Once in a while we come across a person in our lives that allows us to understand the meaning of dignity. It is Mustapha El Harchi, a disabled painter by mouth from Morocco’s seaside artist colony of Essaouira that serves as a reminder how self-dignity and self-preservation of the soul are free.
I first met Mustapha El Harchi five years ago. I was strolling just past the wide entrance to Essaouira’s old medina and walked right past him. I did a double take, then circled back. It only took a glimpse of Mustapha painting by mouth for an immediate recollection of Jim Sheridan’s film “My Left Foot” staring Daniel Day-Lewis. Thus began a story of acknowledgement and friendship.
Musapha El Harchi paints daily at his outdoor stall which consists of his wheel chair, a make shift easel, his paints and a carry bag of his things. He parks himself across from Taros restaurant and just around the corner from the Casa Villa, a famous Essaouira café known for the best espresso in town.
Each time the opportunity arose and I would return to Essaouira my first visit in the old medina would begin with visiting Mustapaha. I secretly admired his sense of dignity, calm and organization as he painted by mouth. I always make a point of telling Mustapha that a view of the Atlantic Ocean along with a daily routine of painting in the serene town is the truly a good life. Mustapha typically smiles agreeably with a laugh, while gesturing to the tourists and locals who pass by his creative make-shift art stall. Mustpaha and his paintings qualify top rate under a list of “what to see and do in Essaouira.” A visit with him is equally as rewarding if not more then a visit to other local galleries or even Orsen Wells Square.
Mustapha’s out door stall is meticulously filled with new, small works of naïve paintings ranging from seascapes to floral designs, and agricultural landscapes all available for a modest 20 Moroccan Dirhams. Over the years, I have collected many and often give them away sharing the story of the artist. I began collecting his pieces because I enjoyed the idea of contributing to Mustapha’s form of artistic expression. For years I wanted to photograph Mustapha El Harchi and I also thought about making a short film. On my last trip to Essaouira in September 2011 we agreed that it would be a nice idea if I photographed him with the goal to share his story.
Mustapha and I also decided that allowing foreigners have a small piece of his work would be a nice way to remember both him and Essaouira. Our solution was to give everyone who embarks on a tour with Travel Exploration a gift – a hand painted post card by Mustapha El Harachi, painter by mouth.
Mustapha El Harchi can be reached at the address listed below. If you’re visiting Essaouira, make sure to stop by and see him. He is fond of art books and collects them as inspiration for his works. To make a donation you can send him an art book of flowers, rural landscapes and still paintings. He would be very grateful indeed.
Mustapha El Harchi
CP: 44100 Essaouira, Maroc
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