Meriem Bennani was born in 1988, in Rabat, Morocco and today lives and works in New York City, New York. Bennani received her BFA from The Cooper Union in 2012 after receiving her MFA in Animation from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, France in 2011. Moving between the aesthetics of reality television, documentary, animation and more, Bennani’s videos and installations embrace play and the absurd, while contemplating the intricacies of human behavior.
The artist often draws from lived experiences within her practice, beginning with a subject like migration and diasporic identity, or a figure, like the Chikha, and building imaginative worlds around them. Drawing on documentary or vérité styles, Bennani’s videos disrupt the logics of such media, injecting animated characters, the tropes of science fiction or music videos. Moments of humor and the unexpected break the seriousness of the artist’s subject matter, creating points of access for audiences to connect with the characters and think differently about complicated social, political or cultural questions. Typical of Bennani’s practice her work, Mission Teens (2019), balances the critical and the humorous, guided by an animated donkey the video tells a story about soft power and colonial control, in part through pop cultural references and anthropomorphized singing houses. In Mission Teens, Bennani returns to the French school she attended as a young person to create a faux reality show following the lives of teenagers currently attending the school. Through her video and installation viewers learn about the attitudes, ideologies, and historical understandings which are engendered by the French schools shaping the minds of Moroccan students.
The artist presents her videos in many different ways: released serially on web platforms, in installations projected onto architectural surfaces, or activated through interaction with sculptural objects. Bennani’s 2017 installation Siham & Hafida (2017) is projected on six specially designed screens and surfaces simultaneously, responding to the multi-screened existence that typifies daily life for many. Siham & Hafida focuses on women performers known as chikha who typically perform from an established repertoire of Moroccan songs and dances obliquely distributing political critique. Bennani’s installation juxtaposes two chikha bringing to light intergenerational conflicts, the roles women play in preserving national cultures, and the roles women are at times confined to within culture, while working to bridge the specific context with universal themes. The many styles, forms, and methods Bennani employs in her videos work alongside her sculptural installations to reflect the world we live in and our varied media landscapes, while exploring possible futures and new ways of engaging with visual culture.