Modern Art and Architecture in Morocco in the Aftershock of the 1960 Agadir Earthquake


Modern Art and Architecture in Morocco in the Aftershock of the 1960 Agadir Earthquake 

On February 29, 1960, an earthquake leveled much of the southern Moroccan coastal city of Agadir. Over the next decade, a new Agadir would be built in an avant-garde brutalist architectural style, representing a concrete example of Morocco’s newly independent future. And yet, this future is haunted by the trauma and violence of the past, by way of both the earthquake as well as colonialism. The literal and figurative aftershocks of the earthquake would go on to impact, in ways that are often obscured, various facets of life all around Morocco and beyond, especially with regards to visual and material culture. This raises the questions about the entanglements of human actors with non-human forces when it comes to histories of modernism, decolonization, and nation-building.

Riad Kherdeen studies global modern art and architecture, with a focus on the region of West Asia/Middle East and North Africa (MENA). He is working on a doctoral dissertation project on modernist art and architecture in Morocco related to the Agadir earthquake of 1960 titled “Spectral Modernisms: Decolonial Aesthetics and Haunting in the Aftershock of Morocco’s Agadir Earthquake (1960)." His interests fall within three main clusters of study: the first is in comparative and planetary modernisms via postcolonial studies and critical theory; the second is in the study of perception, including aesthetics, phenomenology, psychoanalytic theory, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience; and the third is in materialisms, ranging from the micro scale with technical studies of visual and material cultural production, including techniques, processes, technologies, and materials/conservation science, to the macro scale including Marxist/historical materialism, new materialism, ecocriticism, and systems theory. Riad holds a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Chemistry from New York University (2013) and an M.A. in the History of Art and Archaeology from the Institute of Fine Arts (2016). His M.A. thesis “Masdar City: Oriental City of the Twenty-First Century,” advised by Jean-Louis Cohen, looks at the urban design and architecture of Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates as a new iteration of the “Orientalized” city within a genealogy of recent urbanism in the Arab world, one that still succumbs to the imagined representations of the region created by European imperialism yet embraces those stereotypes to construct new narratives about its people and its nascent nation. Previously, Riad has held positions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Art Genome Project at Artsy.

This episode was recorded on November 19th, 2021 at the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM)

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Posted by Hayet Lansari, Librarian, Outreach Coordinator, Content Curator (CEMA).

Photograph of the Agadir central post office, designed by Jean-François Zevaco in 1963. 

The photo comes from Thierry Nadau’s chapter in Architecture française d’outer-mer.


Suggested Readings

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. 1980. Rabat: Urban Apartheid in Morocco. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


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Avermaete, Tom. 2005. Another Modern: The Post-War Architectureand Urbanism of Candilis-Josic-Woods. Rotterdam: NAi. 


Chaouni, Aziza. 2010. “Depoliticizing Group GAMMA: Contesting Modernism in Morocco.” In Third World Modernism: Architecture, Development and Identity. edited by Lu Duanfang, 57–84. London: Taylor and Francis. 


Coen, Deborah R. 2013.  The Earthquake Observers: Disaster Science from Lisbonto Richter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 


Cohen, Jean-Louis. and Monique, Eleb. 1998. Casablanca: mythes et figures d’une aventure urbaine. Paris: Hazan. 


Davies, Clare. 2015. “Decolonizing Culture: Third World, Moroccan, and Arab Artin Soules/Anfas, 1966-1972.” Essays of the Forum Transregionale Studien. Berlin.


Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. London: Routledge. 


Esmeir, Samera. 2020. “1927: How Seismology Received Islamic Theology.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. 40, no. 2 : 329–44. 


Irbouh, Hamid. 2005. Art in the Service of Colonialism: French Art Education in Morocco, 1912-1956. 2. London: I.B. Taurus. 


Khanna, Ranjana. 2003. Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism. Post-Contemporary Interventions. Durham: Duke University Press.


Khatibi, Abdelkebir. 1983. Maghreb pluriel. Paris: Denoël.


Lazali, Karima. 2018. Le trauma colonial: une enquête sur les effets psychiques et politiques contemporains de l’oppression coloniale en Algérie. Paris: La Découverte. 


Maraini, Toni. 1990.  Écrits sur l’art: choix de textes, Maroc 1967-1989. Rabat: Al Kalam. 


Mignolo, Walter D. 2011. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham: Duke University Press.


Mitchell, Timothy. 2002. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press. 


Morton, Timothy. 2009. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 


Nadau, Thierry. 1992. “La reconstruction d’Agadir.” In Architecture française d’outre-mer, edited by Maurice Culot and Jean-Marie ivea. Liège: Mardaga. 


Pandolfo,Stefania. 2000. “The Thin Line of Modernity: Some Moroccan Debateson Subjectivity.” In Questions of Modernity, edited by Timothy Mitchell, 115–47. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 


Powers, J. Holiday. 2018. “Articulating the National and Transnational: Exhibition Histories of the Casablanca School.” Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, no. 42/43 (November 2018): 136–53. 


Pfister, Christian. 2009. “Learning from Nature-Induced Disasters: Theoretical Considerations and Case Studies from Western Europe.” In Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History, edited by Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister, 17–40. Lexington: Lanham. 


Rabinow, Paul. 1989. French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 


Roussafi, Lahsen, Youzza Jafri, and Abdallah Kiker. 2010.  Dhākirat Āgādīr fī-l-Qirn al-`Ishrīn (Memories of Agadir in the Twentieth Century). Vol. 3: Zilzāl 1960 (1960 Earthquake). Agadir: Al-Maṭba`at al-Ra’īsīyat Āgādīr (Agadir Main Press). 


Sefrioui, Kenza. 2013. La Revue Soules, 1966-1973: Espoirs de Révolution Culturelle Au Maroc. Rabat: Editions du Sirocco. 


Segalla, Spencer D. 2021. Empire and Catastrophe: Decolonization and Environmental Disaster in North Africa and Mediterranean France since 1954. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 


Williford, Daniel. 2017. “Seismic Politics: Risk and Reconstruction ater the 1960 Earthquake in Agadir, Morocco.” Technology and Culture 58, no. 4 (2017): 982–1016. 


Wright, Gwendolyn. 1991. The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 


Vidler, Anthony. 1992. The Architectural Uncanny: Essaysin the Modern Unhomely. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.