The Utmost West

Arts and Crafts of the Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia

The exhibition “The Utmost West” showcases artistic and craft objects from the lands of North Africa and highlights encounters and reciprocal influences between the local culture of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and Europe. The exhibition’s name is associated with the Arabic term for this geographical region: Al Maghreb al-Aqsa – which may be translated as “the utmost west,” the place where the sun sets. Since antiquity North Africa, especially Morocco, has been a crossroads between the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. The geographical proximity of these regions to each other led to an intercultural encounter that left its mark on commerce, the economy, religion and artistic traditions.

The exhibition presents jewelry, amulets, weapons, ceramic vessels and various crafts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the North African countries were European colonies and protectorates. These items reveal on the one hand the colorful multiculturalism of North Africa, made up of different ethnic groups – Berbers, Muslims and Jews – and on the other hand the impact of European involvement on traditional crafts, in terms both of materials and production techniques.

European rule in the North African countries sparked a wave of interest in the region among European artists. The exhibition displays the replica of an oil painting by the French artist Eugène Delacroix, and an original oil painting by the French artist Alfred Dehodencq. Both traveled to Morocco in the nineteenth century and painted the local inhabitants, exploring popular customs and traditions. Also on display are period photographs of scenery and indigenous people. They were taken by European photographers and sold as souvenir postcards to tourists and settlers from Europe.

Alongside the historical exhibits are works by contemporary Israeli artists with a biographical connection to the countries of North Africa: Eyal Assulin, Pnina Barkai, Jacques Juneau and Merav Peleg. Their works reflect personal memories associated with their extended families and their heritage.

Works are also on display of the contemporary Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed, who looks at the local culture with a critical eye.

The exhibition was born out of the collection of Dr. David  Rouach, the descendent of a Moroccan-Tunisian family who immigrated to France as a child. Dr. Rouach’s grandfather was a jewelry maker in Morocco in the early twentieth century and the first objects in his collection were pieces of jewelry designed by his grandfather. At the end of the 1970s, Dr. Rouach served as an army doctor in Essaouira, Morocco, where some of the items from the collection were purchased. Most of the objects in the exhibition are from private collections and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.