top of page

Commitments, invitations and meetings

By Katarzyna Pieprzak


Hassan Darsi's work is deeply involved in the Moroccan social body: a diverse and vibrant body in its composition, but also a body that is sometimes forgotten, repressed or made invisible by the cultural and confessional constraints of the country and the functioning of the world system. . Darsi's social engagement goes beyond mere observation and questioning, and instead operates within an ethical system of reciprocity and mutual recognition. Long-lasting dialogues and intimate economies of sharing are born between the artist and diverse communities. And through this collaboration between individuals, the artist and the community recognize and invent themselves together.

The invitation to take part in an artistic project is often the starting point of these actions, but in a sense, the invitation is also the point of arrival. To be invited to enter another person's world, to participate in it thanks to their presence, and to change the conception of oneself and of the other, is a multiple and versatile journey, rich in discoveries and possibilities of criticism and openness. The meeting can be both a brief passage or a long one, superficial or deep, but each interaction, each intervention, is a social action and above all an artistic action.

ProjectsFamily portraitsandThe Model Projectform the most characteristic work of this artistic journey of Hassan Darsi within society. Both projects pose questions to Moroccan society, to the communities that inhabit it, and to the individuals who coexist in the same social fabric. What does living in a city mean? A district ? What does living together mean? Who is visible? Who has the right to see? Where do images and representations of society come from? Who can participate in their construction? What is the value of things? Men ?

InFamily portraits, Hassan Darsi explores the contemporary family that he portrays. In Casablanca, in the rural setting of Souk Had Oulad Fraj, in Europe and the United States, he invites 124 families to be photographed on a stage that evokes the popular Casablanca photography studio of his childhood. The photography itself, the image, the product of a session, is not really what matters in this project. Above all, it is the meeting and the process that count. Florence Renault-Darsi explains: “Decor, format, presentation, installation of objects are then only the mediums – the subterfuges, according to the artist – which make it possible to revisit the encounter and to reinvest it”.[1] The encounter allows Darsi to explore the stories that bind people together and form their family. The installation of the image slows down this interaction and allows a visual organization which is in effect only an invitation to enter another family. Through the encounter, the worlds of the family and the artist intersect, inform and enrich each other.

In several series where prior organization was possible, Darsi invites each family to bring an object around which its members can pose for a group portrait. The negotiations that took place in the family before his arrival at the studio are not explained, but their traces remain visible in the choices that are sometimes very serious (the image of a deceased relative) and also far-fetched (a stuffed animal). And these traces raise the following questions: how do we attach a value to an object? In what value systems do these objects circulate? How do these objects enter into a family and can they define it? What stories do they convey?

Encouraging the family to articulate their portrait around an object involves a collaborative process and a dynamic of exchange where the world of the family meets that of the artist. Cohabitation thus becomes possible. The objects brought by the families take up residence with the artist and the meeting between the artist and the families is prolonged even further. Darsi explains it this way:the families came with their objects, before the shooting, which means that at home, these objects took their place, and for two good months were part of our universe.[2] The stories of the communities he encounters continue to live with him in a real and metaphorical sense at the same time. One object he kept is a portrait of King Hassan II offered to a disabled gentleman who was received by Crown Prince Mohamed VI. Darsi describes the image: The King is shown in a medallion in the center of the photograph, seated, and dressed as a soldier. On the right side of the medallion, our gentleman wrote this: "We love the king, we love the king, we all love the king", below, his address, his signature and the signature of his family members. On the left side of the medallion, he wrote this: "And he loves us". It is the only object that was offered to me, which I keep with nostalgia for this beautiful encounter.[3] Memory of the meeting but also testimony to a beautiful story that speaks of recognition, belonging and inclusion in a larger social body than that of the small nuclear family.


The family functions as a metonym of Moroccan society, and, more broadly, of the human family. The idea of cohabitation present in this project raises the even larger question: What does it mean to belong to Humanity? Darsi explains:And it is this “everything” that interests me, more than the photograph itself. [...] No portrait exists by itself. Each portrait exists through the series and its particular context, and each series echoes the other series through a juxtaposition of different, and sometimes tragically identical, human stories, such as those of the beggars in the souk and the South African families who still wear the aftermath of the apartheid regime. Within each series and in the project's serialization across three continents, we can find an inclusive, non-nostalgic exploration of diverse humanities. The repetition of the encounter, of gestures, expressions and moments of tenderness, manages to present a common humanity.

Artists, workers, farmers, beggars – the range of families represented in this project is wide. Through the proximity of their images and the common visual language in which they participate, Darsi is committed to promoting another more inclusive vision of the Moroccan and global social body. Those who often remain invisible or on the margins of society take center stage and share the dominant social space. The repetition of gestures and expressions leads to a shared human identity, which is neither fixed nor reductive. On the other hand, the serialization of the images reveals that the identity is never stable, but always an identity in the making. Finally, it is this creative link between people and their images, this act of sharing, which can become an ethical reference for today's world. Not a reductive universalism, but rather an ethical act of recognition, of collaboration. Of a reciprocity which is not a priori equal, but which nevertheless forms an intimate relationship of sharing and memory. As Abdelkébir Khatibi wrote, Memory is constantly becoming. [...] The best attitude, the most humble and the most effective is: to learn to learn.[4]

A dialogue is always mediated by social, political and material structures of power, and Darsi's social actions recognize these dynamics. Darsi does not enter a community as an artist-outsider who thinks he is revealing his own reality. Rather, through collaborative practice, the artist and the community invent each other in order to create a common language, or at least, an engagement in a common language. These actions of Darsi perfectly illustrate what the art historian Grant Kester calls a dialogical practice[5] where art is above all a communicative process of exchange and a commitment to a dialogue with a community where the artist and his interests are present but off-centre.

In the history of modern art, artists and critics have remained rather hostile to works of art that require the participation of the viewer. As Kester explains, these artists and critics believe that the work of art must above all question and challenge the discursive conventions shared by society. But in this model where the artist remains outside shared conventions and where, in a sense, he protects this privileged and illuminated position, he never manages to listen to or understand these conventions beyond his stereotypes[6 ]. To go beyond this model, the participation of the community is necessary in the art project even at the level of its conception.

The work that Darsi began with La Source du lion at the Parc de l'Hermitage in Casablanca demonstrates how Darsi's involvement in Moroccan society goes far beyond a social critique based on stereotypical views of poverty and of public space. Rather, at Hermitage Park, dialogues between artists and diverse groups from the neighborhood and the city have resulted in a shared reimagining of social conventions and a recognition of the history and memory of the space. Instead of a renovation project where a group came from outside to improve an abandoned park and to revalorize a space seen as "lost" in the city, the actions of Darsi and La Source du lion were always linked to a dialogue with the inhabitants of the district and the park itself. A park that, despite dire conditions, was not only a dumping ground for the city, but also a place of refuge. One of Darsi's first actions in the park was to create a catalog or inventory of the rubbish and litter that was removed when the art projects began. It was a way to value, or at least, to note the memory of the existing space and the people who lived there in one way or another. Darsi's sensitivity to space and those who invested it with meaning and feeling as well as his ability to see and recognize the humanity, spirit and fellowship of those normally voiceless in society dominant, still show this ethic of reciprocity and recognition which dominates its actions on the social body. The artist is above all a fellow citizen, a cohabitant. Darsi explains this relationship to his actions at the park: I think that the public first discovers citizens who take initiatives in their city. At each intervention there is a debate with people. When they get closer to the nature of the actions and learn from the artists what they are and what they do, the exchange becomes really interesting.[7]

Exchange, debate, citizenship. Recognition, humanity, the value of the other. Reciprocity, commitment and mutual discovery. Here are the terms that characterize the actions of Hassan Darsi on the social body. In this essay we have dealt with two projects that illustrate his commitment to art as a participatory and social process, but in Darsi's work there are still more artistic projects that explore the conventions and attitudes of today's society. through meetings and actions. The humility, generosity and ability of the artist to recognize and involve his Moroccan and global fellow citizens, is the model of a contemporary art that matters and is important in today's world.


[1] - Family portraits (Casablanca: Editions de la Source du Lion, 2008), p.6

[2] - Correspondence with Hassan Darsi, June 18, 2011.

[3] - Ibid

[4] - Abdelkébir Khatibi, “Being Arab today” in Penser le Maghreb (Rabat: Society of United Publishers), page 53.

[v5 - The term "dialogical practice" is my translation of the concept "dialogical aesthetics" developed by art historian Grant Kester in his book, Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004 ).

[6] -Kester, p. 88-96

[7] - Interview with Hassan Darsi by email, January 15, 2007.

bottom of page