One of Morocco’s most important modern artists, Farid Belkahia trained as a painter in Paris and Prague between 1955 and 1962. Upon returning to his newly independent country in 1962, he largely abandoned oil and canvas, which he viewed as a colonial heritage, in favor of local materials, namely copper, leather and natural dyes. In addition to his artistic practice, Belkahia revolutionized the curriculum at Casablanca’s École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, which he directed between 1962 and 1974. A member of the Casablanca School, alongside fellow painters Mohammed Chebaa and Mohammed Melehi, Belkahia was instrumental in organizing the outdoor exhibition of modern Moroccan painting at Marrakesh’s public square, Jemaa el Fna, in 1969.
Throughout his lifetime, Belkahia developed an artistic vocabulary that reflected his experimentation with a diversity of source materials. In addition to innovating with materials and motifs in the post-independence period, his work references sources that range from Moroccan artisanal traditions and symbolism — already a synthesis of Berber, Arab and African influences — to poetry, art history, politics and mapping. He was also deeply invested in questions of spirituality, particularly as they relate to music, dance and its manifestation in the representation of the human body. Works such as Tribute to Courbet pay homage both to the nineteenth-century French realist painter and to the female body, a major theme in much of Belkahia’s work. However, unlike in Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World (1866), Belkahia’s women are often abstracted into soft, bulbous and cavernous forms (Woman, Femininity, Lying Down and Lalla Mira III), although they too evoke themes of birth, renewal and pleasure. Equally present in Belkahia’s work are arrows, concentric circles, lines, triangles and points. Whether inked on paper (Tribute to the Arrow) or hennaed and dyed on stretched animal skin (Trance), they recall tattoos and forms found in nature. With his innovative techniques, media and approach to choosing and representing his subjects, Belkahia’s oeuvre is both locally rooted and universal in scope.