Facebook First: Arabic Interactive Novel

TALIM Zohra Stitou interview
The concept: write a novel, with "Zohra," James McBey's 1952 painting at the Legation as its centerpiece.  Zohra is stolen from the Legation, which leads to… well, you'll have to read the novel.

The medium: Facebook, interactive.  Readers react, comment, influence subsequent chapters.

The language: Arabic, making this the first Arabic Facebook interactive novel.

Not bad for Tangier journalist Abdelouahid Stitou (above at the Legation with journalists from Moroccan 2M TV).  The book, still visible on Facebook (in Arabic), is out now in print, and last night "ZohraLiza" (a reference to Zohra's reputation as the "Moroccan Mona Lisa") was presented to a capacity audience at TALIM.

TALIM Zohra audience
Sponsored by a Moroccan social action association "Centre-Ajial" ("Generations"), the audience of Facebook Generation Tanjawis peppered author Stitou with questions about plot, characters, and the process of book writing in 2013 Morocco.  Even though Stitou is a respected local journalist with contacts in the world of publishing, he encouraged budding writers to be imaginative, and to consider alternate outlets like Facebook and the web.  Breaking into the publishing world is difficult even for the likes of Stitou: the print version of "ZohraLiza" is self-published.

We're delighted that James McBey's 1952 painting has inspired this publishing first, and that it is a Tangier native who is helping bring "Zohra" to the attention of new audiences.  He is set to present his book in Brussels – home to a sizeable Moroccan expatriate population, largely from Tangier and the Rif – on his next appearance.

Gerald Loftus

Zohra, As She Was: Photos From the Fifties

TALIM Zohra McBey studio
Zohra in 1952, posing at El Foulk for James McBey (photo courtesy John Dickson Photography)

Ah, don't we love the infinite possibilities of linking up with people offered by TALIMblog.  The most recent example:

I am one of James and Marguerite McBey's nieces. I happened on your blog about Zohra. It is lovely.  My mother, two sisters and I spent the summer of 1956 living next door to Marguerite and James in Gazebo, Marguerite's mother's house.  As you can imagine, it was a memorable experience. We knew Zohra and her family. I am most interested to learn that Zohra has children living in the US. Can you by any chance put us in touch with them?
Fast forward, and the McBey nieces have been in touch with Zohra's US family, thanks to relatives here in Morocco.  Small world, getting smaller.
Here are the girls, pictured with Zohra (in the flowered dress) at El Foulk, the McBey home on the Old Mountain outside Tangier, in 1956.  Again, many thanks to the McBey nieces Barbara, Joan, and Katie, and to John Dickson, whose Morocco portfolio contains many beautiful images of Tangier and some rarely seen interiors of El Foulk.
TALIM Zohra McBey family
Gerald Loftus

Rediscovered: Marguerite McBey’s Lost Sketches

TALIM Paul Bowles Marguerite McBey

Paul Bowles by Marguerite McBey

TALIM McBey Ex Libris 3The following guest post is by TALIM intern Marthe Krokowski of the University of Leipzig.  Marthe has created the newest exhibit at TALIM's museum, which includes James McBey-illustrated books donated by Jean-Marc Maillard and Jean-Daniel Polier.

– – – – – – – – –

TALIM John Carter Vincent by Marguerite McBeyAs mentioned in TALIMblog last May in a post about John Carter Vincent (right, by Marguerite McBey),
a long forgotten box with donated sketchbooks, photo-albums and
exhibition invitations of the Tangier American artist Marguerite McBey was uncovered in a
Legation storeroom. This precious find gave me the opportunity to go through
the material and – by presenting a small selection of it to the public – to give
Marguerite McBey the place in the TALIM museum she deserves.

As a student of art
history, I know about the difficulties in presenting art: on one hand you
should not overwhelm people with too many items and information about the
subject, but on the other hand you want to show different sides of a topic and its
diversity. The key is to make people curious. I hope that my composition of the
work is self-explanatory, but I take this opportunity to write a little bit
about my intention.

My aim was to present the
artist Marguerite McBey through her own sketches. First, of course, there is
the self-portrait – showing the artist how she saw herself, and maybe how she
wanted to be seen by others.

Since Marguerite McBey was
an inveterate traveler almost her whole life, landscapes, cultures and people of
the countries she has been to formed her “artist’s eye.”  Hence a look at
her work from this point of view.

Then we have some portraits.
Artists, writers, intellectuals; people she met during her life and captured on
paper, people with whom she linked in Tangier’s international community. An
annotation next to the portrait of Duncan Grant (of the Bloomsbury Group),
gives an interesting impression of Marguerite McBey's inside life and her
doubts of being an artist.

TALIM McBey photos James' studyA photograph shows another
person who had a great influence on her: her husband, the famous Scottish
etcher James McBey. He brought her to Morocco in 1932, with him she traveled
around the world, with him she shared the same lover for a time, with him she
led an unconventional life. There has been no study yet to what extent James
McBey's art influenced Marguerite McBey's art work – and I want to point out,
that it is in no way my intention to compare the selected sketches of
Marguerite McBey with the etchings and paintings of her husband in the same

Marguerite McBey began to exhibit her work only after the death of her
husband, and one could guess it was a huge struggle to step out of the shadow
of her husband and to become an independent artist whose work stands by itself.
But she did it; she exhibited in Morocco, in the US and Europe. The comments
from a visitors book show how much her work was appreciated – she was accepted
as an artist.

Looking through the material
and thinking about how to present it, I discovered a self-aware woman, eager to
experience the world and to discover herself, to express herself and show
people how she saw life around her. And that's what I hope the chosen sketches
can represent.

Marthe Krokowski

The Everlasting Appeal of James McBey’s Zohra

TALIM Enchantment Zohra
Arabic language online magazine Marigha.com (named after an oasis near Marrakesh) stopped by recently for one of their quick video pieces on Morocco's cultural attractions.

Here it is, focusing on Zohra, James McBey's 1952 oil painting at TALIM's museum (image above from Enchantment: Pictures from the Tangier American Legation Museum).

Diana Wylie, who devotes an entire chapter to McBey and his world in Enchantment, wrote this of the enigmatic model:

[P]ainting portraits of wealthy Americans sustained [McBey] during the war years in the US.  He had a gift for flattering portraiture, but he could insinuate subtle insights, too.  In this 1952 portrait of a servant girl named Zohra he has captured a look that is both soft and guarded; the girl has already learned how to defend herself against the aggression of the street.

What brought Marigha.com and many others to the Legation is the notion that Zohra is the "Moroccan Mona Lisa."  McBey did endow Zohra with eyes that can follow you from whatever angle you gaze at the portrait.

Luckily Zohra navigated those mean streets successfully, and 60 years later, can contemplate the meanderings of chance, when she was painted by a Scottish artist in Tangier, whose work is displayed at the American Legation.  Zohra now is a proud grandmother, and her American connection that started years ago (James McBey was married to American Marguerite Loeb McBey) has only been reinforced: Zohra's sons live in the US, and she is a regular Transatlantic visitor.

James McBey's works are primarily in three places: his native Aberdeen, Scotland; the Tangier American Legation; and the Imperial War Museum in London.  McBey served as an official artist in the British Army during World War I, and his portraits of Lawrence of Arabia, General Allenby, and others are visible at this great BBC website.

Gerald Loftus