Power Plays: Circulation and the Performance Public in Tangier

By A. George Bajalia
Submitted to Session P3243 (Tangier, City of Circulation, 2013 Annual Meeting
Tangier, a place marked with the long term effects of its historic and cultural relation to the larger Mediterranean region, is an ideal site to consider how Moroccan artists mediate intersecting local, regional, national and global forces in their works. Artists in this border zone in particular face pressure from the Moroccan state to fit into a mold of national culture while simultaneously negotiating with the larger transnational flows that influence their local audience. Based on a year and half of fieldwork in Tangier, I will examine the ways in which Tanjawi artists are (re)creating and performing their own identities in their work, as well the Moroccan governments efforts to build a new national culture by institutionalizing Moroccan artists and their communities through national festivals, cultural delegations, and academic disciplines. In the midst of this process, the Moroccan art community, and particularly in Tangier, has encountered a situation wherein they might profit from most cultural and fiscal capital by ignoring the local public struggling with the same issues of cultural identity. Focusing on the processes of reflection implicitly present in artistic creation, and particularly in the performing arts, I engage with the linguistic complexities present in producing art locally for a potentially transnational audience. Additionally, I explore how Moroccan artists may use their work to assert elements of their own identities and comment on how they may seize the opportunity to tell their own stories, in a context where stories are usually told about them. Pursuing a close reading of the performing arts– and viewing the creation of the performance as well as the performances themselves as mediated processes–allows us to engage with the changing Moroccan public sphere and frictions present in post-colonial Moroccan state.