This week we decided to have our lovely Mushmina blogger Tara, venture to Marrakech to peek behind the most amazing door we have ever seen, that of the Henna Art Cafe. The first of it’s kind, this cafe/artistic center/gallery is a must see when visiting the enchanting ‘Red City.’ Read on… and start planning your trip! xo Heather
The Henna Art Café, Marrakech-Eat, Paint, Love
I quickly hop out of the way out of a rogue motorcycle whizzing by me in the winding cobblestoned alleyways of mystical Marrakech. The potholed, dusty path whimsically leads to the imaginative Henna Art Café. This vibrantly colorful venue is a lively, unequaled stomping ground that celebrates empowering artists as well as serving up divinely delicious traditional Moroccan cuisine with an unconventional flair.
As soon as I moved to magical Morocco in the summer of 2017, I heard about this exciting, innovative venue in the heart of the medieval walled city.
The popular café innovatively combines three of my favorite things-excellent food, gorgeous local art with an ingenious twist and compassionate mission that supports talented henna artists, one of main sources of Moroccan tourism.
The setting of the café is quirky and playful-Lori Gordon, founder and co-owner utilize every inch of the small space in the most creative and genius of ways. True to her artistry, even the tiny toilet space is quintessentially decorated. As Lori explains with a chuckle, ‘This way, people can’t complain too much about the small space. Distraction is key here.’ The walls of the toilet are a vivid collage of funky, fun art, meticulously painted by Lori herself. Ask her how long it took to paint the toilet!
Lori’s story is simple, she explains. An accomplished visual artist, writer, and champion of women’s autonomy, she found herself at a point in her life where she was stagnant. As she puts it, ‘I was 50 years old and I had never been overseas. I had accomplished many things as an artist for which I was incredibly proud but at that moment, I decided that I needed a turning point.’ She had an epiphany on a three-week vacation to Morocco and in her words, ‘I never looked back.’
Opening the café was a result of practicality. She needed an income. Lori decided to combine her love of art and scrumptious food as well as her ever-existing need to help others into a business and a non-profit helping local artists called El Fenn Maroc. She chose to focus on henna as it is such a symbol of Morocco and the creative strength, in particular, of Moroccan women. Because of the success of the café and gallery, the non-profit El Fenn is also able to support several other local non-profits.
Both the café and the non-profit work harmoniously with each other to create a perfect storm of good food, lovely art, and a sustainable environment for female artists.
As luck had it, she met her long-term co-owner and business partner, Rachid, on her first day in Marrakech and they have been working side by side ever since.
‘I think part of what makes it work so well is that either myself or Rachid are there at the café at all times.’ And it shows. The friendly staff, the brightly colored setting, the cozy rooftop area, clearly it’s a labor of love. And it works smashingly.
Who are the henna artists; the heart and soul of this tiny, thriving café?
Lori explains, ‘In Morocco, word of mouth is everything. We found our amazing artists this way; they’ve been with us from day one. Our first artist put us in touch with the second and so on. The momentum has never stopped from that moment.’
‘What sets us apart from other establishments in Morocco,’ she tells me, ‘as henna is a very common art form for tourists and locals alike, ‘is that other hotels and riads regularly offer henna as a secondary source. For us, it’s the focal point of our business.’
Lori and her artists spent much time testing creative means, not just using henna as decoration on the hands, as traditionally done. Instead, they offer something much more endurable in their stunning gallery: striking henna art on paper, wood and leather.
The café’s henna offerings have been such a hit that the non-profit, Actuality Media, made a short documentary, highlighting one of their talented artists; Nadia. The nine-minute film is called ‘Flowers of Marrakech’ and is a simple, beautiful take on a talented female artist in Morocco trying to support her family as a young single mother. (Scroll down to watch)
And Lori’s sense of humor always remains intact. When I tell her how much I enjoy the food at the café, she laughs heartily and says that it’s not because she is an expert chef, but because the café’s ever-changing menu reflects her own food cravings. This and a whole lot of trial and error in the kitchen. Most often her cravings are Mexican food in nature, she says with a mischievous smile. Which is fine by me!
And true to her word, no one, to my knowledge, has ever complained about the toilet.
By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger.
Photos by Inaki and Tara Fraiture