The Perfect Moroccan Art Retreat to Add to Your Post-Covid Bucket List
Morocco’s natural beauty, it’s cultural riches and its warm people, draw millions of tourists to its borders every year. Many of these tourists fall so deeply in love with this country that they choose to return year after year. One such traveler is Oliver Herbert (35), a British artist, who set out to bring creative souls to Morocco and connect them to the beauty of this magnificent country through a unique art retreat.
“I was 19 when I first traveled to Morocco. I went backpacking with two friends from Art School. I remember the night before we caught the boat from Tarifa to Tangier, we were so nervous- it felt like we were stepping into the unknown. At that time the media made North Africa and the Middle East seem like a hostile place. But the moment I stepped off the ferry I felt instantly at ease and excited. The trip was amazing, we met so many incredible people. I returned to Art school feeling so inspired, with a sketchbook full of drawings, paintings and photographs that went on to inform the rest of my degree in Sculpture”.
Photos from Oliver's personal collection
Oliver, the son of a Vicar and a school teacher, grew up in a small village in Cheshire, UK. From a young age, he knew he wanted to be an artist. “Growing up in quite a conservative Cheshire village, Art offered me an escape. My art teacher at the local comprehensive school was a real character. He must have been in his 70s and wore nail varnish and shiny red Dr Martins. Legend had it he only had one lung, so would often be wheezing around the classroom. I ended up being his only student, as art wasn't a popular subject at school.”
After graduating, Oliver went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art and then moved to London to be an 'artist'. Inspired by a teacher of his, John Johnston who used to paint murals on the Peace Wall in Northern Ireland, Oliver eventually decided to take on teaching. "John made me realize just how transformative and transgressive an art education can be. I began teaching at a school in West London, and very soon I felt I was learning so much from my students that the classroom stopped being a hierarchical space and transformed into a community of practice.”
While teaching at the school, Oliver continued to travel between Morocco and London. During one of his visits, while sitting on a Marrakech rooftop overlooking Bahia Palace, he came up with the idea for Sketch Morocco. “I had spent the day drawing and taking photographs. I kept on thinking of my friends and students and how I wanted to share this amazing place with them. I suddenly thought- I could create a business that would make that possible. I felt instantly excited. I scribbled the idea down and bought the Sketch Morocco domain name there and then."
Covid-19 forced Oliver to cancel this year’s retreats, but he admits it created an opportunity to stop, think and listen. “I devoted my time to find the most inspiring and interesting contemporary artists in Morocco. It's been a journey of discovery and inspiration that has really changed the direction and essence of Sketch Morocco into a much more exciting business.”
With Sketch Morocco Oliver aims for artists and designers to start a dialogue with Morocco that will inform their own artwork and also contribute to Morocco's cultural landscape. “Morocco is more than tajine pots and camels. The country is a central hub to contemporary art and design. The idea is to encourage people to take time to properly engage with the visual culture of the country and get to know it in an authentic way. People tend to have a narrow and stereotypical view on Moroccan art, when in fact it is so rich and diverse. Morocco has always been a meeting point and trading center, providing local artists with rich sources of inspiration and materials to work with.”
Contemporary Moroccan Artists featured on Sketch Morocco's IG (Clockwise):
About Sketch Morocco's Art Retreat
Sketch Morocco’s four-day retreats take place in Marrakech in a group of 6-10 participants. The group stays in a traditional Riad in the center of the ancient medina. Some of the participants are experienced artists, others are complete beginners. Oliver is an experienced teacher who has worked with students from a wide range of abilities and is well attuned to different needs. The aim of the retreat is to encourage each participant to develop his or her own artistic voice and help to draw out what is individual about their work. Sketch Morocco provides homecooked meals, painting and drawing materials, a local guide and driver and meetups with local contemporary artists.