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November 18, 2011

In reaching out to Moroccan architect Adil Naji and his network of artisans to develop the new Moroccan Court, the Metropolitan Museum of Art developed a fascinating permanent installation that elevates the New Galleries for Art of the Arab Lands. Most of the wing is arranged as an exhibition of objects, but in contrast, the Moroccan Court, completed over the course of nine months—Naji likens this to the birth of a child—is an example of what museums can do using global connections: create an encapsulating installation that transports visitors across the world and 500 years ago.

Morrocan court architecture exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

As Naji explains, courtyards have traditionally been a place for Moroccans to meet and discuss politics, marriage, and other matters, and gather together in a space marked by historic craftsmanship. In his recreation of this important social space as it would appear in the 14th century, white light passes through the center of the ceiling, giving the impression of natural light and open air; tiles on the walls are arranged in a scientific manner demanding an acute understanding of mathematics, while the freehand plaster carving of the arches surrounding the space are floral and flowing. Naji notes the different skill sets required for each facet of the implementation of his design and appreciates the fifteen Moroccan artisans with whom he worked—including his own brothers—who each have over a decade of experience in their crafts, including tilework, wood carving, and plasterwork.

The Moroccan Court, which opened to the public on November 1st, is stunning with respect to the careful detail of individual attributes, but also as a cohesive space. In the midst of a crowded museum, this Court brings to life a 500-year-old culture of social gathering and appreciation for beauty. Naji has utilized traditions passed down from older generations in painstakingly creating the space and the Met has installed touch screen computers nearby to explore the Court's history and design. The Moroccan Court probably only be more impactful if it were larger; Naji says the Met's Court is one-third of the size of a traditional courtyard, but the exhibition still marks a significant and worthy investment by the museum in traditional Eastern architecture.

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