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in the streets of Essaouira- C215
“It was like a new incredible unknown world, twisted, teeming, reptilian and uncanny.”
Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris, 1831.
Last summer 2009, while wandering in the streets of Essaouira, I discovered some graffiti hidden in the town, in the most surprising places. Some are tiny; some are hard to track making their discovery a real game: finding them, seizing them on film, relaying the info to friends who then share more discoveries. Some appear and disappear just as fast, whitewashed by neighbours.
Pure, authentic and short lived “street art” whose greatness lies in its transience. This “Graff art”, illegal and anonymous at first, has now won acclaim and is exposed in museums worldwide.
Who is the author of these artworks?
C-215: a strange signature: borrowed from a science fiction story or the name of a clever robot?
Then, at the bend of an alley, Abdesmih Street - which starts from the Medina Main Street, Istiqlal Street, and ends at Mohamed ben Abdellah shopping Street, on your right coming up from Bab Moulay Youssef and going to Bab Doukkala- C-215, the stencil artist, gets a name. One finds the name and origin of the author, on a wooden board: pinned on the board is a painted reproduction of the poster advertising the last twelfth Gnawa and World Music festival which bears the signature: “Christian Guémy, poet artist, alias C-215” and a date: “June, 30, 2009”. Did he happen to stay in this alley where numerous works of art are hidden or discreetly exposed?
The gaze sharpens with curiosity and explores the smallest corner. The alley is dark and vaulted: at ground level, on a metal sheet, one finds a shoe shiner; lifting one’s eyes, on another sheet, there is the black eye of a half veiled woman, sometimes in the company of a bicycle wheel leaning on a wall; higher still, another one so small that one may pass it a dozen times without seeing it, so discreet as its colours merge totally into its environment.
C-215 roams the streets and leaves contextual stencils in its wake. A true urban poet, mischievous and facetious, he paints, stencils or rather “graffs” animals or street scenes. He lays down his characters delicately; they spring from unsavoury places, being homeless people, beggars, refugees, orphans, pirates or witches. They are all very expressive and disturbing, seeming often to be locked into their own space with lurking padlocks in the background.
C-215, by drawing them, gives them a place in society, in the town or in its suburbs and finds them the place which will shelter them or make them survive. A big cat’s head adorns a green local council rubbish bin; further on, an African face covers the door of the old walled in and deserted Danish Consulate.
Here, on a wide open house, cynical, a hanged man on a wall. Elsewhere, a view of the town by night embellishes a terrace. A pirate with long sharp teeth dominates Moulay el Hassan Square and gazes at the sea.
Stencil drawings left in non places, on worthless supports : rusted doors or leftover wood from building sites, burnt or broken down walls, signs of the road or ancient bus time tables, bins or walls, or the small time weathered rusted trap doors of the O.N.E: here, the lock on a door retains the arm of a kind of Gnawa dervish. Every stencil is thought of and created according to a particular place; it is cut out and made to merge into its environment in order to interact with its inhabitants.
It makes for a beautiful and moving itinerary to follow, with eyes in the air, eyes in corners or on the ground and it is another good opportunity to get to know the town differently. They will not all have disappeared; there is time still to roam the streets and the town squares to look for the last survivors of another world.
Here may lay the opportunity for the inhabitants as well as for passing travellers to combine Graff Art and History in order to discover or rediscover the Souiri History through the architecture of the town.
History, itineraries and stencilled Graff:
Start from Moulay El Hassan Square, forever beautiful in front of the Ocean, a monument in itself; behind you is The Sea Gate and on your right is Bab El Menzeh. The first drawing will be the one of the pirate on the deserted square house with ochre walls, the first on your left when you stand in front of the coffee shops. Go up towards the town, slip into Mohamed ben Abdellah Street or go through the little Chefchaouen Square behind the clock and go up the avenue which crosses the Medina in the direction of Bab Doukkala. On your left, on an all patched up building site gate is another work filling all of the wooden space.
Coming back either way, you can reach the vaulted alley which runs at right angles: Abdesmih Street, mentioned above about C-215’s stencils. The best would be then to lose one’s way in the streets. In the Mellah, you will discover some stencils in the most unexpected places. This is a different way to look at these old traditional houses, at their time weathered walls, in this area away from any sightseeing visitors.
For those who may prefer to stay on familiar grounds, there is the opportunity to contemplate the imposing houses dating from the Colonial period in Istiqlal Street and the adjacent streets. Not many stencils there but easily identifiable: the two most impressive ones face each other, one being placed on the Wafa Bank building.
It is up to anyone to lift their eyes and make their own discovery. Mosques and monuments are ever present in the town, like all the old consulates concentrated in the South of the Medina. Unmarked Synagogues and Zaouïas with their sparkling green, yellow and red walls, nestle in small out of the way alleys or dead end streets. Inside the Medina itself, one can count a dozen of these buildings.
One may also decide to walk up to the various old city gates: either the four main ones: Bab Doukkala in the North, Bab Marrakech in the East, Bab Sebaa in the South East and Bab El Menzeh in the South, the Sea Gate opening on to the harbour or the several other gates dotting the avenue which links the North and the South of the Medina and passes through the souks.
You may also go through Bab Doukkala and leave the town through the North: the old Jewish and Christian cemeteries along the coast can be visited. On your right, leaving through the Gate and before turning into Massira Street, a very busy shopping street, a blue painted woman on a white wall awaits you. Even more, walking along the outside rampart on your right, at the back of a bus stop, you will find two strange happy characters.
If you pay attention, you will not miss these C-215’s original works scattered inside and outside the town and also on its outskirts. The history of the town reveals itself everywhere for the one who knows how to look.