What is it that makes functional art so appealing? To answer this question, artist Eric Van Hove launched the Mahjouba Initiative in 2016 to delve into the debris of the functional through the prism of art making in Marrakech, Morocco. At a time where Europe and China maintain pole position in Morocco's engine manufacturing value chain, the Mahjouba Initiative aims to reinvigorate the dying craft market by designing an electric motorbike, the Mahjouba moped. Working with a team of artisans, engineers and specialists, Van Hove is interested in the immediate interactions between an artist and the craftsman, crossing multiple artistic boundaries, playing with the commercial in line with the experimental. The artist distances himself from rigid definitions of artistic practices, experimenting with forms, functions, and materials to blur the line between art and functional design. Artistic and creative emancipation, alternative manufacturing, as well as social and economic sustainability are core aspects of this initiative.
A restorative initiative
The Mahjouba Initiative departs from an observation: Industrialization is bearing an adverse effect in terms of perceptions towards the quality of Moroccan ‘artisanat’. The original technique of traditional functional objects or craft practices, a long-established cultural archetype in Morocco, is on the brink of dissipation due to the emergence of newer manufacturing and foreign imports paradigms. Of Marrakech’s almost 50,000 craftsmen, many are struggling to find stable work. The Mahjouba Initiative where craftsmen can produce products that everyday Moroccans can consume by using local materials and quality production techniques. The collaborative model of the Mahjouba Initiative is focusing on the craft’s reanimation through making creative connections between industrial design, the electric engine revolution, artisanship (20% of the active Moroccan workforce) and community development. Beyond art making, Van Hove sees the Mahjouba Initiative potential for social and environmental change. Instead of selling goods to tourists for cheap, local artisans are empowered to make functional, high-quality art that grows the local economy. The artist makes a case for the potential of artistic and design research to establish restorative, long-term hands-on collaboration oriented towards traditional making. At the core of the initiative, an experimental and decentralized socio-economic system that bridges between the industrial approach and the local Moroccan made-to-order manufacturing and souk/distribution model. The Mahjouba Initiative conjectures that the resulting interknowledge can reveal complementarities between all stakeholders: - Tactical standpoints to address the critical issues that are affecting Moroccan traditional crafts’ relevance to contemporaneity; - Suitable conditions for an evaluation of artisanat’ multifaceted nature in terms of value to culture and society; - A platform that connects newer generations of creatives to their making heritage, thereby ensuring a continuity of specialized know-how.
A sustainable Initiative
The word Mahjouba is variously an ancient woman's name from the Maghrib region and a reference to a veil. In the context of the Mahjouba Initiative, this title suggests the “unveiling” of Moroccan craft to itself, revealing its true potential in the age of the electrical revolution. This revolution is a move toward a sustainable future and energy independence, and a marker of a new context into which Morocco is moving. In the last ten years, Morocco has brought about a major transition towards renewable energy and zero-carbon industry and by 2030 the country aims to provide nearly half its national consumption with clean energy. Two important projects in this regard have been the COP22 held in Marrakech in 2016 and the installation of the Noor Power Station, the largest solar panel field in Africa. The importance of renewable energy globally has seen the popularity of new breed technologies, in particular electric vehicles, rise. Furthermore, as the price of electrical motors, solar panels, and lithium-ion batteries falls, these technologies are becoming more and more accessible. Much like the first cars, the first functional electrical motors were made by craftsmen. The modern electric motor, honed and bettered over time in line with industrialisation, is now cheaply and efficiently employed the world over. It is in a sense a great democratic success of the industrial revolution, however the resulting product, reliant now upon microelectronics and rare earth minerals, leaves no place for craft in its production. In this context, the Mahjouba Initiative is a particular meeting between Moroccan craftspeople and the electric revolution. Much as Morocco has embraced solar technologies, Mahjouba embraces the electrical motor as a characteristic of daily life in Morocco and recognises the global connections that are part of this.The electrical motor of the moped is an ecologically sustainable alternative to the traditional explosive engine and oil and gas fuel sources. It also inevitably relies upon new technologies and rare earth metals that are imported, bringing with them the issues of extraction and labor inherent in the global electrical motor and battery industries. As an artwork, the Mahjouba Initiative is born of the importance and social values of craft and seeks to trace the contact points at which it meets the realities surrounding the Moroccan craft sector. The search for transparency is presented as a mapping and defining of Mahjouba’s borders with the aim of understanding the implications of such a meeting between technology and craft, the formal and informal. In this way, the potential that the Mahjouba Initiative seeks to unveil is one of ecological, social, and economical sustainability by way of an alternative model for craft production. This app presents this unveiling in the form of data, diving into the materials, processes, and histories embodied within the moped and engrained upon its surfaces. Components that are central to the technology and safety of the electric motor have been sourced locally and information pertaining to their origin is documented. This investigation will be an ongoing practice throughout 2023 conducted with the intention of better understanding and assessing the environmental impacts of Mahjouba as a moped, initiative and mode of production.
A cross-disciplinary Initiative
To create a thought-provoking model, Eric Van Hove believes in collective intelligence: think-tanks have been organized since 2016 where 30 to 40 guests (artists, students, economists, scholars, engineers, etc.) The Dartmouth College developed a relationship with Van Hove, who was an artist-in-residence in 2016 as well as a Montgomery Fellow over the winter of 2017. Students from Dartmouth visited Fenduq in 2016 The Magnuson Family Center for Entrepreneurship (formerly the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network), the Tuck School of Business and the Thayer School of Engineering all worked on various projects to bring Mahjouba on the market.