Today’s guest post comes from Candace LaRocca, one of the docents at the Smithsonian, National Museum of African Art and a great friend of the museum. During the years of preparation for Earth Matters, LaRocca has been involved in numerous aspects of the show, most notably helping to translate for our artists from Francophone Africa. In the following post, LaRocca gives a warm and personal account of her experience with working with two artists from Morocco, Hassan Echair and Younes Rahmoun.
From time to time, docents are asked to help out in other areas in which we have a special interest or skill. I was asked if I could do a rough translation of the one-hour interviews that Karen Milbourne, curator of the Earth Matters exhibition, had taped with the artists Hassan Echair and Younes Rahmoun in Morocco. I saw this opportunity as a “win/win” situation; it would allow me to brush up on my French at the same time that I would get to know the artists’ work, which would assist me in giving tours of Earth Matters!
By accepting this assignment I was able to become very familiar with their work. The honor of transcribing Dr. Milbourne’s interview required listening to the audiotape a multitude of times!!!. The benefit was that I felt that I actually was “on location” with her and the artists in Morocco! I could hear birds chirping in the background during Echair’s interview, I could hear other conversations and work going on during Rahmoun’s interview, and these details made a powerful impression that transported me to Morocco and the artist’s studios. It was amazing to see how much they covered during their one-hour conversation: upon transcription, each interview would be about 14 typewritten pages!
While Echair was unable to come to Washington D.C. for the installation of his work, Anthony Stellaccio (the Earth Matters Project Manager) arranged for the installation of his work to be handled via “Skype,” another first-time opportunity for both me and the museum. We started at 8:00 AM. The installation site was set up as a mini movie set. I sat in a corner while the screen was focused on Echair’s work. I interpreted while he worked with our design team for the installation of “Ascension.” I was quite relieved to see him smiling, drinking a cup of Moroccan mint tea and holding his little girl on his lap in his living room. It seemed such a nice family setting and so relaxed and charming. I shared with him that I was concerned for his personal well being since he had spoken so emotionally with Dr. Milbourne about his work and concerns. His response was “Yes, my work is not a joy; but someone has to represent these people.”
Gallery shot of Hassan Echair’s Ascension
Bamboo, quartz, cord, paint, installed at NMAfA in 2013
Photograph by Franko Khoury
I was able to meet Younès Rahmoun personally during the opening of the exhibition; he was equally kind and caring. As soon as I introduced myself, he wanted to let me know that there was another French- speaking artist who might need some help. I recalled that he and Dr. Milbourne had discussed the work of Wolfgang Laib during their interview and let Younès know that Laib’s Wax Room was on display at the Phillip’s Collection (a museum of Modern Art in DC). He managed to see the work prior to his return home and commented that it was “awesome.”
As a docent, I now have the opportunity to add a personal perspective to my tours as a result of my meetings with these artists. Both Echair and Rahmoun are very deeply involved in their work and committed to expressing the needs and concerns of the people they represent.
Gallery shot of Younes Rahmoun’s Kemmoussa
Plastic bags and compressed nails, installed at NMAfA in 2013
Photograph by Franko Khoury