Marrakech, Morocco – Jean-François Fourtou has seen Marrakech undergo rapid change in recent years, as it has become an increasingly popular tourist destination.
Its 25-acre plot, Dar El Sadaka, which was once isolated from the city, is surrounded by development, including hotels and other private homes.
Still, tranquility has been preserved in a property where Mr. Fourtou, a French artist known for his animal sculptures, predominantly lambs, giraffes, snails and orangutans, has spent two decades channeling his creative impulses.
What was once a large plot of land dotted with ruins has been transformed into lush gardens of olive and palm trees, a guest house with nine suites and bedrooms, an outdoor gallery, a meditation retreat and an art studio, as well as Mr. Fourtou’s house. His capricious sculptures and architectural works of art are dotted everywhere.
Mr. Fourtou occasionally allows tours, which must be booked in advance, and has opened his property during art events such as the Marrakech Biennale. To finance the maintenance of the farm, the guest house is available for rent for $ 3,800 per day for up to 20 guests. The minimum stay is three nights.
But Mr. Fourtou is not interested in competing with popular attractions in Marrakech such as the Majorelle Garden, which attracts 700,000 visitors a year. He believes that letting in large groups of tourists would alter the magic of the estate.
Giving El Sadaka means the house of friendship in Arabic or the one you are looking for in Sanskrit. All heritage is a childhood metaphor for Mr. Fourtou.
Animal sculptures, disconnected from their natural surroundings, are intended to illustrate how out of place the artist felt when he grew up in Paris. “They represent how I imagined within society,” he said on a summer afternoon tour.
Beyond the gates, to the left, a two-story house is built on the back, standing on the roof with the sign “Chez Grand-Père” hanging over the front door. He was inspired by Mr. Fourtou’s memory of his late maternal grandfather’s house in southwest France.
“I imagine he sent it to me from above, 30 years after his death,” Fourtou said, remembering 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 farm has a different surprise. A wide staircase leads to the so-called Casa del Gigante. Inside, there is a large table, a bed, a closet and clothes. As happens inside the house upside down, the senses become unbalanced.
“The idea is that those who see my work are destabilized and experience incongruous situations,” Mr. Fourtou said. “It is an opportunity to feel forgotten feelings of childhood. I don’t really offer a stay, but rather an experience. “
For overnight guests, meals are usually made with organic products, honey and olive oil grown on the property. Most rooms are spacious and have beautiful views of the garden. The guest house was renovated a few years ago by interior designer Philippe Forestier, and details such as aromas, lighting and bedding have been carefully thought out.
The house is also full of Mr. Fourtou’s works of art and his exclusive productions: extremely realistic and detailed animal sculptures. Each of the nine rooms is itself an artistic installation conceived around a different animal.
In the large dining room, a pregnant giraffe sits on an expansive table. It was originally designed for Mr. Fourtou’s attic in SoHo, New York, before being transported through Madrid and finally completed in Morocco. The orangutans perch on the lamps in the room and there is a giant sheep next to the pool.
The sculptures are difficult to create, Fourtou said. The work is tedious because each part of each piece is meticulously researched and designed, a process that can take months or even years. Mr. Fourtou, a graduate of the Beaux-Arts art school in Paris, works in his on-site studio with the help of local designers.
“To annoy the visitor, I often change the scale to much larger or smaller,” Fourtou said. “Never fierce animals. But often the sheep, or a pregnant animal, are minted in a room to make them even more fragile. “
Fourtou spends half the year in Marrakech, when he doesn’t visit his teenage daughter in Paris or wander around other parts of the world like Greece or India.
He does not enjoy the social scene in Marrakech and maintains a rather austere routine that involves meditation, swimming and hours in his studio working on projects for private collectors or large fashion houses like Hermès, for whom he has designed shop windows in Paris and Tokyo. He is also creating butterfly sculptures for his home in Madrid.
The farm has been an ideal place for him to meet his need for a large and quiet space to work, he said, while balancing it with his family life.
On the other side of the rectangular property is the house where Mr. Fourtou lives with her husband, Pascal, and their two young children.
That building, La Maison Ruche or Beehive House, has a panoramic view of the garden and is full of wonders that include hidden compartments, secret doors and hidden beds located in closets. Some of the floors are made of traditional Moroccan zellige tiles, and large bees hang from the ceilings. The basement has its own secrets: a series of rooms that contain a massage parlor and a traditional hammam or Turkish bath.
Over the years, Fourtou said, he realized that he was much more comfortable in the country than ever in a city.
“Once I settled here, he returned all the efforts I put into building it,” he said of the estate.
The plot where Dar El Sadaka built was initially purchased by Fourtou’s father, Jean-René Fourtou, the former executive director of the French media group Vivendi Universal (now Vivendi), in 1995.
Large restoration work was needed, and at that time it was difficult for foreigners to navigate the Moroccan bureaucracy to obtain building permits.
What was supposed to be a project of months to help his father became a program of artistic creation and expansion of many years that is far from over.
“I feel I’ve ever done and I’m constantly looking for something,” Fourtou said. “The place is not frozen in time. Not only it belongs to me, but I’m inviting every visitor to endorse the experience. “