Famous for their complex history, mysterious cultures and mouth-watering cuisine, the countries of the Maghreb are also home to a number of world-class museums and galleries that offer an insight into the region’s cultural and artistic accomplishment. We profile ten must-see cultural centres, museums and art galleries in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Cultural Foundation Dar Bellarj (Fondation Culturelle Dar Bellarj)
It all started when the Swiss couple Susanna Biedermann and Max Alioth fell in love with the city of Marrakech and decided to spend their wealth to perpetuate the vibrant popular culture that was at the core of the city’s spirit. Since the very beginning, the foundation has attracted large audiences, locals and visitors alike. The Cultural Foundation Dar Bellarj’s main mission is to promote the regional art and culture scene, dynamically contributing to the sense of an authentic, open and lively Moroccan culture in a renovated riad. In keeping with this goal, temporary art exhibitions, concerts, plays, and folkloric events are regularly held on the foundation’s premises. The permanent collection here includes contemporary paintings by up-and-coming local artists, whose work can be contemplated in the museum’s traditional atmosphere.
Matisse Art Gallery
Since the opening of the Matisse Art Gallery in 1999, Marrakech’s art scene has taken on a whole new dimension. The two-floor modern art gallery boasts a wealth of local paintings and contemporary sculptures, with many leading Moroccan artists participating in exhibitions here. The beautifully polished marble front of the gallery, located along the Passage Ghandouri, draws in an eclectic mix of visitors, who are then greeted by exquisite figures crafted from natural pigment and beeswax by the city’s most renowned artist, Mahi Binebine, and henna paintings that act as reminders of Berber blessings by another famous artist, Farid Belkahia. Well respected at home and abroad, Matisse Art Gallery’s mission is to promote Moroccan art by regularly showcasing the work of famous Moroccan artists, but also by giving the lesser known names the opportunity to enter the local arts scene.
Mohamed Drissi Gallery of Contemporary Art
Residing in the former building of the British Consulate, built in 1898 and surrounded by a magnificent garden, the Mohamed Drissi Gallery of Contemporary Art in Tangier showcases the best of local and international art to visitors. It was previously named the Museum of Contemporary Art of Tangier, but soon after renovation works that started in 2006 it changed its name to Mohamed Drissi Gallery of Contemporary Art in memory of the famous Moroccan artist Mohamed Drissi (1946-2003). The opening ceremony was held in April 2007, accompanied by a Picasso exhibition. The gallery is now run by Morocco’s ministry of culture.
National Museum of Fine Arts (Musée National des Beaux Arts)
Located in a beautiful garden in Algeria’s capital and displaying more than 8,000 masterpieces, the National Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest and most important art museums in North Africa. The collections include works from diverse eras, including European art starting from the 14th century but also more contemporary work from up-and-coming Algerian artists. Sculpture, furniture, ceramics and photographs by well-known local and international artists are also part of the collection, including Mohamed Racim’s miniatures which, in addition to being extremely delicate and inspiring, have played a symbolic role in the country’s fight for independence. This famous Algerian artist was a major figure during the fight against the French, where he fought through his art and supported his fellow countrymen with proud representations of their homeland.
National Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art (MAMA)
For the first time in Algeria’s history, a commercial centre which was once a luxury department store called ‘Galleries de France’, underwent a major transformation to become an acclaimed contemporary art space. Since the end of 2007, the premises have been home to the National Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art, usually referred to as MAMA. The establishment’s main mission has been to rekindle an interest in the culture of Algiers and help promote up-and-coming Algerian artists. By making their collections accessible to a wider audience, creating information and communication spaces where visitors can come together, and holding a series of trainings and seminars, MAMA has remained faithful to its mission.
National Museum of Traditional and Popular Arts (Musée National des Arts Traditionnels et Populaires)
The idea to open a popular arts museum had been present in Algeria ever since the beginning of the 20th century. However, it took a while until the first exhibitions at the National Museum of Traditional and Popular Arts were held in 1961, and it was only in 1987 that Algeria recognised the museum as a national institution. Located in the Casbah area of the capital, in a beautiful palace that was built during Ottoman times, the National Museum of Traditional and Popular Arts boasts an impressive collection of traditional Algerian arts and craft, carpets, jewellery and ceramics, but also exhibits work by contemporary artists from Algieria and abroad.
Dar Am Taieb Museum of Contemporary Art
Located in the gorgeous city of Sousse, the private Dar Am Taieb Museum of Contemporary Art, named after its founder Taieb Ben Hadj Ahmed, stands out from the rest thanks to the style and form of the art it exhibits. In total, there are eight intriguing exhibition spaces and a beautiful garden where paintings, sculptures, metalwork, and more – including a few giant insects – are put on display. There is something for everyone in this museum which houses an impressive collection of everyday life objects and fabulous artworks made out of recycled junk. The owner, who is also the artist, lives among his creations and visitors can enjoy a nice cup of tea with his family and him after having marvelled at the art.
B’Chira Art Center
A twenty-minute drive from Tunis, on the way to Sidi Thabet, the B’Chira Art Center is home to an independent centre of contemporary art founded by the artist Bchira Triki Bouazizi. The founder’s mission is to offer artists a professional structure that will enable them to produce, exhibit and reflect on their artwork. In so doing, the centre offers a push to the Tunisian arts scene on a regional and international level, making contemporary art more accessible to a general audience. Visitors come here to enjoy art exhibitions but also a variety of classes, including lessons in ceramics, painting, gastronomy, video production and many others. Debates, talks, concerts and other events bring together various exponents of Tunisia’s cultural scene, who regularly visit the gallery and share their experience.
National Centre of Living Art (Centre National d’Art Vivant)
Situated right next to the Belvedere, one of Tunis’ largest and oldest parks and a national zoo, the National Centre of Living Art hosts regular contemporary art exhibitions, seminars, workshops, press conferences, film screenings and other events. As the centre’s main mission is to democratise art by involving a wider audience, it is also home to a comprehensive library and a large outdoor space, both open to visitors.
El Marsa Gallery
Since its very beginnings in 1994 in the coastal city of Al Marsa, the El Marsa Gallery has worked to promote the work of talented artists across the Arab world. Its main mission is to provide a platform of representation for artists to exhibit their latest contemporary artworks. The collections on display include a variety of contemporary paintings and sculptures, but also an array of historical photographs. Famous artists like Abdallah Benanteur and Hatim El Mekki have already exhibited their work here. Gallery El Marsa’s popularity and critical acclaim is, in part, due to its international outlook and participation in numerous art fairs abroad, including Dubai, Paris and Abu Dhabi.