“Jilali Gharbaoui, le messager de l’exil”: Latifa Serghini’s Hard-Hitting book, a Favorite of hers

A biography written like a novel that keeps us in suspense from the beginning to the end and where Latifa Serghini retraces the history of the pioneer of abstract art in Morocco. In doing so, she especially gives voice to what of man has remained silent, his childhood, his suffering, his loneliness, his history of exile… A man feverish for freedom but secretive, who finds refuge in painting, whose codes he deconstructs until the moment of its explosion. A man misunderstood during his lifetime and who will die on a public bench on the Champ-de-Mars in Paris. It is, in fact, the “intimate” Jilali Gharbaoui who was so long absent that Latifa Serghini explores. For not only have the artist barely been mentioned, but the testimonies of his contemporaries are rare, limited to comments on the work of an artist whose existence will remain hidden for decades.

The pen is beautiful. Beautiful and uncompromising when it brings into play those who like to evoke “with sufficiency and satisfaction the last auctions of works offered for sale” of an artist whose Morocco was losing interest during his lifetime. His death, like his life, was cruelly lonely: found at dawn on April 8, 1971, his “body was repatriated by plane to Casablanca airport, then flown to Fez. No family, few friends and a few officials were there to welcome him, and the burial was carried out in a state of general disinterest.

Jilali Gharbaoui “was born in Jorf El Melha, a tiny dot on a regional map. A non-place”. A non-place that seems, from the outset, to place the fate of the artist under the sign of wandering and anonymity. Latifa Serghini’s pen is lyrical, however, to describe the “wild” land where the artist was born in 1930: “The horizon of the child Jilali is made up of alluvial plains stretching as far as the eye can see, and the waters of the Sebou and its tributaries spread out in a succession of swamps. The material earth, the color earth” which Jilali Gharbaoui will say he carries within him.

A book written, like a novel in which Latifa Serghini gives us a thrilling account of the inner world of a passionate and tormented artist, of “painful beauty”, making it an engaging and captivating description of her subtle and sensitive pen, who knows, nevertheless, how to be indignant and uncompromising in the face of the treachery of men and time. Novel, biography, beautiful book, art book, history book or duty of memory. This intense book, punctuated by the glances of art critics such as Gaston Diehl or Pierre Restany and punctuated with magnificent photographs of Jilali Gharbaoui’s work, is certainly all of these at once. Shocking and of a beautiful richness, it has obviously required years of research and will not fail to become, if it is not already done, an incontrovertible reference for art history enthusiasts in general and admirers of the great master of abstract art in particular.

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