Diaspo #151 : Ichraq Bouzidi, from architecture to illustration between Morocco and Dubai

Architecture was the choice of compromise, between her artistic vocation and the wish of her parents. Ichraq Bouzidi ended up doing both. She works now as a visual artist in Dubai.

Ichraq Bouzidi. / DR
Estimated read time: 4'

Drawing is what she cherishes. Growing up, Ichraq Bouzidi has taken part to the exercise, in order to gather her memories of the different cities of Morocco, and thus constitute her own social landmarks. «Growing up, I didn't have many friends and with my parents, we moved from one city to another frequently. So by drawing my memories I could retain them», she told Yabiladi.

Born in El Youssoufia, the Dubai-based illustrator lived her childhood to the rhythm of the professional missions of her father, a civil engineer who worked for the Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP). «When he left OCP, he created his own company, and business was almost everywhere in Morocco. So we moved around a lot with him, in Kenitra, Fez and Meknes, which also means that we were a very close-knit family», she recalled.

A personal memory associated with cities

Ichraq’s fondest memories were that of El Jadida. «My parents are jdidis (natives of El Jadida, ed), so we spent every summer with my grandparents there. It is also the city where my parents fell in love, against their two families’ will. They had run away together to get married, so the landscape of the city, to me, embodies the love of my parents. My siblings and I grew up in the midst of that love, despite our financial situation which was not always stable», the artist remembered.

«At the beginning, there was my big brother and me. I always looked up to him as a role model, I followed him everywhere, I tried to do like him. Nine years later, my little brother was born. We tease him by saying he was born by accident», recalled Ichraq, who still draws her family life in Morocco today.

Ichraq Bouzidi later moved to Rabat, where she enrolled at the National School of Architecture (ENA). It is in the Kingdom’s capital that Ichraq spent the most time, trying to reconcile her passion for drawing and the desire of her parents to see her become an architect. «To me, Rabat was a small cocoon like that of my family: students were gathered in Madinat Al Irfane and the enclosure had a large portal at the time», Ichraq Bouzidi told Yabiladi.

«The way I perceived Rabat, its medina, its colonial architecture and its green spaces, determined who I am today. Its landscape is contrasted, rich in traditional and European constructions. This is what I am trying to do today in my work: bridging modernity and tradition».

Ichraq Bouzidi

Indeed, Ichraq Bouzidi's illustrations are often characterized by their references to traditional elements and modern symbols. «It's a way of representing my identity. When you grow up in Morocco, you live with these two aspects, which is why I express the traditional heritage of my family and who I am by living according to my own era», she explained.

A career abroad

After four years studying architecture, Ichraq Bouzidi decided to leave Morocco in 2010. «I was part of that youth who was full of hope, but who could not find a place», she remembered. The student then enrolled in a master's degree in Namur (Belgium), where she continued her architecture and landscape studies. She realized how her new life would be since the beginning.

«During my flight towards the country, I met a person who, unexpectedly, turned out to be the one I was going to work with, once I settled in Belgium. He was an entrepreneur who did environmental architecture. He immediately hired me as an architectural assistant. It helped me a lot to finance my studies».

Ichraq Bouzidi

This «beginner's luck», as Ichraq named it, allowed her to enter the professional world of architecture, on a scale transcending the one she knew before. «Being of an introvert by nature, I am not very used to having a social life, spending a lot of money, going out a lot and so on, so I integrated myself very simply in Belgium!», she recalled.

In 2012, the death of her father pushed her to return to her family. «It was important to me to support my mother and my brothers. We were all shocked by the unexpected death, because my father was only 48 years old when he passed away and had no health problems», recalled the young architect.

«I did not expect that all doors would be open, but I hoped in any case to find some opportunities that would go hand in hand with what I studied, which was not really the case», Ichraq Bouzidi said.

«I worked in Casablanca with a real estate developer who was very well-known in the area, but who did not value skills and degrees. He had a rather 'moul chkara' approach», she joked.

A transition from architecture to illustration

Six months later, Ichraq was able to improve her situation and that of her family, by joining a company specializing in architecture. With a former colleague and friend, she created afterwards her own business. «The orders we worked on all seemed to be already done, which did not leave us much room for imagination and innovation», she regretted.

Ichraq Bouzidi realized her need to «move on». In 2015, she flew to Dubai, where she joined her husband. She joined a German architecture agency as soon as she got there. «I was in charge of the project and they trusted me», she remembered, saying that she was «joyfully surprised» by her new life, despite her initial preconceptions about the Gulf region.

«I had later a job offer from the agency Dabbagh Architects, which I greatly admired even when I was a student in Rabat», Ichraq said proudly. She feels lucky to have worked on cultural architecture projects, giving a lot of space to research.

«I was the designer and project manager of the Al Aïn Museum for our agency.We participated in an international competition with large global agencies.Facing them, we were a small structure of five people, so we thought we had no chance.In the end, we won the first prize».

Ichraq Bouzidi

«It is with this price that I decided to close the whole architecture experience in 2018», she said.

Since then, Ichraq started working in illustration faster than expected. «I still had preconceptions about my ability to makeshift, so thinking about it, I started to prepare for a PhD. Then, a large exhibition at the Tashkin Center in Dubai has been launched. I proposed my art through a few illustrations, which were selected», she recalled.

The transition was smooth, «by luck or by chance, but it came at exactly the right time», said Ichraq. The Moroccan woman later won a competition to illustrate the Dubai Design District, her «biggest order». «I did not realize that I had been selected», she added.

Currently, Ichraq continues to participate in group exhibitions in Dubai, where it sets up individual installations and walls, thus shaping its trademark. She is also working on two illustrated books : one on her childhood, which is so dear to her heart, the other on the city where she currently lives.

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