Thursday afternoon, Associate Professor of History of Art & Architecture Cynthia Becker from Boston University visited Wheaton’s Art History course “Resistance, Memory and Hope in African Arts” to deliver her lecture on contemporary Moroccan art. Becker specializes in the works of the Amazigh in Northern Africa. According to Professor Kim Miller, who teaches the Wheaton course, Becker is one of the few scholars who specialize in North African art, particularly in respect to women’s arts.
The Amazigh are the native people of North Africa, more commonly called Berbers. Although Morocco is an Arab nation, the Amazigh are estimated to make up 60 percent of the population. Arab culture and language has been forced upon the Amazigh and they are often regarded as second-class citizens by the Moroccan nation at large. Becker attributes her interest in and scholarship of the Amazigh to her attraction to their struggle and issues of identity. Coming from the perspective of the United States, she found the Amazigh conflicts with Moroccan society and government fascinating.
Becker’s lecture explored the contemporary conditions in Morocco that have facilitated greater expression of religion and identity. She explained the idea for her article came from her fieldwork, in which she found that artists tended to become stuck in a certain style. With the change of power from Hassan II to his son Mohammed VI in 1999, the Moroccan monarchy relaxed its repressive policies against the Amazigh. With greater democratization and political liberalization, Becker argued that the Amazigh artists are beginning to push the boundaries yet continue to practice self-censorship.
Her presentation also touched on issues of women artists in Morocco. While women are the predominant manufacturers of Amazigh products, such as rugs or decorated ceramics, these products are often marketed and sold to tourists. Instead, contemporary artists’ works engaging with Amazigh culture have been related to pieces a woman might make.
For example, some of the art is reminiscent of henna designs, an aspect of culture that is often associated with women. However, in recent years, women artists have begun to make their presence known in artists’ circles.
Becker’s presentation was an elaboration on an article she wrote in 2009 regarding censorship in contemporary Moroccan art. The lecture related to the course, which concentrates on contemporary African art and investigates issues of colonialism, nationality, and modernity. Accenting the course themes, this lecture was a great culmination of a semester of learning about African Art from an expert in a unique field of study.