted and embroidered. Through his art, Said has turned on object of high technology into a playful artefact and transformed our fears of new technology into a game.

But, having said this, Said still keeps a firm grip on reality. Even while he is painting plays he is stays alert. He is fully aware of what a satellite dish represents – communication equals information equals power. Al-Jazeera, the Quatar TV news channel, is the Arabic symbol of the satellite dish. Since its coverage of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Al-Jazeera has transformed the information landscape of the Arab world by creating a niche in the communications market. In the global world of communication dominated by the Western world, the uppity Al-Jazeera has overstepped the mark and trespassed beyond its natural frontiers by offering an Arab perspective of world events.

But, let’s not get lost in the light waves of the universe. We must keep our feet firmly on the ground while we gaze upward to the rooftops where we can see the battle of the airwaves between the flickering, manipulated images of the mass media versus the wisdom and serenity of the images of Said Messari.




Gonzalo Fernandez Parrilla


Catalogue: Bringing art into life, graphic works 1988-2000


In Spain there was a time, not so long ago, when exhibitions of Moroccan artists were housed in institutions such as the Ethnographic Museum. This apparently random choice of venue does, in fact, say much about the idiosyncratic nature of Hispano-Moroccan relations. For the Moroccans, the Spanish Colonial period is still, to some extent, an open wound. One only has to look at a key institution of the Spanish colonial apparatus in North Africa to have some idea of what the prevailing attitude was, The Delegation for Indigenous Matters; the title given to an important institution which dealt with human affairs demonstrates this condescending colonialist attitude. A further dimension is added to this colonial experience with the involvement of indigenous Moroccan troops in the trauma of the Spanish Civil War.

Since Morocco’s independence in 1956, the evocative language which has been used to describe the “shared” history of both countries has, in fact, masked the fundamental lack of mutual understanding between the two nations. This, rather lethargic attitude to mutual understanding came to an end when the forces of immigration opened the floodgates of human contact between the two countries. 

In the world of the Fine Arts this tendency came to its symbolic end in the year 2000 when a series of events took place, the most important being, The VIII International Exhibition of Graphic works and Engravings to which Morocco was the guest country, the “Contemporary art exhibition of Morocco” organised by the Institut Catala Mediterania and the start of the itinerant, mixed exhibition of Tawassi Re. In addition, there were also a number of meetings which were organised by the Western Mediterranean Association. However, although this period was a turning point, it should be remembered that as early as 1980, the Miro Foundation pioneered the “Contemporary Moroccan Art Exhibition”. Finally, it is important to mention the Ras el Hanut Collectives mixed exhibitions in the mid-nineties. All these events are symptomatic of the gradual movement away from the vacuous official rhetoric which so dominated Hispano-Morocco relations and which opened up new horizons to a world which went beyond institutions.


The emergence of contemporary moroccan fine arts

Even though it is rooted in a multiple and diverse heritage, what we know to day as Modern Moroccan Art, is a relatively recent phenomena. Based on a pictorial tradition traditionally associated with popular art and calligraphy, a group of self-taught artists emerged in the 1920’s. This group tried out various forms close to realism of the Colonial School and, in particular, Naïve Art which had an abundance of quaint, folkloric elements. These styles appealed greatly to the taste of the colonisers and were actively promoted by the colonial institutions of the time.

The consequence of the colonial experience in the Fine Arts is not only palpable in the powerful influence of oriental pictorialism. During the colonial period, institutions were founded which were going to play a crucial role in the development of the Fine Arts in Morocco, for example; The School of Fine Arts in Tetuan founded in 1945, whose director was Bertuchi and the School of Fine Arts in Casablanca created in 1950.

It is supposed that the natural development of Morocco’s political and cultural history was interrupted by the Spanish colonial period. The post-colonial period allowed politicians and artists, freed from the yoke of colonialism, to search for the signs of Morocco’s own cultural identity. Inevitably, this search involved the Fine Arts.

After the euphoria of independence during the 60’s, Morocco lived through a period of political and poetic effervescence. This golden period correlates in the Fine Arts with the emergence of the first generation of painters educated and trained in an independent Morocco.

After a fallow period of institutional inaction with regard to the Fine Arts, there was a flourish of artistic initiatives and activities. The Bab Rouah and La Decouverte art galleries were inaugurated and the magazines al-ishara and Integral were started up. The old schools of Fine art in Tetuan and Casablanca were nationalised and brought up to date. An example of this being the introduction of calligraphy as a new course with the vocational aim of linking the schools’ syllabus to traditional forms.

In addition, the first manifestos were produced and a number of Fine Arts associations were created. In 1969, the first collective exhibitions were organised, for example, the Xma el Fna in Marrekesh and the Twelfth of November Square in Casablanca. According to the exhibition manifesto, the objective of the artists was to bring modern art into the street and open up the avant-garde to a wider public. In 1978 the first festival of Asilah took place making a significant contribution to the development of Moroccan muralism. In the 60’s, the objective of Moroccan artists was to combine tradition and modernity.

Contemporary Moroccan art, which was forged in this period, incorporated Bereber and African traditions drawn from the rich Arabic and Islamic heritage. As a result, contemporary Moroccan art has drawn on the oriental experience while, at the same time, opening itself up to modernity as it searches for its own identity.

Despite what Claudio Guillen said about the avant-garde being a luxury which emerging cultures could ill afford, the Moroccan artists very quickly formed part of the world wide avant-garde movements for example, Cherkaoui and Gharbaoui.

In the 70’s, the theoretical breakthroughs of the Moroccan pictorial movement simultaneously rejected three tendencies: the widespread recourse to Naïve Art, the use of folklorick orientalism and, the rigorous academia of the Fine Arts.

In addition to Naïve Art which, in spite of its rather ambiguous status, has never ceased to be cultivated, there is another traditional strand- the figurative school of oriental dyes. This current emerged from the Fine Arts in the last decades of the XX century and opened up the future to surrealism.

However, one of the most powerful tendencies in Moroccan painting has been abstractionism; not only abstractionism but also geometric abstractionism which sought to link up with the Islamic tradition. Added to these coexisting currents, there is another important tendency namely, the use of symbolism in popular art: calligraphy, leather crafts and carpet making crafts as well as in different areas of popular culture.


The creative exile

It is increasingly difficult to acknowledge and recognise other realities or the realities of others which stretch beyond our own, limited horizon. This vision is especially true of Morocco which has been given an image of worn out stereotypes and tourist clichés. When referring to Moroccan painting, even though they have little if anything to do with the direction that contemporary Moroccan painting has taken, the questions related to the status of the image in Islam or Pictorial Orientalism keep coming up.

A consequence of this colonial mind set is the tendency to reduce other cultures to a kind of cultural primitivism. Fanon and Said have commented on the customary colonial attitude of reducing the colonial subjects to a kind of oral primitiveness. In the case of Fine Arts, this condescending colonial cultural superiority has relegated them to the status of popular arts or, at best, Naïve Art. This attitude is reminiscent of the foreigners in Tangier who adopted the street kids and then gave them paintbrushes in order that they could develop their indigenous spontaneity.

It is important to mention, the way in which artist émigrés from distant climes often have to move between two extremes. On the one hand, they are asked to conform and perform according to the exotic appeal which their cultural and geographic origins bestow on them. On the other hand, more than other artists, the émigré artist is hungry to experience the new languages of artistic expression which have come into his reach. The folkloric and ethnographic aspects of the émigré artists’ background are mere anecdotes, which are yet another thread in the rich, multilingual and polyphonic tapestry which make up our universe.  In turn, this forms part of a kind of cultural Esperanto which all of us understand to some extent, but few manage to understand in its totality.

In one of his essays, the Palestinian artist, Kamal Bullata has discussed the frame of mind of émigré artists which can often be found in France, Italy or the United States. He talks about how these artists who, ungrudgingly, assimilate different elements and cultures from the host country sooner or later rebel against being placed in an ethno-cultural pigeon hole. This throwing off of the chains of being just another ethno curiosity, is part of the artists struggle to free himself from his own constraints.




Malika Embarek López


Catalogue: Crossed Visions. An exhibition of the work of Federico Barranco and Said Messari.
Organized by the Toledo County Council and the School of Translators, Toledo. 1998.


                                                            « Moroccan painters invite us to come on a journey to our inner selves »

                                                                       Edmond Amrán El Maleh


Tetuan. The modest neighbourhood of Bab Essaida – A Morisco enclave of the city with access to the Gate of Good Fortune- one of the most beautiful gates of the old wall which surrounds the city. The year is 1956, the year of Moroccan Independence and the birth of Said Messari.

Madrid, La Guindalera, Autumn 1998, The Trocatinte workshop with the wafting smells of turpentine and varnish mixed in with the sound of kids playing in the street outside. Many years have passed since Said-the fortunate one-attended the school of Fine Arts in Tetuan which was founded during the period of the Spanish protectorate by Mariano Bertuchi and is the institution where many North Moroccan painters cut their teeth. 

Said Messari has a long track record of effort and achievement both as an artist on his own and as part of a collective. His personal qualities of generosity, solidarity and patience combined with his knack for making friends have, no doubt, contributed to his success. However, it is his skills with palette and printing press, his talent for mixing pigments and his creative use of simple materials which have produced work which is truly original and which has a great impact. Said has turned his hand to many things: engravings, paintings, book sleeves, posters and computer graphics where he demonstrates his prodigious skills.

 But if you want to meet Said you have to go on a journey to his imaginary country. A land where there is no rush, where there is no competitiveness, ambition or lies. It is his land, his Camelot with Arab cast. If you want to know the artist read in to his work. If you want to see Said, ask for Pelahustan.




Emilio Sanz de Soto.


Catalogue: Crossed Visions. An exhibition of the work of Federico Barranco and Said Messari.
Organized by the Toledo County Council and the School of Translators, Toledo. 1998


The work of Said Messari is somewhat different. It is the work of a painter who thinks and feels as a painter. The final work is the result of a filtering process of thought and feeling which forms part of Said’s declared aim to reduce the medium to its absolute essence.

The way of arriving at the essence of a work is in achieving the maximum effect using the minimum resources. Thus, a spot is, in itself, the essence. But, Said Messari, being the authentic painter that he is, replaces the spot with yet another spot. No matter how obvious this is may be, he manages to create an undoubted fusion, combined with a mix of techniques, to achieve results which are immediately recognisable.

With Said Messari as with many painters with a solid academic background, his academicism is always present in his work no matter how much he tries to break from his past and no matter much he tries to conceal that past. For this reason, there is not a hint of fortuitousness in Said’s work. Everything is nurtured and thought out, and although the results may appear more or less random, there is always the presence of a mind guiding the hand of the painter.

As we all know, and we never tire of repeating this, it is the results which matter. The identity of Said Messari is there in his work. It can be seen in his complex forms to which he always adds some, supposedly insignificant signs; a line or an arrow. These signs are like question marks of a painting in search of itself. What we do know is that this search is unending because it is the raison d’etre of Said’s work…..




Fanny Rubio


Catalogue: Consequences. Painting exhibition.

Organized by the Hispano-Arab Society, Madrid 1987.


Within the paintings of Said Messari there is an enormous repertory of figures and forms; children, houses, small screens, multiple objects, brush strokes and symmetries which have been transcended through the mirror of his art.

Originally a painter of subjects, Said Messari has recently undergone a process of reflection which has taken him, over and above meaning, to a non-instrumental space. In this space, one could get the impression that Said cannot, in fact, decide what his subject is. However, this is not the case. Said’s intention is to let the form take hold without interference, unfettered as though in a dream, so that it can naturally evolve with absolute freedom.

This painting rings an alarm bell in us about the apparent stability of previous stages in Said’s work. It shows its own crisis within its vertical frame, as it continually advances towards the background, where light rekindles the brush strokes. The painting shows the crisis of the contemporary subject – a subject which has to look beyond projects under tutelage and guided by others. The result of this evolution is a progressive change which can already be observed in the transparency of the compositions at the end of the exhibition.

Once he has developed the elements that conform to his world, Said Messari knows exactly how to integrate his authentic references in everything that he does. Besides that, he has also set out to on an unending journey, using the experience of colour and shadow zones, to name tradition so that he can rediscover it.




Maria Luisa Borras


About the exhibition, The first exhibition of contemporary Arabic painters in the Museum of Archaeology, Salamanca.
La Vanguardia, 3rd June 1984.


… and now we come to the painter from Tetuan, Said Messari, who makes one of the most original contributions to the exhibition. We already know Said Messari through his illustrations of the poem of Nizar Qabbani, Diary of a city called Beirut. First of all, Messari’s pictorial space appears divided up into a series of compartments of images and silences. Rather than tell a story, this compartmentalisation alludes to the compartmentalisation inherent in Islamic art. Whereas, in European art the subject demands and determines the medium and the format, in Islamic art it is the medium which requires a particular decoration whether it be an architectural element, a ceramic piece, a carpet, or the page of a book. However, by saying this, I do not mean that Said Messari’s images have a purely decorative character. His images are enigmatic and unclassifiable because by being abstract in their reduction to line, form and colour, they suggest rather than tell us about the scenes and landscapes of an exotic world…