Illustrator Myriam au Citron on how her creative practice was founded on a love of food
The half-Moroccan, half-French illustrator tells the story of how she followed her dream to open a restaurant in Morocco and how this led her to discover painting.
- Elfie Thomas
- 19 April 2022
Anaelle (Myriam) Chaaib, who goes by the delightful moniker Myriam au Citron, owes her painting practice to her love of pastry, she tells It’s Nice That. At the beginning of her career, she studied at a business school in France and also got a degree for making her beloved pastries, “because since my teenagehood my dream was to open a pastry shop with my sister and I fantasised about living in Morocco,” she says. Business studies never really succeeded in holding her attention for very long, she explains, “I was never interested in school and was only interested in doing things with my hands, inventing stories and things”.
So, four years ago Myriam and her sister set out to make their teenage dream come true. They packed up and left France, travelling to the city of Chefchaouen, nestled in the middle of the Moroccan mountains. In this romantic setting, renowned for its blue-washed buildings, Myriam and her sister opened a restaurant. “It was a hard and intense experience to be two girls in a patriarchal city and far from our occidental habitat”, she recalls. “The only activity I had was painting my lovely region to decorate the place and, as people got interested in the painting, I started sharing them on Instagram.” Two years on, Myriam’s Instagram has flown to great success and she has been able to begin a career in painting, a job she had never thought she would do.
“North Morocco inspires me enormously,” she tells us. Just a “simple walk” along the coastal path from Tangier to the mountains leaves her bursting with new ideas for paintings: “I like to paint everyday life, manual trades and food”. She has a particular eye for little details, like the ceramic tiles in a shop or the typography on labels or signs. She photographs everything, collecting her references and then lovingly patchworking them together with her playful, naive visual style. The artist poetically compares the process of drawing all these intricate details together to “working with lace”.
Myriam is fascinated by the ways in which European colonial culture merges with contemporary Moroccan culture, particularly because it reflects her own dual European/Moroccan heritage. “Tangier is a fruit of many influences,” she says, and capturing this essence is something she does skillfully. Unsurprisingly she is particularly interested in the food culture, noting how “food brings us together but also separates us”. Her work Grand Hanout Tanger is an ode to the diverse food culture in Tangier – the shop’s shelves are bursting with Moroccan groceries and European and American commodities like Evian, Ariel and Coca-Cola. Each product is carefully articulated with the tiny labels she loves to draw.
One of her favourite pieces to work on was Gordon Watson Interior. It recalls the time when she was allowed to visit the home of the renowned British antique dealer Gordon Watson, who has spent years collecting furniture and decorating his home in Tangier. “His world is full of details, an accumulation of history”, she says. Myriam was in her element. Carefully recording each tiny detail from the pattern on cushions, rugs and kitchen tiles to the faces in family portraits, this painting is a feast for the eyes. Looking back on the work she notes how her rendition of the space “reminds me of a doll's house”.
The future looks bright for Myriam’s idyll in Northern Morocco. She’s continuing to support herself on her new found passion of painting and has an exhibition coming up in June 2022. Better yet, she has the cogs in motion to pull off a food and art project called “Maison Citron” with her sister – a project she’s been “dreaming of for years”.
Copyright © Myriam au Citron, 2022
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.