Ahmed Cherkaoui

Article Bio Works Projects
Visual Arts (painting)
Africa, Northern, Europe, Western
Morocco, France
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August 4, 2003
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Mysterious tales

Ahmed Cherkaoui was born in 1934 in Boujad in Morocco , lived after 1956 mainly in France, but died in 1967 in Casablanca. He was one of the key modernist painters from Morocco after independence. His large-scale abstract and seemingly symbolical works combine very various influences, ranging from Berber folk-art to Paul Klee and surrealism.
The painter Ahmed Cherkaoui was born in 1934 in Boujad, a small town about 80 km east of Khouribga at the foot of the Atlas mountains in Morocco. At 22 years of age, just after Moroccan independence, he went to Paris, where he first studied at the college of applied art then at the famous École des Beaux-Arts. In 1961, during the political and cultural thaw after Stalin´s death, he moved to Warsaw and studied for a year at its College of Fine Arts. These three phases shed light on some influences blended within his later works.

The paintings often tell tales but not very openly. Even those with titles like ´Hommage à Fatimah´ or ´Les Trois Soeurs´ remain rather vague and freely associative. Cherkaoui fills a canvas over and over again with abstract signs and symbols, which spread over it like an oriental rug. Sometimes these patterns seem to be just ornamental and sometimes to have a deeper meaning, but they are always strictly, often symmetrically composed. Crosses, stars and other motifs determine the composition, and sometimes eyes, mouths, faces, houses, streets and landscapes seem to emerge, only to dissolve again on closer scrutiny.

This formal language, recalling old alphabets or modern comics, may have various sources. They certainly refer to the geometrical rather archaic art of the Berbers, in whose ceramics and tattooing Cherkaoui is known to have been interested, especially since his mother was a Berber. This interest was shown also in the pictures´ colouring. As with an Arabic kelim (prayer-mat), dark earthy hues serve as a background for bright reds, blues, greens and white, which light the images up and give them a festive character.

Cherkaoui was also strongly influenced by the Parisian art scene in the post-war years. The terse, symbolical visual language of his works recalls that of the late surrealism of a painter like the Chilean Roberto Matta, who had been living in Paris since 1954. Indeed the formal likeness seems to have earlier roots in the art history of the 20th century, and the poetic nature of the works recalls the repertoire of Paul Klee, whom Cherkaoui is known to have revered.

Plainly owing to the influence of the Parisian school is his works´ casual, seemingly informal aspect, with brush strokes bearing witness to the artist´s gentle movements. Nearly always the naked canvas is to be seen beneath them as mainly a rough texture, giving his works, despite the mainly dark hues, an almost ethereal lightness.

Cherkauoi´s works were early appreciated. A year after his return from Warsaw to Paris he won the bronze medal at the 10th ´Salon interministériel´, and took part regularly in the Salon de Mai. There followed many solo and joint exhibitions, including ´20 Peintres Etrangers" in the Parisian Musée de l´Art Moderne. He then taught for awhile in the drawing class at the Technical College in Beaumont sur Oise. He died in 1967 in Casablanca at the age of only 33.

(Translation: Phil Stanway)
Author: Ulrich Clewing


1934 born in Boujad in Morocco
1956-1959 study of graphics at the École des Métiers d´Art in Paris
1959-1960 study at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris
1961 study at the College of Fine Arts in Warsaw
1962 bronze medal at the 10th Salon Interministériel in Paris
teaching at the Technical College in Beaumont sur Oise



Published Online,
The Grove Dictionary of Art online, www.groveart.com


Published Written,
Ahmed Cherkaoui, La Passion des Signes, 192 S./130 Abb. Édition Revue Noire/Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris o.J. Belkahia, Bellamine, Cherkaoui, Kacini - Peintres du Maroc, Institut du Monde Arabe, 86 S./zahlreiche Abb., Paris 1991

Exhibitions (choice)

Exhibition / Installation,
1963 Salon d´Automne, Casablanca 20 Peintres Etrangers, Musée de l´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris 1964 Du Labyrinthe à la Chambre d´Amour, Musée d´Algiers, Algiers 1967 Paris Biennale, Paris 1968 New Dehli Biennale, New Dehli 1971 Techniques de l´Estampe, Les Halles, Paris 2000 The Short Century, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)