by Giuseppe Andretta

Scarfès is a diary written with pictures, a memory of a life experience within a group of friends who, from a normal point of view, could be called a gang. The title of the fanzine plays on the term “scar” and Fès (the name of the city in Morocco where the project took place). But also on the similarity between the compound “scars of Fès” and the name of Tony Montana on the movie Scarface, idol of many stray adolescents. These images focus, more precisely, on a non-verbal language, ancient and widespread throughout the world: self-harming, which, in the modern Morocco environment, becomes the expression of a deep discomfort but also a form of exhibitionism and symbol of rebellion.

The word Tcharmil has grabbed the headlines in mainstream Moroccan media in the last years. The word normally indicates a mix of spices for meat-based dishes and it is not yet clear to me whether the term is used to indicate in the tcharmils the desire to bring more “spicy” into everyday life or to represent, with stew of meat, the symbol of the scarification of the skin.

The “Gang Tcharmil” phenomenon refers to that youthful subculture that pushes Moroccan boys to show off with a sort of uniform made of flashy haircuts, called in moroccan slang “tatouage”, of expensive american sportswear or italian fashion clothing, watches and huge necklaces. Together with these symbols, also the arms and the chest are covered by self-inflicted wounds. All this happens in a city where most of the men wear the traditional Moroccan dress, the djalaba, and practically all the women cover their heads with the hijab, many still use the chador and, the older ones, even the niqab.

The tcharmil phenomenon, exploded dramatically in recent years, has led the government to take targeted measures against the spread of these gangs. Despite this, the young Tcharmil have increasingly shown themselves through social networks, exhibiting in their selfies precious phones, swords, drugs and wads of money, often the result of drug dealing and sometimes robberies. Self-harming, in this context, satisfies the need and the desire to escape. Contrary to appearance, this experience has made me understand that, in no way, these wounds want to represent a desire of death; rather, their scars symbolise a desire to escape from a reality in which they no longer feel comfortable. The desire to be “European” or “Western”, to uproot their African origins, to feel rich leads them to scar their skin, symbol of their limit.

I lived with these guys, hosted by their families, between 2014 to 2017. Living in their homes allowed me to understand the human side and the discomfort that leads them to self-harm. Impotence related to increasing youth unemployment, the impossibility of leaving a country and a culture, the Islamic one, which does not reflect their needs. I have been with them all the days when, from dusk til dawn, there’s nothing to do; where the search for a job is useless, especially when you have arms full of scars or shave your hair with tribal designs. So the only alternative is to go down in the streets, in those alleys of Fes that are unchanged since the Middle Age, in the maze where tourists get easily lost and, afraid, are willing to pay a tip to those who take them back in a known square or in one of the main arteries of the medina: Talaa Seghira and Talaa Kebira.

A national law allows the police to arrest for 48 hours every person who “sticks” a tourist in the medina of large cities. It’s called a “fake tourist guide” (“faux guide” in French) and to be indicted it’s enough to simply speak to a foreigner. This does not stop the young boys who, as soon as they see a tourist, rush to ask for some change or to propose an excellent hashish, risking a couple of days in jail. Moreover, in 2014 the King of Morocco asked for extreme measures against the spread of the tcharmil which, added to the crime of fake tourist guide, made it impossible for me to leave the house with them without being stopped by any policeman.