In Conversation with Meryem Jazouli

Meryem Jazouli is Dancer, Choreographer, Founder of Espace Darja.
She was born in Rabat, Morocco. Living and locked down in Casablanca, Morocco.


I haven’t taken any picture during the lockdown… Interesting……’


I met Meryem in 2018 when we partnered in the organization of a three-legged choreographic research residency project initiated by Tanzhaus NRW of Düsseldorf. We were two artists with their manager caps on. I have alwaysbeen fascinated by her delicate yet strong disposition and looked up to her generosityfor creating possibitiesforand sharing experience with fellow artists.

After studying and working in Paris, Meryem returned to Morrocco in 1997. She has worked extensively in the international scene but her work is strongly imbued in the Moroccan context. Although we come from different generations, I feel that our artistic paths have followed parallel patterns in that she also took herwork to a level of creating opportunties for fellow artists by establishing Espace Darja to encourage exchange and dialogue between various disciplines. Dedicated to creation, artist residencies, training and experimentation in contemporary dance, Darja occupied a special place for the performing arts scene in Casablanca and nurtured many artists.

This conversation has been full of inspiration and reflection for me. As always is with Meryem.

This e-mail correspondence took place between Fatih Gençkal and Meryem Jazouli from April 28 to July 30, 2020 with few interruptions on Messenger.

From: Fatih Genckal
Meryem Jazouli
Tuesday, April 28, 2020 16:15Dear Meryem,
I want to start an interview experiment. I will ask you one question everyday and you will have 24 hours to respond to it. Then I will ask the next question based on your answers or my curiosities. You can also ask me questions in your answers and interview me in a way. It will be like a conversation.
If you answer quickly, I can ask the next question right away, so we don’t have to wait 24 hours. It can turn into texting each other too. Or not.
Please feel free to write as you are speaking.  Follow the spark the question starts in you.
So here is the first question:
What do you see happening with you and around you since the beginning of home confinement?

Meryem Jazouli30 Apr 2020 00:29
Response: First I’d like to say that I’ve become even more resistant to deadlines so when I read that there was a 24 hour delay to answer your email I almost wrote to you to tell you to find someone else. And then finally I told myself that until now everything I had been doing with difficulty was actually becoming an excellent exercise to understand certain reactions in me.
Like this confinement, I would never have been able to hold on to it without the obligation and the prohibition to do otherwise, and so what was initially a real test shows me day after day my ability to adapt, to be able to do without many things and to finally measure that this slowdown was a golden opportunity that may never happen again.
For the first time in a very long time I developed and took the time to indulge in some of the practices I was overtaking. Like writing, for example, and if there is one thing I discovered during this confinement it is that despite the fact that I really enjoyed the presence of others I had an incredible ability to support myself and be good to myself. It’s serious doctor?;) And you Fatih what did you discover that you didn’t know yet ???

Fatih Genckal 30 Apr 2020 14:08
Last few days, I am realizing my restlessness. I have a lot of time on my hands and I can choose what to do and what not to do. I am coming up with different projects and consuming a lot of text, video and audio materials online, which makes me feel under attack of media. I have been trying to write an article on the current situation of performing arts in Turkey and each day the task seems to be more and more unsurmountable as more information comes. In general, there is too much distraction and I find it hard to focus. On another level, there is a feeling of the need to make the most of this time. I realize that a big reason I wanted to start this interview series is actually to get over this feeling and really get in touch with friends from around the world to see how they are coping.
Do you think this period may have a lasting effects on how you live and work?

Meryem Jazouli 1 May 2020 02:31
Sincerely dear Fatih I am not yet sure what impact this will have on my work and whether it will be as lasting as I would like it to be. I know that I don’t want to go back, I don’t even know if I really want to continue working…I have a longing for nature, writing, reading and essentials…What is sure is that the race for projects, calls, professionals etc… doesn’t interest me at all anymore but it had already started before the confinement. I have a desire for creativity, renewal, respect and even more empathy. I think it will start with the relationship I have with my own body, which I really want to take care of. I want to nourish my mind in such a way that I can continue to develop this awareness of what’s around me, how I do things, at my own pace and with desire.
With this confinement I realized that rigour wasn’t everything…I don’t want to be as demanding as I used to be. I don’t want to let myself be overwhelmed by the outside world, the networks, the news, the useless constraints. I would like not to waste what I learned during this period…I continue to reflect on the lessons to be learned but the one thing I can say that I have heard with all my being is this need to slow down. No longer running to avoid missing anything, no longer being productive even when you’re not inspired and on the contrary, appreciating not to be on every date, appreciating to recognize that we have sometimes nothing to say, no longer wanting a recognition that I absolutely do not need to learn who I am and what I want to be…. Sorting out, that’s a lesson I would like to learn for a long time.
Don’t you think that is time to let go all this crazy routine my dear Fatih ?

Fatih Gençkal 1 May 2020 15:12
Yes, yes, very well said. I love that you mention a desire for creativity and point to it elsewhere than the work environment we are used to. Creativity as a way of being in the world. I might contrast this to artistic output, as product of the world of projects, calls, networks etc. I wonder if this dismisses arts as a career or a job which the society needs and has to support, hence diminishes its value. Because on another level, most artists I know are under serious risk of going on because they live extremely precarious lives which is further threatened in an environment where their ‘products’ cannot be out. And there are very weak, if any, support system for them. Do you know what I mean?

Meryem Jazouli 2 May 2020 04:11
Of course I understand and I am aware that if this decision is taken it implies sacrifices of which I may not yet measure the consequences. But you know Fatih I am also part of a generation of artists who believed more than anything else in working, creating, experimenting and who gave all their time and energy to work without ever having the assurance of seeing their work being shown and even less being paid. We worked because we had faith, because it was what we had chosen to be and to do. and we had never thought to put together a project on paper before having experienced it in our bodies and in front of an audience, even if for that we had to rent the room, invite people, etc. I recognize myself less and less in this system and yet I still have the desire and energy in me.
I know that this period has made the situation of many artists, more or less small structures and others, precarious. But maybe it’s time to “take advantage” of all this to mark certain orientations. Of course it can’t be general and it’s not necessary to make such radical choices but I’m convinced that it’s absolutely necessary to preserve a space for creativity, work, negotiation, refusal; in short a real space of freedom for creation.
I am also aware that all this is just talk… How can we go in this direction and how could we demand it from ourselves and others. Do you have any idea about that dear Fatih???

Fatih Gençkal 2 May 2020 17:00
I think there is a choice between the real space of creation that you mention and stability. The current system is not designed to accommodate both. So artists have the choice/responsibility/burden to make a living and create that space of freedom, which I also believe we really need. I think your generation’s values still have their echo today, especially in parts of the world with less developed structures for arts and culture. In Turkey, for example, %95 of the time, performers work for free and get paid only through ticket sales for each performance, usually very little. I really don’t know how they survive. I am speaking from my own experience here. Paying them a fixed fee is a luxury only afforded by established theaters and big venues. I am talking about the independent scene here, apart from national and municipal theaters where artists have a salary or get paid a small wage for each day they work -rehearsal or performance. I think the faith you mention is still there in some way but the question remains, and is more intense today, as to how/if this should/could be a sustainable career. My personal strategy is to not rely on my creation for a living but do related things that still nourishes it and pay my bills.
Isn’t it funny that these talks are always there, part of this thing we call arts? What is the situation in Morocco for artists? Is there any support mechanism for them during this time?

Meryem Jazouli 3 May 2020 03:52
No, nothing is put in place to help artists and we don’t hear anything about it. It’s even worse than in normal times because art and artists are always people who are a bit on the margins and people do not want to be bothered with trivialities!
I understand what you are saying about this space of freedom that it is our responsibility to defend and which is also a choice to be made. I agree with you because it is also for me something that I had to wrestle with which asks me to find other resources to win this freedom. But contrary to Turkey there is something that I find problematic in Morocco in particular at the level of the commitment of the artists, their honesty, their often too quickly and badly acquired competence and these clan games that I have always hated. In short, I do not find this environment very inspiring, nor motivating, hence my need to nourish my soul and my spirit from other sources. For example right now I cook a lot. It’s been a long time since I was cooking before and I thought that I’d lost this impetus forever. It may seem silly but it makes me want to feed my family again, to feed the other in the first sense of the word and I find this gesture magnificent again. For example yesterday I prepared a Vietnamese dish, a vegetable and cheese cake, asparagus and a strawberry dessert 😉 Maybe during this “uncertain” period, certain gestures, certain spaces are our …………….. (I would like you to write the rest 🙂

Fatih Gençkal 3 May 2020 22:23
…refuge? Certain gestures can be a refuge, I think. But I still can’t keep myself from asking if refuge is a mode of survival or a tactic to keep ourselves stable to keep going. Anyway, I think cooking is great:) I, myself cook a lot, too. Now we are baking, cooking, raising plants etc. One striking thing about being home all the time is the incredible amount of time it takes just to get the basics done like cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, laundry. I have a feeling that the quality of one’s life maybe has something to do with how much time you actually spend to sustain yourself.=) If you are busy with that, you know more about life and are in more harmony with it. And the rest of the time you do whatever you want. Like the hunter-gatherers!
Thinking of this now, I feel this could be a revolutionary act: To be the master of your time! What do you think?

Meryem Jazouli 5 May 2020 02:13
I was very pleasantly surprised by your answer because it was exactly my feeling and the word I was looking for: refuge… I think I’m really starting to enjoy these exchanges more and more 😉
In fact I think that beyond the fact that some gestures are refuges, there is also the relationship to the present time that allows us a real quality in the fact of making. The projections are less big and illusory. These refuge acts as I will call them bring us back to gestures whose immediate result minimizes frustrations and disappointments…
So I believe, like you, that the time factor is a decisive criterion and certainly the most important one to be able to appreciate, to move forward, to imagine, to dream, to create… But the intention we give to our actions determines our relationships and perceptions of the gesture… Moreover for me there is a big difference between act and gesture.
I have the impression that we are beginning a philosophical and poetic time of confinement.

Fatih Gençkal 5 May 2020 16:56
Interesting point. Act and gesture. Gesture sounds like it possesses a conceptual dimension. Gestures in this sense are powerful, it points to a reality and purpose beyond the act, something to do with shifting perceptions, relationships. I think that is also the power of art and what is why, I feel, we have a whole new dimension open to us in the time of the pandemic, to propose artistic gestures which might not even look like arts as we know them. Does that feel close to you?

Meryem Jazouli7 May 2020 03:18
Yes it seems to me quite close to what I could conceive. But for me the gesture has a poetic scope that allows it to exist without any premeditated goal. In my opinion a gesture implies a universal dimension, something that everyone is capable of grasping, even to different degrees. The gesture “speaks” of our humanity or perhaps even speaks to our humanity and touches our part of the sensible, of the ineffable. This is where for my part lies the power of the gesture because of its timeless implication. I think that this dimension also comes from the fact that nothing motivates the gesture beyond the necessity of creation…. I don’t know if this pandemic will have been alarming enough to call into question the processes that already exist. I believe that it will have repercussions on the different reflections that certain artists may have, but as you were able to point out in one of our previous exchanges, it is difficult for most of them to face up to an economic reality.
I believe that the gesture is unique, it doesn’t think of itself at the beginning, it doesn’t conceptualize itself. It springs up and becomes a gesture. Hence its beauty. I think that this period gives us a glimpse of the possibility of another reality than that many of us have been criticizing for a while now. I think it will be an accelerator to do things differently. But just as we are experiencing for the first time a forced confinement and another way of inhabiting the world, I think that it will take other hard blows to give artists the impetus to create differently. I think (humbled whitout any assurance) that the post-pandemic will give rise to artistic gestures…

Fatih Gençkal 7 May 2020 15:51
I feel you are talking about poetry. Are you, then, saying that something needs to be destroyed in a profound way for something else, something of necessity, of natural immediacy, hence beauty to spring out? That such a gesture can spring out?

Meryem Jazouli 8 May 2020 00:38
No I’m not talking about poetry in the original sense, I’m talking about necessity to art, to the artistic…
Yes I think it’s important to destroy in order to (re)build something that would not be completely denatured by a system. There might be a need for revolt because art for my part almost has to be an act of resistance not only politically because today there is no longer a separation between the artistic and the political…. Everything has been too often damaged by the hijacking of the artistic by the political and vice versa. I think we have reached the end of a system where everything has been distorted by this lack of distinction between the two…
When I see, for example, on the networks these actions that try to face the confinement by continuing to make people believe that even the smallest little videos of dancers waving in front of their toilet door is an artistic act, it frightens me… What are we really questioning? What are we claiming? What is this new aesthetic that is specific to our time and that we more or less have to define? Everything has been overtaken by a power relationship between the institution and the artist, between the market value of the artist and the quality of his work. In short, I have the impression of a trap that has been insidiously created and we have accepted to be trapped, always putting off a reaction to refuse and reject a certain form of power. I don’t know if it’s clear?????

Fatih Gençkal 8 May 2020 15:28
What exactly do you mean by the separation of the artistic and the political that is lost? How is it lost and how can it be gained back?
I am also not sure if you see it as something that manifests now in the time of pandemic or as a general structural condition.

Meryem Jazouli 9 May 2020 01:29
I think I’m going to need a break for the weekend and try to start on another issue because it’s becoming too complex for me to write in English. Especially since I realize that since I think and write in French and then translate, some things are not really said in the same way.
But tell me Fatih what are you thinking about right now (I mean in this period ?).

Fatih Gençkal 9 May 2020 14:24
I understand dear. Let’s take a little break. I find myself curious about many things and looking for answers, ideas etc. Maybe trying a little too hard to think and talk about the future. This interview series put me in conversation with many people at the same time and I am feeling a little bit overwhelmed too. It’s a lot of reflection and observation. I am realizing in this time how much I need to ‘do something’. My mind is always working with the time and freedom I have in the lockdown and trying to make the most of it. Worried about going back to normal too early, before I actually discover something here and transform.
Well, let’s take a break. You can come back with any topic you like. Stopping is also an option:)
Have a good weekend, dear.

16 May 2020 18:26
Hey dear,
It’s been a week since I last wrote. How are you feeling? Do you think we’re good to stop here or do you want to continue? I’ve become more in peace with taking my time. Let me know.

Meryem Jazouli 18 May 2020 11:20
Hello dear,
Waiting for your question 😛

Fatih Gençkal 19 May 2020 14:48
How’s the lockdown situation there? Normalization is in progress here but still curfews in the weekends and national holidays. If things go well, many places will re-open starting in June -with limitations. Shopping malls were first to open. I think most sporting events have been cancelled for the season except football, which is scheduled to start in June. I am at a loss to understand why football ‘has to’ continue while others don’t! I am imagining huge strikes by football players. Wouldn’t it be great? 🙂

Meryem Jazouli 20 May 2020 02:09
Hello Fatih, here the confinement is still going on until June 10.
Honestly and for the moment the fact of knowing that everything is as uncertain as during the period of confinement scares me a bit…. These different returns to confinement in many countries, these alerts in front of a situation that nobody can manage to clear up, starts to really worry me….
Ahhh and this football is like going back to the starting point again… Again giving the mass the most patience… Let’s go for some football. Yet at the beginning many voices were raised to insist on player’s salaries in front of those of the caretakers and helpers, gently mocking all those who find it normal but who, in the face of illness, must more than ever recognize that they need doctors more than footballers….
And yet I remain convinced that we also need artists more than footballers. So yes, let’s go for a world championship of artistic football and let’s make creations around the game, the field, the fans, everything that has to do with football and let’s broadcast it on all the channels of the world. This is a good way to revive the cultural economy and the artists’ agenda….

Fatih Gençkal 22 May 2020 23:55
I’m in! You know there is this wonderful short movie by a friend of mine in İzmir. There is a big, historic movie theater in İzmir which went bankrupt and was abandoned for a while. Then, someone got the space and turned it into a carpeted football field! The curtain and the main setup of the theater remains but it is a football field now. My friend did a little documentary about this place. You can watch it here. Since I saw the movie and the space, I am fascinated by the idea of organizing a football match with the artists of the city with a big number of audience/fans and make this into a performance + movie. I actually was planning to do it around this time!
It’s interesting to observe during this time how people/societies/governments are thinking and acting. To observe the performative elements in all this. I am also curious how football will go on. How life will go on. I think all this may be more interesting to watch than theater! 🙂
Would you like to talk about things that you observe around you that you find interesting or curious

Continued on Messenger:

Fatih Gençkal 8 Jun 2020 15.34
hey dear how are you? I haven’t heard from you in a while. Are you ok? Please let me know. Best,

Meryem Jazouli 8 Jun 2020 16.04
Hello Fatih, So sorry to respond after So long but I was So sick …. I promise to send you an email this afternoon to let you know and to talk to you a Little while. Bises

Fatih Gençkal 10 Jun 2020 10.48
Hey dear. Sorry to hear that. I hope you are feeling better. Looking forward to hearing from you. Best

Meryem Jazouli 10 Jun 2020 12.14
Thank you dear,Today for the 1st Time I get up …..
it wasn’t covid but a bacterie which made me sick around 10 days and we are still investigating to know where it came from. I have the energy to do something in the morning around 2 hours and then I’m down till the next day… I will try to use these few hours to write to you. Best,

Continued on Email:

Fatih Gençkal 27 Jun 2020 13:32
Dear, have you gotten better? The ‘new normal’ is ruining long-distance relationships 😀
I realized we talked about football last. Did you realize that there are fan sounds attached to the video broadcasting of some football games? I don’t know if they add it for the broadcast or actually at the stadium but isn’t this interesting?

Continued on Messenger:

Fatih Gençkal 16 Jul 2020 10.55
Hello dear, I havent heard from you in a long time. Is everything ok? Do you want to conclude our conversation?

Meryem Jazouli 16 Jul 2020 12.56
Ohhhh dear I’m so sorry, I wasn’t in a good health at all and not in a good mood too…. I feel shame not to write you before and I really apologise… I will write to you my last answer this afternoon . Warm regards . Amitiés

Fatih Gençkal 17 Jul 2020 12.45
dont worry dear, its ok. just be well. We’ve had a good conversation, we can continue if you feel like sharing more about how you are, if not we can speak from here too.

Continued on email:

Fatih Gençkal 27 Jul 2020 13:25
My dear,
I hope you are doing well. I’ve been a little worried. Are you feeling better? Did you find out what it was?
Attached I am sending you our conversation organized for publication.
[…] I can add this very correspondence if you like to talk about how you have been in the last 2 months that we haven’t spoken.
I ask you to please send me a photo of you taken during the time we spoke
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Meryem Jazouli 30 Jul 2020 16:08
Dear Fatih,
I told you that sometimes I become resistant to all solicitations…..:) No I’m joking it’s not a good moment for me right now, still investigating the cause, having more and more bad symptoms. I’m almost obliged to stay on a lying position cause now I have dizziness… Some doctors think that it’s the ears, some that is stress that gives me all these signs…. I don’t believe this explanation and still need more serious medical advices.
Here’s a photo that was taken by a friend in the beginning of the lockdown cause I haven’t taken any picture during the lockdown… Interesting…….

Conversations is produced by A Corner in the World, 2020

It is realized with the support of The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

To share: