Moroccan Young Man Draws the Desert with Tea and Saffron

By Sana Al-Quwaiti

Muhammad Oti draws one of the paintings with tea and saffron-soaked water (Al Jazeera)

The use of tea and saffron was a method adopted by the sheikhs of the Ait Ben Haddou tribe in the past to exchange secret messages. Their grandchildren have turned it into an art form that is special to the region.

Mohamed Oti, a Moroccan young man, soaks tea and saffron in two different bowls of water for a while until the water absorbs the color of the substance soaked in it. He takes a feather and a white paper to draw scenes from his desert environment where he lives in the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, a citadel located 30 kilometers from the city of Ouarzazate and 500 kilometers from the capital Rabat.

Muhammad Oti paints mud houses in faint colors. He then lights the gas stove and moves the paper over it right and left until the colors of the drawing begin to appear little by little.

The Legacy of Ancestors

In his workshop located inside the Kasbah, Muhammad spends his days painting. Tourists visiting the city represent an opportunity to introduce this art to the world. It is an art that he and other young people in the town practice.

Muhammad tells Aljazeera Net that he was taught to draw with tea, or ‘al-Atay’ as Moroccans call it, and saffron by Lahsan Fertal, one of the most important artists in the region. Fertal took this technique out of the pages of the history of the Kasbah and practiced it in his workshop and taught it to younger generations.

This was the method adopted by the sheikhs of the Ait Ben Haddou tribe in the past to send secret messages before the grandchildren turned it into an art form.

In Morocco, tea is the first national drink, while saffron is the ‘king of spices’. Saffron is often called ‘red gold’ due to its rareness, health benefits, high price, and distinctive flavor. Muhammad and several of his companions have turned tea and saffron into paintings that reached different parts of the world thanks to the tourists who buy them and bring them home every year.

These paintings are characterized by the predominance of two colors: the yellowish-brown color that is extracted from the soaking of saffron and the black color of the tea. Muhammad Oti’s drawings represent camel caravans, the life of nomads in the desert, and the buildings of the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou. He sometimes uses other colors such as blue, which he extracts from the indigo stone, to draw the sky and water.

Muhammad Teaches the Local Art Form

Muhammad tells Aljazeera that seven years ago, he bought the workshop from Lahsan Fertal, who taught him this technique. He spent a period drawing on paper until he mastered this art form.

In the calmness of the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, Muhammad spends his day in the workshop where the silence is interrupted only by visitors to the Citadel who come to explore its magic and what hides behind its closed doors.

Tourists gather around him, observing his work with admiration. He shows them the style of painting that distinguishes the painters of Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou from other regions. He considers those presentations to tourists as an essential part of his mission to safeguard the legacy of his ancestors.

According to Muhammad Oti, when tourists visit Kasbah, they like to take a souvenir from his workshop representing scenes from the life of the Berbers of the region, their desert environment, and the distinctive mud houses of the famous citadel.

From his seclusion, Muhammad communicates with the outside world through social media to communicate with art lovers from around the world and exchange experiences. These communications have yielded an invitation to exhibit his art in Italy.

The Kasbah As an Archaeological Treasure

The Citadel or Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou is a tourist destination for Moroccans and foreigners from all over the world. It is an 18th-century fortress built on a fortified plateau overlooking a valley. It is an important monument, classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

It is distinguished by its construction style which is special to the southeast where buildings are made of mud bricks and traditional dwellings are placed throughout the plateau, surrounded by a defensive wall.

The Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou had remained inhabited until independence when new homes were built on the other side of the valley to house most families. Some families remained on the old side of the valley, while others opened shops where they sell some of the products that distinguish the southeast of Morocco from other regions.

Tourism and Photography

Families try to preserve their homes by renovating them from time to time. They open them to tourists who learn about their lifestyle, the lives of their ancestors, and connect with the culture of the place and its people.

The area attracts tourists and visitors from inside and outside Morocco for its historical and heritage value. Several famous international films have been filmed in this area.

Through their art workshops and shops that sell local products, Muhammad and young people in the region hope to keep the Kasbah alive. They live in it and continue to do their work to tell the story of the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou to all visitors.

Source: Aljazeera.net (Original Content -Arabic)

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