At a Sculptor’s Marrakesh Estate, a Menagerie of Whimsical Artwork

12:13 AM Aida Alami 0 Comments

Jean-François Fourtou has seen Marrakesh undergo rapid change in recent years, as it has become an increasingly popular tourist destination.

His 25-acre estate, Dar El Sadaka, which was once isolated from the city, is now surrounded by development, including hotels and other private homes.
Still, the peacefulness has been preserved at a property where Mr. Fourtou, a French artist known for his sculptures of animals — predominantly lambs, giraffes, snails and orangutans — has spent two decades channeling his creative impulses.

What was once a large parcel of land dotted with ruins has been transformed into lush gardens of olive and palm trees, a guesthouse with nine suites and bedrooms, an open-air gallery, a meditation retreat and an art studio, as well as Mr. Fourtou’s own home. His whimsical sculptures and architectural works of art are dotted throughout.

Mr. Fourtou occasionally allows tours, which must be booked in advance, and he has opened his property during art events such as the Marrakesh Biennale. To finance the maintenance of the estate, the guesthouse is available for rental for $3,800 a day for up to 20 guests. The minimum stay is three nights.

But Mr. Fourtou isn’t interested in competing with popular Marrakesh attractions like the Majorelle Garden, which draws 700,000 visitors a year. He believes that letting in large groups of tourists would alter the estate’s magic.

Dar El Sadaka means the house of friendship in Arabic or the one who searches in Sanskrit. The whole estate is a metaphor for Mr. Fourtou’s childhood.

The sculptures of animals, disconnected from their natural environments, are meant to illustrate how out of place the artist felt growing up in Paris. “They represent how I pictured myself within society,” he said on a tour one late summer afternoon.

Past the gates, on the left, a two-story house is built upside down, standing on its roof with the sign “Chez Grand-Père” hanging over the front door. It was inspired by Mr. Fourtou’s memory of the house of his late maternal grandfather in southwestern France.

“I imagine that he sent it to me from above, 30 years after he died,” Mr. Fourtou said, recalling how his grandfather drew him postcards and told him stories that stimulated his imagination and encouraged him to express his creativity at an early age.

Each corner of the estate holds a different surprise. A wide staircase leads to the so-called Giant’s House. Inside, there is a large table, a bed, a closet and clothes. As happens inside the upside-down house, one’s senses are thrown off balance.

“The idea is that those who get to see my work are destabilized and experience incongruent situations,” said Mr. Fourtou. “It is a chance to feel forgotten childhood feelings. I do not really offer a stay, but rather an experience.”

For overnight guests, meals are usually made using organic produce, honey and olive oil cultivated on the property. Most of the rooms are spacious and have beautiful views of the garden. The guesthouse was renovated a few years ago by the interior designer Philippe Forestier, and details like the scents, the lighting and the linens have been carefully thought out.

You can read the rest of the story on the New York Times' website. 

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