Anuar Khalifi: Drawing is  my way of thinking and expressing my self

Greetings, first of all, thank you for accepting our interview offer. We only know about you was born in Lloret de Mar .There are references to a dominant Maghreb culture in your works. Opposite shores of the city where you were born.  Who is Anuar Khalifi?

I’m a painter, a Moroccan painter born in Spain, in Lloret de Mar, a touristic town of the Costa Brava. My parents are Moroccan and throughout my childhood we used to visit Morocco every year. Those trips are an important part of my childhood and they have become an important part of my work. 

My work has biographical references of the journey between Spain and Morocco, not only my own journey, but the constant journey of people, ideas, culture, commerce… I see my work as a cultural bridge, geographically situated between Spain and the Maghreb, somehow reminiscing Al Andalus. 

Stylistically I move between classical and contemporary paintings, my work has been labelled as Neo-expressionist. 

How did you start painting? How would you describe your own painting? Your paintings remind me Gauguin…

Like every painter, I’ve always draw. It was my way of thinking and expressing my self, my way of reflecting about my self and the circumstances around me, its my method of understanding.  

Gauguin is a referent for his use of color and composition, though not so much for who he was. Goya is also a painter that I often turn to to find inspiration. 

Every piece of art is always in communication with other art, passed and present. Every work of art is connected to others. What I try to offer is a vision, an image, of the non European subject, but my work ir related to classical and contemporary artists, it’s a constan dialogue. 

As I said, my painting style has been described as Neo-expressionist. I mostly do figurative painting that comes from the inward to the outward, but the outward also informs the inward. I try to create a balance, a harmony between both. 

Many of your paintings have references to Moroccan culture. How are your painting received outside of Morocco?

In my experience my paintings have a further reach than just Morocco, that’s also my objective, to depict subjects from what has been called the global south. Although, more generally, subjects that defy the standard European depiction. This is one of the reasons why my paintings have a global audience. 

It is true that I purposefully include references that are easier to understand for those coming from the global south or from an Islamic background. I do that on purpose. It becomes something codified or mysterious for those who are not Muslims, but that creates interest and the mystery is well received. This adds a layer of surrealism or magical realism, but one that Muslims are well acquainted with because it belongs to the unseen, it’s part of our history and the way we give meaning to things. 

Though my work is not exclusive for the Maghreb or Muslims, it’s not married to any particular flag, nationality or identity.

In addition to the references to the Maghreb culture in your works, Islamic emphases also come to the fore. Sort of like modern orientalist essays. Do you have criticisms or ironies you want to shout out?

I understand why orientalist were fascinated by the islamic and eastern cultures, though they have a biased view on them. But I understand why they were blown away, the mystery, the aesthetics, the culture, the people. It could be overwhelming. But in depicting that they showed all their prejudices and biases because they wanted to get to their secret, and, fortunately, they could not. Knowing someone’s secret is the most powerful way to control them. 

My work is far from that, or at least I like to think so. I portray many of the subject that orientalist might have had an interest on or even depict them, but my intention is the opposite. I know their secret, because I’m them, and I hide it. 

I want these subject to be present in museums and art foundation because they have been historically under represented and miss represented. 

Islam does inform my work, because it’s the way I see, but I’m not an Islamic painter, I’m a muslim that paints. My work is a constant research and a way of becoming part of the discourse.

I saw a photo on her Instagram account. On them II. Paint sprays with portraits of Abdülhamid, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, Ömer Muhtar and children…  We see  looks like whirling dervish figure, wheel  image in your “The Opening” .  Are these mark of Mevlevi order.  Are they your source of inspiration? 

Of course the Mevlevi path, Sultan Abdulhamid or Omar Mukhtar are a source of inspiration for me. They are great examples, each on their own, of a deep understanding of existence and of Islam. I’m fascinated with Turkish sufism, and there are references to that and to the Ottoman Empire in my work, but I adscribe myself to the tradition of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Al-Habib, from Morocco. 

For any muslim,  for any person really, researching about aesthetics or spirituality in Islam the closest geographical and historical place to go is the Otoman Empire. As with Al-Andalus, although that’s further. 

The identity and aesthetics of a muslim people, their meanings, their symbolism are only indications to Reality. All of that we can find in our tradition. For example, the Jerrahi order has a very developed form and symbolism which interests me and attracts me.

The miniature tradition on the India-Iran-Turkey line is very strong and still continues. Can you tell about there a traditional painting tradition in the Maghreb?

There isn’t really a painting tradition in Morocco, at least not as we understand painting. There are contemporary painters, but there isn’t really a figurative current. But art is present everywhere in Morocco, in all elements of the culture, from the most sophisticated to the most quotidian through the decoration, the carpets, the food,  the artistry… I try to include many of those elements in my paintings.  I have a fascination for old pictures from muslim societies, perhaps a nostalgia of something I have not lived. 

The same nostalgia that you might feel when you visit the Alhambra or Istanbul…

On the other hand you are interesed in music professionally. You have friendship with American converted Muslim rapper Mos Deff.  We sense that the basis of your friendship is the intersection point of the Maghreb. How did you meet him? Is there any common project future?

Yasiin Bey and I are very good friends, out relationship is based in similar interests, from spirituality to philosophy, art, culture, even the same sense of humor. We also work with the same gallery, The Third Line, in Dubai. 

My interest in music has been mainly as curator, not really as a musician. But my main focus, dedication and passion is painting.  

Yasiin and I have a common project named Ayya which is a laboratory of ideas, performances, music, fashion and visual art in general. But our relationship goes much further than this.

Recently we have recorded and we will release the Nasri Dua recited in English by Yasiin.

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