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The artists of the Joutia in Essaouira

Last wednesday I went to visit the artists of the Joutia, the traditional second hand market in the Industrial Zone of Essaouira. It is in this maze of old doors, chairs, metal scraps, etc… that you will find the atelier of Essaouira’s most celebrated living artists such as Abdelaziz Baki, Ali Maimoun, Ben Ali, Asmah Ennaji, El Hadar… Who with their brut art have defined what is now known as Souiri Art. Characterized by their intense colour, mixture of sculpture and painting using things they find in the market next to them, their works have been exhibited around the world, mainly thanks to the efforts of art historian Frédéric Damgaard who came to Essaouira from Denmark in the 60s. He encouraged the local fishermen and farmers to pursue their artistic interests, 40 years later the scene is thriving, has developed a unique identity and a following (collectors from all corners of the world).

Their ateliers are humble shacks in the middle of this market, you enter a small door to see a world of colour and peculiar shapes: a toilet seat jutting out of a plywood canvas, improvised sculptures of boats, imaginary sea creatures fishing in the traditional souiri boats…. encapsulating things and stories of life in Essaouira.

It was fantastic to see and hear how these former farmers, fishermen and craftsman have gone on to become pillars of an artistic movement in this town, without any formal training (they are all self-taught). A perfect example to young people on how to use what surrounds you to not only to create an income for themselves but also to inspire the public through their artwork. It is this spirit and attitude that we want to celebrate in the exhibition AIR/PORT.