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72 Hours in Marrakesh on a Tour De Tat art quest.

I stumbled across a few beautiful native-style abstract hand-painted signs when I was on my last Tour De Tat of Marseille. So I asked around about their origins and of course, with a large Arab community living in the city, it made complete sense that they originated in Morocco.

Fast forward four weeks later and after some ridiculously cheap last-minute flights to Marrakesh popped up I thought why not? Let’s get out there, and take the tour on the road again, this time with more of an art quest

If anyone has been to Marrakesh you would have seen these signs hidden more towards the deeper realms of the famous souks north of the winding Medina streets.

After a bit of a slow start, I set out on a mission to the daily flea market Bab El Khemis on the outskirts of the medina which meant heading out of the busy centre where there is a lot of the same same standard tourist tat taking up the prime real estate. But this is when the magic started and the quest truly began.

As you head out of the heart of Marrakesh it’s beautiful to see a lot of the handcrafts still being made down all the busy alleys, leather work, wood carving, scents, an array of textiles and of course sign painting.

I’m not sure what I expected, maybe one or two artists or even a factory just banging them out, but that wasn’t the case. I counted over fifteen different styles of artists’ work while wandering through the souks.

I tracked down my first artist, Amin, who was casually drinking tea and smoking a camel in a nice quiet shaded spot. I joined him for a cigarette and asked about the process as well as a bit more about the history of the distinct style, which he was more than happy to tell me about – if anything he was pleased I was taking a real interest in the style that he is quite well known for in the Red City.

He told me that the plaques are all typically painted on thin tin metal with car enamel paints which dry fast, especially in the Moroccan heat. It’s been an industry that originally was used for advertisement for local businesses but started to really take off with French tourists during the 90s hence why a lot are still written in French and Arabic to this day.

Nowadays every trade you can imagine is captured in this tin sign style but also a growing number of cartoons, car manufacturers, sports brands, and the occasional footballer take form.

Amin, admits that football is a relatively new subject and he’s only been painting footballers over the last year or so since he noticed other painters in the area doing it. He explains that there’s a lot of repetition but no rivalry between the city’s artists, they all share work and distribute it to different shops across the Medina. Some shops stock one artist’s work, and some stock three or four. I really like that it’s not a competitive industry, this is something I try to get across with my own business ethos.

Amin explained that it’s not uncommon to paint custom jobs but, each year the number has been rising so he wasn’t surprised when I brought up my own idea for a custom football paint job and once we agreed on a fair deal for both parties he was keen to get started straight away.

I asked who his favourite Moroccan player was and he told me Mustapha Hadji, this inspired me to drop the original idea I had and instead go more down the route of a France 98 World Cup dream team which he was very excited about as he knew all the players I mentioned which I think really helped.

After another Camel together I was sent away and told to come back the next day. I carried on exploring the winding souks to the flea market passing more and more signs for sale and a couple of other artists at work in their small but perfectly formed workstations with bright enamel paints and blank tin plaques stacked up.

I really love the many forms and compositions that make up these unmistakable tin signs. Some are more detailed, some more colourful or in more of a stencil form, it really is up to your own taste to help you choose which is your favourite. I headed home after talking to a few more sellers and asking them for more information I might have missed from Amin, and that night thought about which were my own personal favourites and right for this Tour De Tat quest.

Obviously, in a hot country, it’s good to get out before the sun becomes unbearable, especially when casually walking a 10k hunt. I headed back towards Amin’s workshop, but along the way spotted Mohamed, sitting down wearing a strong sandy-coloured two-piece doodling away. I asked him who he was drawing and he replied, “I’m not sure, who do you want it to be?” I went into autopilot and replied, “Zidane.” He came back with a super chill “No problem my friend, I will make it, come back later and your dreams will be waiting, inshallah.”

I tried to find my way back to Amin’s place with as little help from Google Maps as possible, even with my internal mind map I’ve got to admit I struggled. But soon I was back on the right path and even picked up a couple of rogue Maradona pieces from a small homeware shop.

When I finally tracked down Amin’s HQ I was greeted with a big smile, cold water and a traditional mint tea and was just in time to see him in action, adding the final touches to the 98 dream team. I’m really happy I got to see this part of the process as it added to the magic of the final pieces.

His work is all one-off pieces and in my opinion, captures the crossover of traditional Moroccan sign art and France 98.

I started back towards the centre square Jemaa el-Fnaa with my signs under my arm, spring in my step and even stopped to kill some time and treat myself to a delicious apricot and almond tajine before meeting Mohamed. Man, this guy was quick. In the space of 3 hours, he had knocked me up a few different versions of Zizou and even dug out some old Mbappe designs he had worked on previously that went straight in the bag with the rest.

Thanks to all the artists for their time, effort and kindness. It really doesn’t get better than connecting with artists from around the globe. I hope this write-up helps transport you to one of the world’s most famous and pulsating market streets.

 Custom Tin Signs of Marrakesh – by Amin and are now available here at A Store Like 94.

Starting from tonight orders will be open for 48 hours and you can have any player you want painted. Simply visit A Store Like 94 to place your order and tell Josh the player you would like to have created.  

All words and images by Josh Steeples, owner of A Store Like 94

You can visit A Store Like 94 here

Follow A Store Like 94 on social media here and learn about their Tour De Tat.

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