Moroccan Culture & Femininity through Animation: Sofia El Khyari

Moroccan Culture & Femininity through Animation: Sofia El Khyari

Sofia El Khyari is a Moroccan animator and storyteller. Growing up in Casablanca she later moved to Paris to study art and would later obtain a master’s degree in animation from the Royal College of Art in London. Her films often depict intimate stories about the nature of modern feminism as it relates to her Moroccan cultural heritage. Her beautiful work lies between illustration and animation, bringing to light beautiful stories. Enjoy.

Sofia, you describe yourself as an animator, please tell us about your work? How were you drawn to animation?

I have always been drawing, and I always knew I would be happy doing an artistic job for a living. When I was a teenager, I started to watch more animation for adults, and I met animators that explained their work to me. I was attracted by the fact that I could make my drawings move. I think I felt in love with animation because it allowed me to be a full artist. I can draw, paint, mix techniques, write, and play with the sound and music; to create immersive atmospheres.

 We are big fans of your latest international award-winning project, Ayam. Tell us about this project. Can you share some behind the scenes of creating the project? What was the inspiration behind it? How did you choose the topic?

Ayam, depicts three generations of Moroccan women exchanging anecdotes while they are preparing the traditional ceremony of Eid el Adha. I made this film because I was so inspired by my grandmother and mother, and always thought they were feminists without realizing it. There are a lot of clichés about Arab women, and I wanted to show people my own vision of Moroccan women, as well as sharing the beauty and warmth of Moroccan culture with the world. I wanted to show their authenticity, their love, sorority, support, strength, and perseverance. When I wrote the script, I was living in London, with my family still living in Morocco. Even though I wrote the dialogues based on real memories, I enhanced some lines in order to deliver the right message.

Three generations of Moroccan women exchange feelings and anecdotes while preparing the traditional ceremony of Eid Al Adha.

How would you describe the motivation behind your artwork? Does your work represent something about you? What do you think it represents?

I make art because I’m deeply driven by something; whether it is an image, a committed message (such as a decolonized identity or feminism) or an emotion.  I tend to focus on delivering an immersive atmosphere within my films. I try to bring the viewer into an authentic, intimate, sensual, and poetic world where the sound is enveloping and where the image is tactile. A world where beauty is enhanced by a touch of sadness, where memories are dreamy, where emotions become palpable and caress the skin.

I often explore dichotomies, by blurring the lines between dream and reality,  invisible and visible, abstract and figurative, childhood and adult world, interiority and exteriority.  Finally, I tend to represent a kingdom where the woman is a queen, and where the dream dances a sensual tango with the world.

Do you consider yourself as an African artist? Why or why not? Would you say you are contributing to a canon of African art? why or why not?

As a Moroccan artist, I consider myself an African artist as well.  Africa is so vast of course, so I try to specifically represent characters or topics linked to my own country, which is a part of the vast African continent. I believe firmly that films about African stories should be made by African artists. I find that many people in the African continent could resonate with my work. But I am also cosmopolitan, and because I lived in different cities, I try to get inspiration from the places that created a part of my identity.

What inspires your process? What form of animation do you work with? Are there certain materials/tools/software that you typically use? What connection do you have to your art and how you create it?

Most of my ideas come very spontaneously. It can come from emotions that I feel, or from a question that I want to explore. I often say that for me making a film is answering a question. It is a real journey for me. I work mainly with analog tools because I really enjoy the process of working with my hands using pencils, paper, etc. I also love experimenting and creating new visual film language.

Where do you find inspiration? Can you share some of your favorite artists and why they have a meaningful impact on your work?

While my ideas come from my inner world and imagination, inspiration can come from everywhere.  I make a lot of researches around my subject before making a film. I go to exhibitions, I read books, I watch films, or sometimes I just walk or go out of my comfort zone. As for some artists that inspire me, the list can be long… Mona HatoumLalla Essaidi, Nadine Labaki, N’gendo Muuki … I am of course inspired by MENA and African female artists because they inspire me to make authentic work about ourselves. Artists like Georgie O’Keefe, Yves Klein inspire me too as they question our own perceptions by making an art between figuration and abstraction.

Don’t be afraid of making things and expressing yourself, and don’t forget to be playful always. Being an artist is a choice, we do have to enjoy most moment of it.

Where is your favorite place to work?

I love to work in many different places to be honest. I usually feel a new place can refresh my thoughts. I love places with a lot of natural light. 

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