The Famous Tin Signs of Marrakesh

72 Hours in Marrakech on a Tour De Tat art quest

So as I mentioned at the start of the week on my Instagram I stumbled across a few beautiful naive 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 Arabic community living in the city it made complete sense that they originated from Morocco.

        


Fast forward three, four weeks later and after some ridiculously cheap last minute flights to Marrakesh popped up in my email I thought why not? Let’s get out there, take the tour on the road again, this time with more of an art quest spin and track down the source of the goodness.

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

After a bit of a slow start I set out for 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 to happen and the quest had truly begun.

        

As you head out of the heart of Marrakesh it’s beautiful to see a lot of the hand crafts still being made down all the busy ally’s, 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 just wasn’t the case. I counted over fifteen different style of artists work whilst I was wandering through the souks and my suspicions were confirmed when I tracked down my first artist Amin casually drinking a 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 locals business but started to really take off with French tourists during the 90s hence why a lot are still written in French and Arabic till this day. Nowadays every trade you can imagine are captured in this tin sign style but also a growing number of cartoons, car manufacturers, sports brands, and the occasional footballer take form. He admits 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 not rivalry between the city’s artists, they all share work and distribute it to different shops across the Medina. Some shops stock one artists work some stock three or four. I really like that’s it’s not a competitive industry as this is also something I try to get across with my own business ethos.


He goes on to tell me 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 custom football paint job and after we agreed on a really fair deal for both parties he was keen to get started straight away.


I asked him who his favourite Moroccan player was and he told me Mustapha Hadji so this inspired me to drop an original idea I had and 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 to pick up. 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 work stations 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 eyeing up and talking to a few more sellers about them for any more information I might of 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 up and out before the sun becomes unbearable, especially when casually walking 10k on a hunt. Well at least thats what my phone says anyway. I headed back towards Amin's workshop but along the way spotted Mohamed, sat 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 auto pilot 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 google maps as possible which even with my internal mind map I’ve got to admit I struggled with. But soon I was back on the right path and even picked up a couple of rogue Maradona pieces from a small home wear 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 just adds to the magic of the final pieces.

        


Here’s some of his work which are all one off pieces and in my opinion really capture the crossover of traditional Moroccan sign art and France 98. I started back towards the center square Jemaa el-Fnaa with my signs under my arm a spring in my step and even stopped off to kill some time and treat myself to a rdelicious 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 little write up has helped transport you to you to some of the worlds most famous pulsating market streets. All of the work will be available on Monday evening on the store. If anyone wants a custom player, get in contact and I will see if Amin or Mohamed can make it happen.


Thanks for reading