Uncovering Her Heritage

Posted by: Mellany Artmstrong

Suki Valentine MFA ’17 spent a month in Marrakesh in March 2018 in residency at Dar Slimane, a peaceful retreat where artists explore relationships with the community and the environment. A founder of Riot Grrrl, an influential feminist punk movement of the 1990s, Valentine enjoys working in various mediums.

Why did you want a residency at Dar Slimane?

Dar Slimane appealed to me because they are a functioning farm and permaculture garden, an animal sanctuary and a yoga retreat center, and they emphasize sustainability and conservation, which are all things I support and practice in my own life. The treatment of their artists in residence is a really wonderful arrangement, because they provide everything free of charge (apart from transportation and food). In exchange, I made two pieces of art for them that will be installed permanently on the grounds.

What did you focus on as a resident at Dar Slimane?

Taking my art to the next level, and pushing myself creatively and personally. A primary thing I got from my Moore education was learning how to take my ideas and develop them on my own. From the time I applied to Dar Slimane last summer, to when they sent my initial acceptance letter last fall, to finalizing details for my designs and travel arrangements, I had literally months where it was up to me to tend to all the aspects and making the residency my reality. Also, I recently had my DNA tested for ancestral lineage and discovered that I am part Moroccan, and so I was very excited to have this opportunity to get closer to some of my newly uncovered heritage while in North Africa.

What were your living arrangements like?

My room was joined to others looking out over a private courtyard and garden. Orange and lemon trees bore heavy fruit that I ate daily. On Fridays, as is Moroccan tradition, everyone staying at Dar Slimane gathers in the main house and for lunch we shared a massive couscous meal that the owner’s 72-year-old mother makes from scratch in the traditional steam method. The studio is a large rustic space which all manner of random supplies for making any type of art you can imagine. Part of why Dar Slimane was interested is having me come is that they’ve never had a metal artist in residence before, so I also had the honor of helping them acquire supplies for future residents who work in metal.

Do you believe travel is important for an artist?

Travel is something that energizes and inspires me. Long before I thought of going to Moore, I regularly visited Philadelphia for weekend trips, for instance. I like traveling to places just a few hours away by train or bus, as well as traveling across the ocean to Europe – and now Africa. Being immersed in different places, with different cultures and different faces gives me a ton of creative energy and motivates me to get back in my studio and make something out of it all.

What art work did you donate as part of your residency?

I created a copper vine, complete with leaves, that will wind its way up from the trunks of the courtyard orange and pepper trees and into a few lower branches, much like a snake bracelet worn by Cleopatra. My other piece is a low garden fence that will be installed around one of the tree trunks, with a repeating pattern that is an echo of the vine motif I created for the ‘Tree Jewelry’ mixed with some traditional design elements found in the beautiful mosaics that can be seen all over Marrakesh.

What does it mean to you to have done this residency?

In many ways, I feel my entire life as an artist has been leading up to doing a residency like this, to have the skill set and the practice and the ability to bring it all together. I feel that this was an opportunity to explore my heritage more deeply than I ever have, to connect my ancestry to my art and my practice and to take this experience back with me to further my practice in my studio at home.

Suki Valentine MFA ’17 with local Moroccan metal artist, Souhar.  Photo provided by Ms. Valentine