Sidi Ali 2014

AiR Sidi Ali II.

Artists respond. 

…………………………………………… !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ????!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!…………………………………………………… ????????????????????????!!!!!!!!……………………………………. ???!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????????????????????………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A blind side, a white paper, a lots of tree dots, lots of exclamations and questions as well, hard to put a point after a sentence, harder to put one sentence is one meaning ,different elements , different connotations , deferent spirits , different vibes, different  body languages, different songs ,lyrics ,tunes, variety seems to be not enough to reach the exuberance.

I was a white paper, a blind side, a closed mind for these open gates of questions, ready but not steady to start the stage of contemplations and maybe the speculations, LILA after LILA ,I keep watching women well dressed  to get  out  their inner demons, the need of doing my performance become stronger and stronger, I have demons a lots of them I can be well dressed, I can invent my own ritual, I can get in trance , I believe to what I m doing, I believe in art, I believe in my body, and I m aware of the spirit that I belong, I can do my own LILA……….

Thursday morning getting prepared for my performance my “LILA”,  well dressed(pink Tkchita),my make up on, my offerings ready : white balloons and white trade attached to white small stones; my white chair a green yard near to the graveyard, the spirit is present ,I m in the presence of absence ,not steady but ready ,ready to blow the balloons, ready to put some pieces of me out, my breath, ready to put  my breath outside my body and inside the balloons body ,ready the do the sacrifice.


Ready to seed a breath of life in other land, not steady, I was digging to seed the balloons at the yard in front of me, checking body, goosebumps, I was into the groove of my breath, exhausted to inflate the balloons, I feel my trance coming, I was away from my breath ,my body, my closed mind, I start to cry involuntary, I wasn’t capable of stopping myself, lost my own control, I m away from me…….

4After finishing the performance, I was no more a blind side or a white paper, I was at the same stage of belief with those woman that I saw with a “ suspicious air”  trancing before ,I believe in my art and they believe in their ritual.

At this residency I was in perpetual state of change, changing weather, changing thoughts, perspectives, riding, interpretations, the variety seems to be not enough to reach the exuberance of these “inner practices”…………

Ramia Beladel



We are in the middle of the residency, having been to Sidi Ali a few times now, the thoughts  that come to mind are the dualities existing in the culture.  Each day,  as a modern western woman, I have a choice of which role  I am playing, masculine or feminine, do I wear the men’s shoes or the women’s.  In Morocco, the roles are more separate, but quickly changing.

We attended our first Lila.  It lasted several hours, going late into the night.  The Lila was held for a woman on a pilgrimage to honor her saints, ensuring good health in the coming year, which she will do all over again every year around this time of the prophet’s birth.   She changed her robes eight times, different colors for different spirits, signaling a change of the dance.  The dance is accompanied by incense for the specific spirits.  The woman dances on her own, with other women in groups, and assisting other women as they trance.  It is a way to express freedom, a way to be seen, and a way to release.  Through the Lila, it is said that the men hold the power, yet the men still play a very strong role.  The men are the door keepers letting people in, the musicians who control the tempo and rise of the emotion as well as give the women blessings. The men are the watchers of the women when they go into a trance state, reviving them with incense, helping them to their feet if they have fainted.  So who does hold the power in these Lilas? It is set up for the feminine and held together by the masculine.  Within that are beliefs of spirits: demons and saviors.  Is it real or is it not? This practice is celebrated and shunned within the Moroccan culture.


We also visited a hamman, a traditional ancient practice.  Lying on the floor and on a women’s lap, getting scrubbed, watching the other women as they steamed and washed themselves, their children, and other women. Gossiping. It was all very communal and open, a oneness of being a woman.  As we got dressed to leave, each woman choosing their garments, covering up in various ways, some with faces fully veiled, we go back into the streets, now with secrets, now as strangers, separate.  Dualities repeat.

Christine Manthey



 In the beginning we follow the way of Aicha

 Down, down, down to the cave …to the river…

“Don’t be afraid” said the voice 

Don’t worry and be faithful!

God provides the light to all his believers when they follow their intuition

God provides his love to all his creatures when they are grateful

Who are you? I asked

I’m your feminine intuition … whispered the voice!

When you reach the cave, light a candle and make a wish

When you arrive at the river, wash your face and be joyful

When you move up to the holy city, raise your level of vibration

May you keep coming back until you recognize me then surely you will recognize your essence!  

Mohammed Abarda.

14 January 2014


The group had a tour of the village this morning but left before I was out of my room so I missed a visit to the hot spring.  Instead I recorded the call to prayer and scanned some of the prints I’ve made this week. After a beautiful lunch of artichokes, peas and lamb we spent the afternoon in Sidi Ali enjoying new parts of town during sunset which ignited passages of the architecture in deep reds and pinks set on pastel purples and grey. We came around a corner to look across onto a mossy hill dotted with children playing and groups of women taking in the last drops of sun. It looked like a dark green velvet flag with gold embroidery from one of the shops. Below the hill were patchwork houses that reminded me of a childhood book, but on revisiting the book, I see that Sidi Ali is much more colorful.

We climbed down passed unfamiliar thistles and over a trickling stream to a cave where Aisha had lived. A procession of noisy merry makers lead three sheep to slaughter. We lit candles. Back in the market we found tea and met some musicians. I made friends with some friendly boys from the music school in Fez who impressed me with their silver smiting abilities, senses of humour and manners.

Image (1)

I had a wonderful time applying flowers of life on my palms in black henna only to be surprised and a bit frightened by how quickly and how well the dye worked. Back in Sidi Ali Ramia seemed sick of being sick and was in a great mood. She told us jokes, sang us songs and danced us dances. We found a lila and made ourselves comfortable un a plounge printed with gnomes. Again the people sitting around us were welcoming and made friends.  Most of the women are dressed in what looks to me like PJs. Not the sexy kind but baggy, thick synthetic fleece with teddy bears and cartoons printed on them, but most were adorned with subtle details. One woman had peculiar contact lenses that exaggerated the size and color of her irises. Another let a few coins from a charm bracelet hang out of her pocket.  All the women are tidy and clean and have smoky eyes and black liner and manicures. We peeked round the corner from our spot to watch the women dance, one head banged until her scarf fell off, her friend picked it up and tied it around the trancing woman’s waist and held on to so keep the girl from falling down. The gesture was made so casually and thoughtlessly the move must be drilled in from in trance 101. A man lit a fat candle of oil so the flame was big and hot. It took me a few minutes to recognize the smell of burning hair. He was leaning over the flame so the heat was burning his face. Women on all fours undulated and threw their hair over billows of intoxicating incense beneath him. A dancer balanced a bowl on his head and gracefully rolled around the floor, turning round and round without it dropping.

He inhaled incense on all fours from the four directions. I don’t remember ever having seen someone take medicine as a performance apart from a side show in Montreal where a man drank pitchers of tequila and live fish on stage.

I took a break from the music and made a graphite rubbing of the tiles in the entrance.

A woman near us hid her face under a scarf and sobbed loudly. The lila offers a safe place for women to express their emotions and let out stress. The music was amplified and after several hours was too loud for us so we strolled home.

Alexis Williams

14 January 2014


Popular Sufism

Certainly, the culture of brotherhoods, and more specifically Hmadchas, Aissawas and Gnaouas delivers and takes us through its rites and artistic expressions, the most complex music forms and dances of possession in Morocco. At the same time an important corpus of suites and chanting of sacred songs is preserved and conveyed by the doubling tradition, orally and ritually.

sufiAissawa Brotherhood

Besides traditional performances experienced during these evenings, a reference to a complex Arabian and African popular culture exists relating to the cult of saints.  Popular Sufis and their followers constantly draw from the visible and the invisible and the collective memory of Sufism, embracing the complexity of secular imagination and finally by using elements from the popular mystic of the brotherhoods.

Mohammed Abarda.


hand marta

Nerves, Excitement, Curiosity, Vulnerability, Respect. Feelings are all mixed in this cocktail of emotions. As preparations begin it feels as if something it is about to explode.

 taxi marta

Although the mousseem has not yet started, today we made our first visit to Sidi Ali. It has been good to familiarize with the place and see how stalls, vendors and devotees are all getting ready. Some pilgrims seemed to be absolutely anxious for the event. And I guess, so are we.

Marta Ferraté  12 January 2014


 The second edition of this artist residency ( AiR)  hosts a group of five artists from three continents with various disciplines.  Alexis Williams (Canada), Ramia Beladel and Mohammed Abarda( Morocco), Christine Manthey ( US)  and Marta Ferrarté (Spain) have been selected for this one weeks intensive artists residency program for their caliber and mutual interest in spirituality and internal adventure that the Mouseem aims to reveal.

It is with much pride and pleasure to welcome everyone in Fez, our meeting point before venturing up the mountain to reside in the neighboring hillside town of Moulay Idriss.  Every day we shall take the short ride around the mountainside to Sidi Ali to meet the rituals, ceremonies and people around the pilgrimage event ( Mouseem) that commemorate the prophet’s birthday.

???????????????????????????????Jess, Marta, Christine, Ramia, SiMo and Alex.

AiR Sid Ali ’14

We are currently a team who either has the flu, insomnia or jet lag which ironically compliments the nocturnal and sleep deprived rhythm of the coming week. What’s more we have already discovered several happenstances of personal connections despite most of us never meeting before. May this AiR 14 team have equal blessings to be immersed, embraced and given as many insights into this popular Sufi event as we did in the first edition of AiR Sidi Ali.


Jess Stephens

Culture Vultures 2014

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