Moroccan Artist Conveys Mixed Emotions Through His Artwork

Moroccan artist Nabil El-Makhloufi has a particular talent for conveying mixed emotions in his work. Take his images of crowd scenes, which can seem both harmonious and dissonant. It’s not quite clear what is happening, nor whether it is good, bad, or somewhere in between.

This sense of ambivalence is deliberate, El-Makhloufi admits, but not contrived.

“I’m facing the same puzzle as the viewer,” he says. “Enigmatic or threatening situations that attract curiosity and ominous feelings are an important part of my work.”

Perhaps this ability to stand apart and observe the dynamics and non-verbal interactions of groups is more acute in El-Makhloufi because he has lived much of his life as an outsider in his adopted homeland of Germany. This experience, he said, has given him the opportunity to contemplate and contrast his ‘Arabness’ with German culture.

“I like the openness of the way people think in Germany. You can speak directly and talk about everything,” he tells Arab News. “That’s a big difference compared to Arab culture, which has lots of taboos. I have an unconditional love for Morocco, but Germany has opened my eyes.

“The good thing about living here is that it gives me a distance to reflect on all these questions about my Arab identity,” he continues. “So, for me, to a certain extent, it’s important not to be integrated or else that feeling is lost.” He smiles, suggesting he is joking.

El-Makhloufi moved to Leipzig after visiting the former East German city during a trip to Europe in his early twenties. He was immediately attracted to the city’s rich cultural scene. When he visited its School of Visual Arts he loved the buzz of the place and “the way it smelled of paint.” It was here he would continue his artistic education, building on the degree he earned at the Art School of Rabat.

His decision to study in Leipzig was also based on a desire to forge his own path. The close ties between Morocco and France meant many Moroccan artists had headed to Paris to study. Germany, El-Makhloufi felt, would offer a new challenge — including learning a new language — and add another dimension to his development as an artist.

As a child growing up in Fez, he had displayed an early talent for drawing, but art was not taught in his primary school, so there was no formal structure to his early artistic learning. His main inspiration was an uncle who “drew everything around him.”

El-Makhloufi moved to Leipzig after visiting the former East German city during a trip to Europe in his early twenties. He was immediately attracted to the city’s rich cultural scene. When he visited its School of Visual Arts he loved the buzz of the place and “the way it smelled of paint.” It was here he would continue his artistic education, building on the degree he earned at the Art School of Rabat.

His decision to study in Leipzig was also based on a desire to forge his own path. The close ties between Morocco and France meant many Moroccan artists had headed to Paris to study. Germany, El-Makhloufi felt, would offer a new challenge — including learning a new language — and add another dimension to his development as an artist.

As a child growing up in Fez, he had displayed an early talent for drawing, but art was not taught in his primary school, so there was no formal structure to his early artistic learning. His main inspiration was an uncle who “drew everything around him.”

El-Makhloufi moved to Leipzig after visiting the former East German city during a trip to Europe in his early twenties. He was immediately attracted to the city’s rich cultural scene. When he visited its School of Visual Arts he loved the buzz of the place and “the way it smelled of paint.” It was here he would continue his artistic education, building on the degree he earned at the Art School of Rabat.

His decision to study in Leipzig was also based on a desire to forge his own path. The close ties between Morocco and France meant many Moroccan artists had headed to Paris to study. Germany, El-Makhloufi felt, would offer a new challenge — including learning a new language — and add another dimension to his development as an artist.

As a child growing up in Fez, he had displayed an early talent for drawing, but art was not taught in his primary school, so there was no formal structure to his early artistic learning. His main inspiration was an uncle who “drew everything around him.”

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