AiR Sidi Ali Relates.

AiR SidiAliShow

Exhibition and Performance of AiR Sidi Ali 2013.  June 2nd – August 31st.

Fez  / Morocco

Watch Rene Kladzyk’s performance in response to her residency experience.

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Artist in resident René Kladzyk writes ‘I am spending lots of time in the studio right now and am so excited about what is currently germinating. ‘ 

I am so glad to have this amazing platform to share my ideas and energy, and really thrilled with what I’ve been creating stemming from the residency’.



As a Moroccan resident for five years and having worked in cultural programming with traditional Moroccan musicians I thought I had a grasp on how Moroccan culture was defined. That was until I visited the Moussem of Sidi Ali for a short but intense few hours, one night in January of 2012 .

AiR Sidi Ali is a weeklong artist residency program I designed and organised around the Moussem pilgrimage  in response to my first visit. It is aimed at artists from any discipline to absorb, be inspired and to then feed what they have experienced into their art practice.

As intrepid as I was at stepping into the program around slaughters, rituals, music, trancing and much more of the unknown I was also really looking forward to scratching a curious itch that had started a year before.


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All over the small town of Sidi Ali candles are lit for prayers, animals are slaughtered for offerings, women bath at the sacred water source, throw underwear into appropriate trees, purchase spell recipes that include animal skin and dried lizards or shells; flowered water is drunk, doused and washed with and incense fills every particle. Musicians come from all over Morocco to take part in ceremonies that please spirits and pay respect to saints. Tents are erected and the crowd gather as the skins of drums warm up. Once the mouseem is in full swing there are a mere few hours in the beginning of the day when not a flute, drum, krakab or chant can be heard. No doubt about it this is a sensory overload.

krakab musiciansMusicians playing Krakab

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The artists were welcomed, accompanied, well fed, greeted, watered ( well.. tea’d), hennad, banned from taking photos(!), feasted, sleep derived, inspired, befriended and bewildered. It may take some time for the work to be exorcised from this experience as each of us returns to our homes to process.  It has been a revealing, profound, inspiring and at times shocking week of a project that has left us all exhausted and at the same time charged. In response I feel the more you learn the more there is to discover. Morocco never ceases to amaze and surprise me and this experience has opened a new chapter to an understanding of the country that welcomes me warmly.

An exhibition of the works inspired by the project will be presented in the French Institute, in Fez, in July 2013.

Jess Stephens

Director – AiR Sidi Ali, artist and cultural coordinator



Gnaoua  from Casablanca.

Si Mohammed Mallum and crew.


Jilala from Fez .


Well well, what to say?  This being my 2nd time in morocco I thought I might know what I was getting myself into but I was quite wrong.  I always find it better to go into a situation with little to no preconceived notions as that way, the surprises are not as ‘severe.’

Nothing can prepare you for what the Moussem of Sidi Ali bin Hamdouch is really ‘all about’ and I think if you ask 10 Moroccans, you will get 10 different answers.  Is it mystical?  Yes.  Is it a party?  Yes.  Is it Islam?  Yes.  Would some like to tell you it is not?  Yes.  There are more layers to this place than an onion and trying to peel them back has been quite the challenge.

Being a photographer, and only a photographer, can have its benefits and its downsides.  On one hand, I am focused on a single art form and a singular methodology but on the other hand, when things go awry, it can be difficult to adapt.

After coming to find out that there has been some miscommunication between the local and regional governments and some bureaucratic double speak I found myself being barred from shooting any images in Sidi Ali at the moussem.  Shit.  What now?  After assessing the situation and regrouping, a solution is coming to light but only time will tell if it will work.  The worst part about this is that the visuals are so rich and the tableaux so deep that for a photographer not being allowed to shoot, it is tantamount to dangling some dope in front of an addict.

Between the music and the faces, the smoke filled air and the piercing sounds of ecstasy it has all been quite amazing and I feel that things are only going to get more intense.

— Hollis Bennett


sidiAli Incense

gnaoua Sidiali

jilali sidiAli

old Jilali

Hollis Bennett

Artist in Residence


Every sense is fully activated here in Sidi Ali.  Amid the misty hills and the steamy homes, celebrations exist in a timeless zone where the personal is public, the spirit is manifest, and each instant is overflowing.

I find myself attempting to organise thoughts through fragmented lists- narrative descriptions become so quickly jumbled, thoughts emerge through images and sounds- vibrant, vibratory.


Jilali musicians from Fez

Rose water, purple, lala, goats on walls, smeared henna, mincemeat, retreat, return, hoodwinked, hand on heart, pipe master, kief, cut up tongue, ‘I love this incense,’ they use the metal to remove the evil eye, don’t smoke while your head is covered, she says you look like her cousin, you would think he was a woman from behind, he is a witch, he had her stand over the smoking, burning metal, and it cast the demons out, no video, make a wish for every candle, drink from this well, the pink faux Adidas jumpsuit- you always see it on chubby children.  The djinn.  The blood.  The water.

moulay idriss1

Moulay Idriss through the eyes of Rene Kladyzk

And back in Moulay Idriss we return to a world where day and night are distinct.  The pink fluorescent moon sits atop the grey sky as the boy nonchalantly sits on his mule, climbing hills through the fragrant breeze.  We visit the market, the group of us with differing objectives, but purposeful all.  Tonight perhaps we will go again to Sidi Ali, thoughts will stop being composed of words, everything occurring in suspension and waves of synchronicity.
Until then (inshallah) salaam alaikum,
Hollis, Adberrazzak, Camilia, Rene and Abdelkarim
René Kladzyk
Artist in Residence


AiR Sidi Ali was launched last night with a wonderful artists dinner of a dozen creative folk. Put on by the French Institute with a magnificent spread of traditional Moroccan food by the wizardry cook Drissia. What gem of a gathering and such a rarity in the context.

After weeks of anticipation, it is great to have finally landed in this rich fertile landscape in the region of Meknes, Northern Morocco and introduce the small town of Sidi Ali to a great bunch of artists.


Vago, myself, Camilia, Rene and Hollis.

Day 1’s core group of creators consists of Rene Kladzyk, performer, vocalist, sound and visual artist, currently residing in New York. Hollis Bennett, portrait photographer and hot rock of a traveller  Vago Domitio, novel writer, man of the pen and much wit.  Myself, Jess Stephens multi-disciplinary visual artist and arts coordinator, Camilia Hakim AiR Sidi Ali’s assistant also played a creative role as her medium is contemporary dance and performance, majorly influenced by the culture, ceremony and performance of Gnaoua and Abdlerrazzak Kaabouch, assistant to Hollis, a graduate from Fez university in gender studies.

After home cooked lunch at the cosy Dar Zerhoun, in Moulay Idriss ( our HQ and refuge for the next week ), off we ride around the hill to the slow build up of the Mouseem Sidi Ali, what exactly are we up for, we don’t really know. However, after many visits to build relations and an intense but inspiring one night experience last year I feel keen and confident that we will be well received.

We arrive to find musicians warming up their newly bought bamboo flutes, a woman trancing to the drums and trumpets of Issawa outside the saint Ali’s sanctuary, live chickens for offerings swinging  in the hands of pilgrims like the latest Gucci, and a fukir preparing his rituals slides a 3 inch nail up his nasal passage for a few dirhams whilst sitting waiting for his water pail to boil for God-only-knows what.


Hollis Bennett

Hollis’ proposal is to invite subjects to sit for posed portraits to gain an understanding of the rich variety of people the Mouseem attracts. With equipment in place and assistant briefed he is immediately halted by the local authorities. We realise that we have to play the Moroccan way and call our joker cards tomorrow to see if our contacts can help.

Thankfully we have met some gracious kind-faced, spirit enticing musicians and a wacko medicine man who are open to having their portraits taken tomorrow away from the beady eyes of the authorities and Rene seems ready and fired to dance at the next opportunity.

This motley crew leaves Sidi Ali for the day under a rainy sky and heads back to the snug Dar Zerhoune to recap on the day’s offerings and slaughter a full nights sleep, inchalah.

Jess Stephens


Culture Coordinator

AiR Sidi Ali director and facilitator

CMJN de base

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