A Fly In A Salon

2019

Performance with Mostafa Lhanch

+- 25 minutes

 

A Fly In A Salon is a collaborative intervention with Mostafa Lhanch, a storyteller performing at the Jemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech. By translating and performing Equally Unreal in Mostafa’s Halqa (circle created by spectators), I address the interplay between being ‘in’ and/or ‘out’ of this landscaped scene. Although tourists are just as much part of the square than the locals are, it is seen by many as a cultural heritage that needs to be preserved, in order not to be contaminated by ‘modernity'. Living in Marrakech as a non-Moroccan, I underline this in-between position to point out the rich history of cultural exchange of the square and the fact that ‘oral culture’ is by definition something in constant mutation and entirely based on individuals.

 

Equally Unreal is an experimental non-fiction text based on the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Death, which is read to the deceased during fours-nine days in order to guide one through the experiences that the consciousness has in the interval between death and rebirth. It is written during forty-nine days, whenever I was in between places, in different styles of writing, from stream-of-consciousness to stories to poetry, exploring the zone between reality and fiction. I edited and restructured the text in China, close to the Tibetan border, according to the structure in the Bardo Thodol. Bringing this text to the famous and protected square, I put myself in line with travelers that used to come here with products and knowledge from other cultures.

 

Equally Unreal was performed partly and alternately by Mostafa in Darija, the language of the square and by myself in English, the language in which it is written, emphasizing the impossibility of mapping a condition that forces one to simultaneously inhabit two positions at once.

Translations are made by Mohamed Lamqayssi, Soumeya Ait Ahmed and Aasma Khlif. 

 

A Fly In A Salon took place during Halqa Jam Festival in Marrakech, an initiative by Asso Can Bri Jemaa El Fna. 

 

 

The Jemaa el-Fna Square is one of the main cultural spaces in Marrakesh and has become one of the symbols of the city since its foundation in the eleventh century …  It is a meeting point for both the local population and people from elsewhere. All through the day, and well into the night, a variety of services are offered, such as dental care, traditional medicine, fortune-telling, preaching and henna tattooing; water-carrying, fruit and traditional food may be bought. In addition, one can enjoy many performances by storytellers, poets, snake-charmers, Berber musicians (mazighen), Gnaoua dancers and senthir (hajouj) players. The oral expressions would be continually renewed by bards (imayazen), who used to travel through Berber territories. They continue to combine speech and gesture to teach, entertain and charm the audience. Adapting their art to contemporary contexts, they now improvise on an outline of an ancient text, making their recital accessible to a wider audience… While Jemaa el-Fna Square enjoys great popularity, the cultural practices may suffer acculturation, also caused by widespread tourism. 

(UNESCO Culture Sector)

 

Jemaa el-Fna’s global reach has transformed it into a postcolonial site where the narratives and the built environment of the colonial and pre-colonial past intersect and intermingle, producing a kind of place that romanticized a rather static representation of culture - like the once promoted by UNESCO and the tourism industry - are not only unable to ‘tame’ and reduce to their own terms, but actually risk being forced into a process of objectification that may indeed compromise the life of the square, especially by trying to translate it into a museum of sterilized things of the past. 

(Minca & Wagner, 2016, p. 144)

Images © Guilain Delanoue