Pour Safaa Erruas, «l’atelier n’est pas une seconde maison, c’est une part de moi». Le sien est logé au cœur du quartier Ensanche de Tétouan, sa ville natale où elle a choisi de rester après ses études à l’Institut national des Beaux-Arts (INBA). L’artiste, qui célèbre ses vingt ans de carrière avec une monographie et une exposition à la galerie L'Atelier 21 à Casablanca, toutes deux intitulées «Le temps parcouru», nous a reçu dans son atelier pour évoquer son parcours.
In 1998 Safaa Erruas (b. 1976) graduated from the city’s Natio- nal Institute of Fine Arts (INBA), which was at the time under the directorship of modernist pioneer Mohamed Chebâa (1993-1998), who created a tug-of-war between the school’s established academicism and its avant-garde potential. In 1993, under the direction of Morocco’s Ministry of Culture, the school rebranded itself as an institute, appointed Chabâa as director, and received a host of new students and instruc- tors. Additionally, the INBA restructured its curriculum, the- reby introducing courses in semiology, philosophy, sociology, contemporary art, and avant-garde practices, as opposed to traditional modes of artistic production such as painting, drawing, and sculpture. It was in the same year that pioneering artist Faouzi Laatiris founded his volume and installation stu- dio at the institution, ushering in a new medium of art making. Erruas and her peers at the INBA, such as Younès Rahmoun (b. 1975), went on assignments outside of the classroom and into the public space. Students were encouraged to use everyday objects in their work, thereby blurring the lines between art and life. As a student at the INBA, Erruas shared a studio in her final year with Rahmoun. Together they created an orderly, spotless space for creation and experimentation.
“WHITE IS MY SPIRIT”
On the 13th of November I paid a visit to the Tetouan-born and bred artist’s studio. Located steps away from Place Mou- lay Mehdi, also referred to by locals as “Plaza Primo,” Erruas’s space can be found in the very center of the ensanche, or modern quarter of the city constructed by the Spanish during the country’s protectorate era (1912-1956). The ensanche, which is composed of the city’s principal avenues and streets, is a compliment to the ancient medina, and includes primarily four-story buildings designed in the colonial Spanish style highly influenced by Islamic mudéjar architecture. The path to Erruas’s studio is surrounded by the physical imprint of the Spanish – there is the iconic yellow Cathedral of Our Lady of Victory, constructed in 1919, the socio-cultural Lerchundi Center, Paris Cafe, the post office, the Spanish consulate, and an elaborate fountain, all of which compose the vital center of the city. Erruas’s studio is located on the third floor of one of these colonial-style buildings with whitewashed walls and green shutters, just a minutes walk from the Archaeology Museum of Tetouan and Bab Tut, a principal entrance to the old medina. As I climb up the stairs of the apartment building, the smell of amber becomes more pronounced. As usual, Erruas greets me with a percolator of fresh coffee and local pastries from Jenin Bakery, where we often run into each other. Mirroring her artwork’s clean, minimalist, predominantly white aesthetic, the apartment’s originally beige walls, brown door, and green shutters were repainted white when Erruas moved in. “White is my spirit,” she notes. Everything is well-organized and in its own place, including archives she has created herself, which are composed of personal photographs, notes from courses during her time as a student, private journals, notebooks from past artist residencies, and a variety of exhibition catalogues. Erruas’s studio is not only a site of creation, reflection, and study, but also a place of hospitality filled with small rituals. Erruas always uses incense, waters the plants in her terrace, prepares tea and coffee, and takes her breakfast on the for- tunate days when she can arrive early. For Erruas, it is ideal to begin her morning in the studio at eight o’clock. Of course, some days are undoubtedly more charged than others, which leaves her to regrettably spend hours answering emails and texts from publishers and curators. If lucky, she spends her weekends at the studio, which is not a garage or warehouse in an industrial zone à la Berlin or Brooklyn, but a real three-be- droom apartment equipped with a kitchen. “What I love is to spend a maximum amount of time in my studio because I am entering the interior of my universe.” These rituals of daily life in the workspace are important to Erruas, who describes them as an “art de vivre.”
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