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Diaspo #154 : Meryem Saadi, from cultural journalism to contemporary art in Stockholm

Cultural journalist in Morocco, Meryem Saadi has always dreamed of evolving in the field of contemporary art, to support the creative process of artists more closely. Her dream came true in Stockholm, where she currently lives. 

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Meryem Saadi. / DR

Moroccan journalist Meryem Saadi was born and raised in Rabat, where she graduated from the Higher Institute of Information and Communication (ISIC). The young journalist was mainly interested in culture and before joining the journalism school, she volunteered as communication agent for renowned music festival L’Boulevard, from 2005 to 2006. She discovered the fascinating world of music and event management. But upon graduating, she worked for weekly magazine TelQuel.

«It was difficult to be able to work full time in cultural journalism, so even though it was an area that I liked a lot, I could only do it as a freelancer or alongside another job», she told Yabiladi. Later, Meryem Saadi steered towards communication, working in particular for Hit Radio and then for the Mawazine Festival. This springboard opened doors for her to the National Museum Foundation (FNM). Regarding her work there, Meryem kept the best memories : «This is where I started understanding exactly how an exhibition is organized and how all the work was carried out upstream to organize such an event.»

From communication to exhibitions

Meryem liked the idea and wanted to get the right training for it. But she couldn’t find any in Morocco. «I knew that's what I wanted to do because working in communication ended up being boring. Also, I had thought for a long time of pursuing my studies and doing a master's degree. Before that, I still wanted to get professional experience, but it has lasted ten years!», she recalled.

«I never imagined that I was going to work for ten years, before continuing my studies.But it was in any case a period during which I learned a lot».

Meryem Saadi

Dreaming particularly of discovering northern Europe, Meryem Saadi began to look for training courses that matched her aspirations. In this sense, she underlined that»many people are discouraged by the high tuition fees, but few inquire about the scholarships which are however available». 

This is what enabled her to join Stockholm University in 2017, where she studied «art curating and art management», to work in contemporary art. She specialized in exhibitions, biennials, collection management and the publishing of art books.

«It's a master's degree that allowed me to meet several contemporary art professionals and gallery owners. Very quickly, I was able to work as a freelancer, often with Swedish artists, while studying», she said. Meryem Saadi took the opportunity to make Moroccan artists' work visible, in particular that of Younes Atbane whom she invited to Sweden to present his biennial project in Morocco. «It's important for me to do artistic projects with Moroccans and Swedes here», she insisted.

Visibility of Moroccan artists in Sweden

Meryem Saadi graduated in 2019. Her first six months in Sweden were however crucial for her integration. «During this period, I was shocked by the fact that the processes differ a lot between the two countries, the cultural models and the involvement of public actors in the support of artistic projects», she said. By the end of her master’s degree, Meryem Saadi benefited from the support of her university to set up her first artistic project as an exhibition producer.

«I discovered that artists received funding from town councils, cities or districts, to carry out their projects and build their teams, which is an artistic process different to what happens in Morocco».

Meryem Saadi

In Stockholm, Meryem Saadi was also able to get rid of the age barrier, often seen in Morocco as a challenge when it comes to professional retraining or university training. «When I arrived in Sweden, I was in my early thirties. A lot of people around me in Morocco told me that we couldn't go back to school at that age», she recalled.

Once in Stockholm, Meryem discovered that she was not the only one to resume her studies after several years in the professional world. «Some master's students were 40, 50, or even 60 years old and were not bothered by their age».

Meryem Saadi immediately felt at ease in her new host country, and the language barrier has not been such an obstacle either. «At first I was a little stressed about the idea, but I discovered that many Swedes are bilingual and start learning English since childhood, so they don't expect foreigners to master their language», she explained. «So it was after my master's degree, also in English, that I started taking language lessons. I admit that it was hard at the beginning, since, in Morocco, we tend to speak more French or English in Morocco, but the Swedish language has Germanic roots», Meryem confided.

As months went by, learning became easier and Meryem Saadi enjoyed working on different artistic projects. One of her main ambitions is for the Moroccan embassy in Stockholm to capitalize on the cultural dynamics to create bridges between the two countries.

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