Many of us tend to think of street art as “graffiti,” something done on the sly without the approval of local governments. But in some communities, officially sponsored outdoor murals are part of a plan to increase the vibrancy of the local economy.
A recent event this summer in Casablanca, Morocco is a good example. From July 6-15, locals observed the "Casamouja," an urban and street art event featuring a number of high-profile, gargantuan murals painted on the sides and fronts of city buildings.
A gallery posted at Morocco World News reveals dazzling displays of artwork ranged across multi-story apartment buildings, and neatly attractive colorful veneers on shopfronts.
The article itself cites Artsy, an American art syndicate, and publishes its statement on the prominence of street art in Morocco:
“In Morocco’s major cities, art has been accessible on the street and in public spaces since times of antiquity — intricately patterned Zillij tiles, meticulously carved woodwork, and the flowing characters of Arabic calligraphy adorn the mosques and medinas of Rabat, Marrakech, Fez and Casablanca.”
Apart from sanctioned art events, what is the role of street art in the community?
“If you’re elite – and you’re driving in your $80,000 Mercedes – you look at it and go ‘loser.’” Ken West, a local geopolitical scholar and activist in Charlottesville, Virginia, told Maghreb News Wire, describing how class stratification affects view of street art in Western communities.
By contrast, West said, in countries like Morocco, this trend can represent an alternative for young people who face high rates of unemployment.
By its nature, West said, street art is controversial. Describing a mural painting of two Native American chieftains on the front of a building in his own town, West said the art led to a lot of local debate. Now, a hotel has been built in front of it.
“Some people didn’t like it,” West said, adding that the same kinds of tensions can arise in Moroccan communities, over local ownership of public spaces, and what’s appropriate for artists to do in the commons. Again, he said, unemployment factors in: in places like Casablanca, street art can be a very real part of a local economy. How it is dealt with, and how it is viewed in context, he said, can make a difference as North African nations ponder modernization, globalization and pivoting to new economic models.