Mohammed Melehi studied at the École des Beaux-Arts (1953 - 1955) in Tétouan, Morocco, before leaving to study abroad at the École supérieure des Beaux-Arts Isabel de Hungria (1955) in Seville; the École supérieure des Beaux-Arts San Fernando (1956) in Madrid; the Académie des Beaux-Arts (1957 - 1960) and the Instituto Statale d'Arte (1960) in Rome; the École nationale des Beaux-Arts (1960 - 1961) Paris; and finally was a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to study at Columbia University (1962) for two years before returning to Morocco in 1964.
Melehi became a professor of painting, sculpture and photography at the École des Beaux-Arts of Casablanca (1964 - 1969), at that time directed by Farid Belkahia. Melehi, along with Belkahia and Mohammed Chebaa, formed the Casablanca group with an exhibition in Rabat in 1966. In addition to a new modernist style in their personal work, the group was also known for a pedagogy that focused on rooting modernism in local visual culture. In 1969, these artists as well as other professors from the Casablanca École des Beaux-Arts organized the "exposition manifeste," an outdoor exhibition in Djemaa al-Fna in Marrakech in order to connect to a larger public outside of official exhibition spaces.
Beyond his painting, the breadth of Melehi's career has been striking, in his teaching, publishing, and policy roles, and as a graphic designer. His poster for the 1966 Rabat exhibition is currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Melehi was an active member of the group associated with the leftist cultural journal Souffles from 1966 to 1969, and designed its original iconic cover. From 1972 to 1977, Melehi was founder and director of the cultural journal Intégral. In 1974, he co-founded and became the director of the publishing house Shoof. In 1978, Melehi and Mohammed Benaïssa co-founded the Al Mohit association and the Cultural Moussem of Asilah, an arts festival known for its outdoor murals that continues to be held every year. Melehi was arts director at the Ministry of Culture (1985 - 1992) and Cultural Consultant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (1999 - 2002) in Morocco.
Melehi is known as a leading modernist in Morocco. Since the 1960s, he has been elaborating a body of work based around the recurrent motif of waves. The canvases are consistently hard-edged and optic abstractions – the lines are clean, the colors are clearly delineated, and the brushstrokes and movements of the paintbrush are not visible. The waves themselves are often reconfigured, turned vertically to become flames, or cutting across the canvas on an angle. The waves have been linked to the waves on the beaches of Asilah, Melehi's hometown, the gesture of writing Arabic calligraphy, and, in their meditative consistency, to transcendence and prayer. Over time, he has stayed constant to this project, reconfiguring similar elements in his research into color and form, while continually varying small details, orientation, and color combinations, as well as adding other abstract shapes or symbols. He has also re-worked his waves in other media, as in a sculpture in Mexico in 1968 for the International Meeting of Sculptors, in posters and murals, or integrated into architectural projects.
Melehi has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally. He was part of significant early exhibitions of Moroccan modernism, including the second Alexandria Biennial (1958), the first and second editions of the Biennial des Jeunes in Paris (1959, 1961), and the Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (1966). He was also involved in significant pan-Arab exhibitions including the Al-Wassiti Festival in Baghdad (1972) and the PLO "International Art Exhibition for Palestine" (1978). He has had numerous solo exhibitions including those at the national gallery, Galerie Bab Rouah, in Rabat (1965, 1997), the Bronx Museum in New York, and a retrospective at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, as well as at Galerie L'Atelier (Rabat) and the Sultan Gallery in Kuwait. He was a guest of honor at the 3rd Sharjah Biennial in 1997 in the UAE.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School, The Mosaic Rooms, London
Mohammed Melehi: 1959 - 1971, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha. Curated by Laura Barlow with Lina Ramadan
Galerie Bab Rouah, Rabat, Morocco
|1995||Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France|
|1984 - 1985||Melehi, Recent Paintings, The Bronx Museum of Arts, New York, United States of America|
|1971 ||Sultan Gallery, Kuwait|
|_____||Galerie L'Atelier, Rabat, Morocco|
|1965 ||Galerie Bab Rouah, Rabat, Morocco|
|_____||Municipal gallery, Casablanca, Morocco|
Selected Group Exhibitions
|1987 ||Sao Paolo Biennial, Sao Paolo, Brazil |
|1980||Art Contemporain du Maroc à la Fondation Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain|
|_____||National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1972 ||Festival Al-Wassiti, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1969 ||Exposition Manifeste, place du 16 Novembre, Casablanca, Morocco|
|_____||Exposition Manifeste, Djemaa al-Fna, Marrakech, Morocco|
|1967 ||Panafrican Festival, Algiers, Algeria|
|1966 ||Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar, Senegal, Belkahia, Chebaa, Melehi, Hall du Théatre Mohammed V, Rabat, Morocco|
|1963 ||Eight Contemporary Artists from Rome, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America |
|1961 ||Biennale de Paris, Paris, France|
|_____||Rencontre internationale des artistes, Rabat, Morocco|
Modern Moroccan Art, waves, École des Beaux-Arts de Casablanca, Djemaa al-Fna, Intégral, Souffles, Asilah.
Maraini, Toni. Ecrits sur l'Art: Choix de Textes Maroc 1967-1989. Rabat: Al Kalam, 1990.
Melehi, Mohammed. "Fiches et Questionnaires." Souffles. (N 7-8, 2/3/4 trimesters, 1967), 56-68.
Gayet-Descendre, Nadine, Toni Maraini, Mohammed Melehi, and Pierre Restany. Melehi. Galerie Bab Rouah – Rabat, 18-31 December 1997.
El Maleh, Edmond Amran, Toni Maraini, and Fatema Mernissi. Présences artistiques au Maroc. Grenoble: Maison de la Culture, 1985.