Harvest Festival Chronicles: The Tale of Marrakech’s Vibrant Gastronomic and Artistic Odyssey
BY YOUSSEF ROCHDANE, TRANSLATOR AND CONTENT WRITER
3 SEPTEMBER 2023
PHOTOS BY AYOUB BOUINBADEB
The springtime curtain lifted on this year’s Harvest Festival Marrakech, unfurling a captivating tapestry of discovery. Over 15 days, a cascade of meticulously orchestrated events took place, inviting participants into a realm of cultural revelations, culinary delights and ecological wonders. This edition of the festival was an intricate medley of themes––agriculture, gastronomy, cultural rites and traditional practices–each a mesmerizing note in the symphony of spring, all woven together to create an unforgettable experience.
Nestled within the historic city of Marrakech, the city known for its rich history and cultural diversity, a unique celebration unfolded. From May 20th to June 4th, the city came alive with the Harvest Festival, a celebration that intertwined artistic expression, traditional practices and sustainable living, all while embracing art, nature, culture and community. Let’s take a stroll through the remarkable events that left a lasting impression on both locals and tourists.
Meryem Meg’s Exhibition and Workshops
The festival kicked off with an art exhibition at the enchanting “Le Jardin Secret”. Artist Meryem Meg‘s exhibition was a sensory experience that encompassed paintings, producing a scent collaboratively, a video installation and interesting texts. Drawing from her research on the healing properties of water and its significance in Islamic teachings, Meg’s work resonated deeply with the historical connection of “Le Jardin Secret” to water. This magical garden was one of the spaces receiving water supplies from Marrakech’s first Khettara (a ground drainage tunnel that intercepts and redistributes the water of the groundwater aquifer), reflecting the importance of water in both heritage and spirituality.
Continuing the exploration of Meg’s art, a series of workshops were held at Dar Bellarj. The artist engaged with children and mothers, unravelling the layers of faith, symbolism and identity within her creations. Through hands-on activities, participants learned about creating natural pigments from earth and rocks, fostering a connection with the earth that resonated with Meg’s message of unity with nature. These workshops became a space where stories and creativity interthread, bridging the gap between generations and enriching the community’s artistic spirit.
A Symphony of Flavors: Plus61’s Spring Dish
Plus61 opened its gates with a culinary flourish. Renowned Chef Andrew Cibej orchestrated a culinary masterpiece that embodied the spirit of spring. A mixture of tastes converged in a single dish – melon, fegous, and feta came together, joined by a pickled green bean and walnut ‘pesto.’ Each bite was a celebration of the season’s bounty, and it set the tone for the festival’s culinary journey.
Film and Dialogue: Marwa Arsanios’ Eco-Feminist Perspective
The festival’s cultural canvas expanded with an important film screening and Q&A session. Dar Bellarj hosted an evening dedicated to Marwa Arsanios‘ visionary work, “Who is Afraid of Ideology?” The film series delved into nature’s transformative power, exploring our interconnectedness with it. The films challenged the perception of nature as something external, encouraging us to embrace a deeper connection with the natural world. The Q&A session that followed was a riveting exploration of filmmaking, storytelling and solidarity, making us question our roles in nature’s narrative. As a result of a collaboration between Dar Bellarj and the QANAT collective, the film was also screened at LE18 where a collective gathered not only to witness the silver screen’s artistry but to celebrate the very essence of creativity.
A Glimpse into Marrakech’s Herbal Legacy
Narrow alleyways in the heart of the medina led to an enlightening guided herb walk. Amid the bustling souks, participants explored the deep-rooted tradition of herbalism. The journey unfolded with insights into plant products that have been part of Marrakech’s fabric for centuries. From lfouwwa (wild madder, Rubia peregrina) in couscous to the healthy contribution of blalouz (common asphodel, Asphodelus microcarpus), each plant shared a tale of healing and heritage. The expedition culminated in a meeting with Haj Brahim, a fifth-generation herbalist, who emphasised the precious link between tradition and modernity.
A Sound Workshop with Saad Elbarakka
A.MAL Projects took participants on an auditory journey that challenged preconceived notions of sound, music and nature. Participants were encouraged to listen deeply to their surroundings, including the sounds of nature and man-made interactions. The workshop involved a walk to collect sounds from the environment, transforming these captured moments into a harmonious piece. This event exemplified the fusion of human creativity with the untouched sounds of the natural world.
Culinary Traditions at Aboughlou Cooperative
The festival’s journey extended to the Ourika Valley, where Um Mami Melting Pot Morocco and their then cohort embarked on a memorable visit to the Aboughlou Cooperative. Amid a traditional breakfast, the cooperative’s elder shared the soulful chant usually sung during couscous-making, a ritual that infuses tradition into the very grain. The cooperative’s workshops provided a hands-on experience, fostering an understanding of the labour-intensive process. The day ended with a communal couscous feast that nourished not just the body but also the bonds between generations and cultures.
Following this unforgettable treat and journey, the talented cohort, guided by Marie Sophie Grønlund, prepared a three-course meal based on High Atlas ingredients. The menu paid homage to cooperative products, such as goat cheese, walnuts and honey, creating a symphony of flavours that resonated with the festival’s spirit.
Exploring Agrobiodiversity of the High Atlas
Understanding the intricate relationship between the environment and cultural practices took centre stage during a talk led by experts in agrobiodiversity. Ugo D’Ambrosio, Khadijah Ait el Mati, Meryem Aakairi and Adele Woodmansee shed light on the challenges and opportunities faced by communities in the High Atlas region. The discussion extended beyond theory, as participants engaged with seeds and dried foods, exploring their origins and connections to the local context. This immersive experience embodied the festival’s mission of promoting dialogue and knowledge exchange between urban and rural populations.
Connecting with Nature Through Language
A.MAL Projects organised an exploratory workshop that transcended words led by Dr Oumaima Harkousse and Dr Mohamed Ait Boulahsen at Pikala Cafe. Participants engaged with High Atlas herbs, saffron and almonds, connecting these ingredients to concepts like heritage and community. This activity wove a narrative between people, environment and culture, celebrating the intricate relationship that binds them.
Salima Naji’s Architectural Endeavors
Architect Salima Naji showcased her impactful work on restoring collective granaries, emphasising the importance of heritage preservation and ecological solutions. Through the lens of architecture, she addressed pressing issues such as climate change and urbanisation, providing a hopeful vision for sustainable coexistence between human and natural environments. Following that, Salima led a workshop with the children of Dar Bellarj on building and designing with eco materials that further ignited imaginations and seeded a sense of responsibility for preserving ancestral practices.
Celebrating Craftsmanship and Creativity
Bloom House opened its doors to the community, curating a Harvest Festival Market that celebrated local craftsmanship. From traditional embroideries to curated second-hand clothing, the market was a testament to Marrakech’s creative spirit. This market was graced with the participation of the gifted mothers of Dar Bellarj, Souk de Saj, Lou L’Artisane, She Archives Jewellery, the Moroccan-founded publication “I Came for Couscous” and many more. The event brought together artisans and enthusiasts, fostering a sense of shared passion and purpose.
Culminating with a Flourish
The Harvest Festival culminated grandly at Jnane Tamsna, where attendees indulged in a delectable brunch created from High Atlas ingredients. This closing event offered a relaxing atmosphere and diverse experiences, from meditation to vibrant Afrobeat dancing. The day shed light on the festival’s essence: bringing together different elements to create a harmonious and impactful whole. As attendees savoured each bite, they reflected on the transformative journey they had embarked upon since the beginning of the festival.
As the Harvest Festival came to an end, the echoes of its events lingered on, resonating with a sense of unity, creativity and purpose. Each workshop, talk and exhibition celebrated the interconnectedness of art, nature and culture, leaving a lasting impact on participants and the local community. The festival demonstrated the power of creativity to bridge generations, cultures and perspectives, nurturing a collective consciousness that values both the past and the future.