‘Titled Let’s Play Something Let’s Play Anything Let’s Play, this year’s 1-54 FORUM programme transposes the life and work of African American Surrealist, painter, jazz musician and poet Ted Joans (1928-2003) to the context of Morocco. Joans lived in Morocco, and later Mali, from the 1960s. He ‘officially’ joined the surrealist movement in 1963 with the publication of his Alphabet Surreal alongside a collage titled X (after Malcolm) in La Brèche – Action Surréaliste 5, introduced by Moroccan-born surrealist Robert Benayoun. Joans envisioned surrealism as a lifestyle mingled with jazz and everyday life, a legitimate tool to fight against racism and colonialism.

In August 1925, the artists and writers of La Révolution surréaliste and Clarté, among others, published a manifesto: La Révolution d’abord et toujours! The Rif war, a war waged in Morocco by the Spanish colonial power and joined by the French, is the trigger for this manifesto. Its message, however, was universal: a “total deliverance” from the established world order could only be achieved through a denunciation of the “hysteria” inherent to patriotism and a radical questioning of western hegemony. The Rif uprisings in 1925 carried new claims imagined by communities, building the possibility for a better future. This same idea was carried through to visual arts in the amalgamation of seemingly contradictory entities within a single structure.

Within the narratives of Surrealism, people of African descent should not be the minority. So, where do we go from here? First, we need some new friends and allies, a new and broader interpretation through which to look at art histories from another angle—from the inside and the outside. Old interpretations excluded many of us people of colour and particularly those from Africa and the diaspora. It kept us out. So, we’re giving a new interpretation to historical and contemporary tendencies which directly or indirectly intersect the surrealist road, an interpretation that enables us to take part. What next? We will follow our beliefs in claiming action, freedom and imagination on all fronts by whatever means necessary.

Unfolding with a series of panels, talks, screenings and performances, 1-54 FORUM will delve into the extensive participation of artists, poets, musicians and filmmakers of African descent in the international surrealist movement. We will reassess the artistic and political potential of this material in the contemporary context of Marrakech. Rather than arranging material in support of a theory, 1-54 FORUM will create a climate that will bring Black flower out of the ground. Black flower, as envisioned by Ted Joans in his eponym surrealist manifesto, which claims an African movement able to bring down imperialism from within through poetic imagery. Let’s play ! Let’s play something, anything, but let’s play!’ – Karima Boudou

* Ted Joans, Let’s Play Something Let’s Play Anything Let’s Play, 1964. Ted Joans papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.