If you’ve spent any time in Fes, Morocco chances are that you’ve either come across Jessica or indirectly seen the results of her hard work. In her self made role as cultural coordinator for the Fes/Sefrou region, Jess has her hand in dozens of projects from coordinating annual celebrations of International Women’s Day to putting together workshops for artists and musicians to overseeing the renovation and cultural program of the ALIF Riad in the heart of Fes, to most recently opening a Pop Up Shop in the Fes Medina where she is showcasing her jewelry and art – Jess is a creative force to be reckoned with in the Fes region.
I’m fortunate in that Jess has become one of my best friends and I wanted to take a moment to introduce her to Vagobond readers since as a single woman living in a country that is notoriously difficult for tall, blonde women she has not only carved out a niche for herself, but also made a lasting impact on all of the people with whom she has come in contact and in some cases made a lasting impact on the Kingdom of Morocco itself.
Vago: Jess, how did you come to live in Sefrou? What were the roads that led you here?
Jess: Having spent years living in Spain as a practicing artist and English teacher I decided it was time for the next chapter of my life. Calculations lead me to realize that establishing an artist residence in a rich cultural surroundings was my chosen path. I thrive on connecting people, inspiring collaborations and encouraging creativity. Sefrou ticked many practical boxes for such an artist residency. I am continuously delighted to live in this town.
Vago: You’ve made a huge impact on the artistic and creative community around Fes. Which of your many projects have made the biggest impact on you?
Jess: Working in and amongst the Moroccan community is where I get the most rewards,. People here are not afraid to express their opinion or pose questions. Interaction and dialogue are prominent despite any arts background.
Vago: What has been the biggest challenge of building a life for yourself in Morocco?
Jess: With respect to Fez , the lack of a modern arts culture, especially in such a big and important ‘cultural’ city, I find this very disappointing as an artist thirsty for artistic interaction and fodder.
Vago: As you know, I love your art and jewelry. Can you describe it to my readers? If you were to make an ‘artist statement’ what would it say?
Jess: I regularly do make artist statements. In this particular presentation I am excited by the cross over between the two mediums, miniature paintings and this jewelry collection. There is a clear common thread in the play with color and mediums. I often apply materials in a context not to their purpose, office supplies for juicy fine art paintings, jalaba buttons for sculptural colorful necklaces. My work, for many years now has a playful approach that is creative and spontaneous in its process with rich and often surprising results.
Vago: Tell me about your pop up shop? How did this idea come about?
Jess: The idea was suggested to me by a designer who lives in the medina (Fes el Bali). It was a concept I had never heard of but has apparently been around for a few years in Britain and the States On the very same day another foreigner suggested the idea to me for my jewelry collection, a sure sign that something had to be done. Recently I’ve been trying to open myself up to signs and suggestions that the world is sending out. It has and is a great experience to have a showroom/exhibit in the heart of the medina. There is a very eclectic range of public that pass, glance and enter the space, from sacred music festival goers to the local residents and traders. An experience I hope to repeat. Bedouin Bonbon is installed for two weeks only and its stint finishes this coming Thursday. The high energy input that goes with time span of the project suits me down to the ground.
Vago: In terms of being an expat in Morocco, can you offer advice for anyone who is thinking of making this step?
Jess: Be open and flexible and always listen to your instinct.
Vago: What’s the best part of living in Morocco?
Jess: Leaning something new all the time, seeing the great aspects of Islam and Arabic culture, having a social life with out having to arrange one, being challenged and constantly rewarded. For me, living here is very rich.
Vago: What’s the worst part?
Jess: Morocco definitely forces me to survive creatively which at times is very exhausting and risky. Moroccan society, I feel, is there for me and protective but lack of employment opportunities makes making a living hard if you are not business inclined.
Vago: If someone comes just to visit Morocco, what would you recommend they see or do?
Jess: Meet the people, they are one of the best aspects of this country. Don’t travel city to city, that in my opinion is far too intense. See some of the countryside and living and the beautiful landscapes. Sit in one spot for some time so as to absorb the rich culture and know its beauty.
To contact Jess Stephens, Sefrou and Fez’s resident Welsh artist and culture coordinator or to see her work, you can visit her pop up shop on Talaa Kabira in the Fez Medina for one more day! Or you can check out her websites: