Artists often must take day jobs to support themselves, but Mustapha Akrim is unusual in that he came to his artistic career through his day job. Having graduated from the National Institute of Fine Arts in his native Morocco, Akrim found it difficult to find employment after graduation; so to pay the bills he worked with his father, a builder. In his off hours he used his father’s workshop for artistic projects, and he continues to draw inspiration from his father’s career. His 2011 work Bidoun (Without) is a vivid example: “I took my father’s tools and put them all together,” says Akrim of the toolbox-like result—and then, of course, “I bought him new tools.”
The title of Bidoun (Without) refers to the lack of steady jobs for young Moroccans like himself, a theme echoed throughout his oeuvre. His most famous piece, Article 13, is a rendering of the eponymous section of the Moroccan constitution, which reads, “All citizens have equal rights of education and employment.” But Akrim says, of this and similarly lofty provisions, “this exists just in the constitution—and the social reality, the economic reality, that’s another thing.” To make this point, he casts Article 13 in concrete—the medium of his father’s handiwork.
Akrim will be creating several works for our upcoming exhibition, Memory || Place || Desire, including a version of his Article 25. Drawn from the 2011 revision of the Moroccan constitution, which was implemented by the king to placate dissenters during the Arab Spring, Article 25 guarantees that “all citizens have the freedom of thought, ideas, artistic expression and creation”—but like Article 13, Article 25 is also cast in concrete. Moroccan artists may be guaranteed freedom of expression, at least in the letter of the law; but these promises are empty, just like the shape in which he arranges the words of Article 25.
Akrim will be in residence at Haverford through March 27.