An ocean of colours: Hafida Zizi’s quest to capture the lives of Amazigh women on canvas

written by Ben Birchall May 8, 2023

Hafida Zizi is a highly talented Moroccan painter who has gained international recognition for her unique style and approach to art.

Zizi’s naïve style and day-glo colour palette tell the stories of Morocco’s Amazigh women through food, music and dance. We spoke to Hafida in her gallery in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou, where her bright, poppy paintings nestle among the stone of the historic surroundings.

What drew you to painting?

When I was 27, I lost my mom, who was also my best friend. I used to tell her everything and confide in her about anything that was bothering me. When she passed away, I didn’t have anyone to talk to or share my feelings with. That’s when I turned to art as a way to express my emotions. 

I started using women’s faces in my art to describe my childhood and the way I grew up, because women played a big role in my life, especially my mom. Men were rarely included, and if I did use them, it was only a small percentage. Art became a way for me to cope with the loss of my mom and to share my story with others.

Where does your inspiration for colours come from?

When it comes to the colours I use in my paintings, I love the primary colours such as red, yellow, blue and green. However, I also enjoy experimenting with new colours and creating unique combinations. Sometimes in one tableau, I may use over 40 different colours. An ocean of colours!

And your gallery here in Ait Benhaddou displays the work of other women, is that right?

Yes, I currently have two or three artists exhibiting their work alongside mine. I also have a girl from a nearby village who didn’t know anything about painting, but I taught her and she has been making progress. She has developed her own style and touch, and I am proud of her. Whenever there is an exhibition, I always invite girls to help out as a way to give back and encourage others to pursue their passion for art.

What is the landscape like for women artists in Morocco?

In Morocco, we have many talented women artists who are highly educated and have studied in museums or institutes of painting, both in Morocco and overseas. I know that I’m not very well educated, but I am inspired and I have a gift.

As for the naive style that I use in my paintings, I hope that it will inspire more women to paint in this style. The first woman who started this style in Morocco has since passed away, but I believe that there will be more girls and women who will take up this art form in the future because it is a great job and a good way to express yourself.

Is it sometimes difficult to be a woman artist in Morocco?

I believe that if you have a passion, nothing is difficult.

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