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6-9 PM

Building Bridges Art Exchange presents 20/21: The marriage of minors between denial and melancholy, a solo exhibition featuring the work of Mostapha Romli.


Mostapha Romli's latest body of conceptual work takes us on a dramatic journey inside the increasing number of children weddings that have taken place in Morocco in the last ten years as a result of the 20/21 law.


Romli uses the power of saddle and romantic paintings, drawings and prints to question this worrying trend and portrays the pain, sadness and courage that young girls go through as they lose their virginity in the early stages of their puberty. The images draw the viewers' attention through a series of feminine, though strong, brush strokes filled with symbolism.


In fact, the colors and symbols on Romli's art pieces are the expression of pain, melancholy and sadness themselves. But more importantly, they are the expression of stolen childhoods from these girls.


The attentive viewer will also notice a common thread throughout Romli's pieces: the presence of flowers, shells and floral elements, which represent the girls' beauty, sensuality, femininity, fragility and how they are being deprived of their essence in a brutal and forceful way.


Romli's ultimate goal is to show the negative psychological effects that marriage has on minors. But he also suggests that the consummation of marriage on the wedding night alone should be considered rape because it involves girls who are less than 18 years old, and for all intent and purposes, are children.


Furthermore, he believes that the fact that these girls may be going through puberty does not entitle anyone to consider them fully-grown and mature adults.


Besides the psychological consequences of early marriage, the girls are also exposed to early pregnancy, which can be particularly dangerous for their health and may result in osteoporosis, anemia, preterm births, hypertension and an increased risk of abortion as well as of maternal mortality.


Romli's artwork comes off as a powerful critique of the rules embedded in Moroccan society, in its families and enshrined in the law. His pieces provide a voice to thousands of girls whose thoughts and feelings have somehow been silenced by the system, its rules and its players. But the paintings, prints and drawings manage to break through the system and provide a window for the girls to experience their much-desired freedom.


According to the book by multiple scholars entitled "A New Paradigm: A Perspective on the Changing Mediterranean," child marriages were common throughout history for multiple factors, including poverty, insecurity, financial and political reasons, especially in rural areas.


Although the incidence of child marriages has decreased in many regions of the world, it continues to be widespread in developing countries in Africa, South and East Asia and Oceania. Bangladesh, Niger, Guinea, Mali and the Central African Republic have the highest observed rates of child marriages below the age of 18, experts and researchers say.


In an effort to fight discrimination and to protect children's and social rights, Moroccan authorities have signed and seconded international conventions, which are aimed at enforcing the Family Code and the Penal Code. But contradictions and loopholes in the legislation, particularly in Articles 19, 20 and 21 of the moudawana, allow women to be discriminated against. 


Scholars claim that Articles 20 and 21 give family judges the power to allow marriages before the legal age as an "exception." But this exception has become the norm despite the many concerns raised by feminist associations. 


The results are palpable: in 2009, the number of early marriages exceeded 47,000. In 2011, early marriages made up 12 % of all marriages. And the numbers continue to rise every year.

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