Mohamed Rachdi, Yamou o r the atopic garden


Where does such a passion for the garden take its roots? What are its referential ramifications and its plastic and artistic implications?
If the artistic activity of Yamou focuses this much on the garden, it is probably because the artist himself, is carrying a garden at heart. With a memory of sand, the man of the desert remains forever haunted by a deep desire to live in a garden. It is that, in his vision, his existential frustration has put any image of the garden in a spiritual orbit. “Thus in the soul”, Salah Stétié writes, “a singular dimension is a garden to us. But more significantly, one can see this dimension arise and grow among this race of the desert for whom any garden, beyond the mirage, is a land of promise. These sons of the sand, these disinherited of the green world, they strangely dreamed of themselves as ontologically dispossessed to whom, some day, possession will return”. (in Firdaws – Essay on the garden and the counter-gardens of Islam).

Yamou has roots buried in the South-Moroccan aridity, this territory where the thirst for the garden, be it real or ideal, continues to work ever so deeply in the imagination of these men. Like so many others from the Saharan regions, the artist is probably forever a carrier of this atavism thirsty for greenery. And it is certainly this unfulfilled desire for a green world that is at the core of his artistic activity. So much so that it pushes him more and more towards the frequent production of works which literally bathe in dominant shades of green.

Indeed, through the recent paintings of the artist, we witness something of a transformation into a green atmosphere of the characteristic blaze of his previous works, where various red and yellow ochres burned between sandy and clay materials. Now, the luxuriant freshness of the inextricable intertwining foliage, in shades of green, pervades his paintings more and more. Through these, Yamou seems to mark something akin to a deliverance from the hardships of the desert territory, those of the fierce hand to hand with the mineral expanses of his previous works, to engage into the territory of the oasis and to furrow it, to dig it and to sink into it, even if it means getting lost through the meanderings of its fields and the density of their vegetal ramifications. And, rightly so, we must surely believe Edmond Amran El Maleh when, presenting an exhibition of the artist at the Museum of Marrakech, this ancestral Palm Grove, he describes him as such: “… I tell myself, I keep telling myself, do not smile, do not ask me why, Abderrahim Yamou is a Palm tree, a beautiful Palm tree, solidly implanted here or elsewhere”.

It is of no importance if in his painting the artist does not particularly paint palm trees. What matters is the intense presence in him of this oasean imagination now expressing itself in the sudden vegetal profusion that invades all his current works. A profusion that is in fact therefore only proportional to the ardent thirst for greenery embedded in the individual memory of the artist, of course, but yet more deeply still ingrained in the mnesic collective roots with unfathomable extensions. Roots dreamed by an imagination charred by the aridity of the desert; roots of these “ontological dispossessed” who could only conceive of an origin beyond a real land, only buried in daydreams and spiritual projections to the more distant metaphysical horizon.

No doubt the work of Yamou channels something of those metaphysical dreams. One feels springing a part of the imagination of the mythical Garden, the very one that was born in this green region aptly named the fertile Crescent, precisely in the shadow of the Persian Firdaws : this First garden, this heavenly cradle of the three monotheistic religions.

Thus the mirage of the original Paradise floats upon the gardens of the artist. Gardens which in no way refer to a place we could situate on our globe, but which relate, or rather lead to nowhere. Nowhere that does not cease to work in the insistent nostalgia of a garden beyond any topology. Nowhere as a bottomless spring that flows continuously, makes and repeats indefinitely its return to operate over and over again into the artist in his desire for an impossible finding of his roots, until a deployment in plastic fields necessarily concrete and fragmented. Fragments of poetic fields which deep down are nothing less than the expression of an aspiration to set roosts into the fundamental garden which, because it is impossible to live permanently in it, remains in the folds of the buried mnesic depths. Aspiration for this garden of nowhere generated precisely by the painful sense of uprooting related to exile and to the precariousness of existence.

A feeling which, certainly, any human can experience, but probably never with as much intensity as those who are forced to, by rigorous natural need, to carry the Firdaws beyond time and space, into the background of a memory of before all memory. “No”, says Stétié (in Light on Light or Creative Islam, ed. Les Cahiers de l’égaré), “Paradise, the Firdaws, located in the Seventh Heaven near the “Jujube tree of the edge” is not from here, in the same way that the garden, all of our gardens, are necessarily its projection. Paradise is a pole of memory; it is, for the mystical solitude and the solicitude of the heart, the dreamed country of the “no-where.”

Without necessarily being the eschatological one of religious belief, the garden of “no-where”, that is indeed what magnetizes Yamou’s artistic quest. But, in his quest for such a garden which is really there, but continually escapes, the artist knows that while the target does not remain for ever unattainable, at the very least it cannot be attained once and for all. That, in any event, his venture is bound to the path, the path without beginning or end, and what it implies in possibilities of encounters wonders, and other surprises. Then, through layers of signs and writings inextricably woven, through networks interspersed with arborescent courses, woven branches and other multiple ramifications of greenery, through vaporous spots and succulent materials, the artist persists in the poetic wandering which seems to feign ignorance as to his inability to definitively pin down the evanescent image of a garden all the more strongly desired as it is always elusive.

One undoubtedly understands better the expression of this tension for the elusive garden in the propensity of the artist, on the one hand, for the crossing of the space of his paintings in all-over, and on the other hand, for the painted space, not as a unit closed upon itself, but as a fragment whose treatment, even when it sometimes reduces to meticulousness, often has a share of incompleteness. However, what characterizes both the all-over and the fragment is the possibility of an unlimited extension. Both, indeed, appear to maintain a link with some totality that far exceeds our perception. The paintings of Yamou always appear as such: because it is difficult for us to see them otherwise than as parts of a composition impossible to grasp as a whole, the parts of the visible that they offer orient us towards endless extensions in the imperceptible. With this potential overflow of the limits of their physical extent, therefore, they guarantee the permanence of their openness to a world beyond our optical scope, that of an imaginary garden that opens as such only to very well touch our psyche, inviting our dreams to flourish in the immensity of its invisible territory.

In Paradeisos or the art of the garden, (ed. du Chêne), Germain Bazin reminds us that “the garden is really born of nostalgia. It is a refuge for the dream”. Basically, of all times, our dreams live in our gardens and our gardens live in our dreams. And all the art of the garden, the actual as well as the fictional garden, lies precisely in its ability to solicit our senses, awaken them to better excite our capacity to dream, to cause the tracery of our mnesic fabric, to make and unmake them then to make them again to unmake them… This is what the poetics of the gardens of Yamou cultivate. It works to the initiation and activation of the process of memory in its dreamy aspiration – perhaps and utopian, but necessary and deeply existential – to the mirage of the impossible rooting in a garden indefinitely projected on an ever retreating horizon. It is, however, in this very relentless pursuit of the inaccessible that, painting after painting, Yamou lives his own paradise garden, on the same path as his creative adventure. He lives it fully in all its physicopsychic complexion (his body and his soul not polarized and hierarchical but indistinguishably intertwined) through the act of painting, and the enjoyment and suffering which are inherent to it. It is indeed in the very culture of his artistic garden that he grows richer, is nourished, that his body is full of energy and his imagination of fertility… There he sees himself not one, monolithic, closed and frozen in the unity of an “I” closed upon it self, but rather multiple and open, fluctuating and arborescent. There he sees himself able to simultaneously offer himself and open up in the very body of this world to the plurality of worlds, because, as pertinently noted by Séverine Auffret in “Aspects of paradise”, (ed. Arléa), “to enter paradise is to enter another world, present in this world”.

Now in this world, indeed, because if the heavenly is garden to the “no-where”, as it has been said, if it cannot possibly be locatable in a place, it can, however, perfectly take place. And the field of plastic activity is likely to be a fertile ground to its birth. When he invests his territory of creation, the artist doesn’t merely live space and time according to their physical, topological and chronological parameters; a portion of space, a tiny canvas for example, can suddenly metamorphose into immensity, a moment in eternity. When it is genuinely involved in the adventure of its artistic experience, the self of the artist thickens, not in the sense of narcissistic and egotistical pride, but because its potential to act increases; its creative power becomes active and flourishes; its sensory faculties are happily amplified and heightened in the simultaneity of giving/receiving, in the pleasure of meetings, surprises and amazement; its body-mind quivers with life and happiness, and far from the ordinary, is revealed bathing harmoniously in its true original element. Thus, cultivating his own artistic garden, Yamou fully lives his paradise directly in his sensory encounter with the real, the concrete one, indeed, of his canvases through which he seeks to invest his passion for vegetal luxuriance and his pleasure of the green. For the artist to establish his own plastic field, the real contribution of his body is required, but this in turn allows his transport, even from the epidermal bark, through sensations sometimes of a carnal vivacity, towards a scale of very strong sensitivities and feelings, towards various emotional and spiritual degrees. The heavenly garden of the artist is therefore nothing less than that which he feels in the process of his own creative journey, the one that he himself grows by stratifying the fields of his canvases with lush materials, by furrowing networks of graphics and chromatic courses through them.

If the imaginary garden that directs the artistic quest of Yamou forever inhabits in the mirage of desire, if it is therefore not somewhere here in our geographical zone, but necessarily always in an atopic territory, can we conclude, for all that, that the enjoyment of this paradise is forever forbidden for him? To think so is not understanding that the artist fully enjoys the delights of its fruit in the very paths of his own artistic gardens. “Paradise”, Séverine Auffret beautifully explains, “is not where I am. It is more likely to be where we are going. And in going there we are there” .