Mehdi Qotbi was born in Rabat in a modest family. The exact date of his birth being uncertain, he was assigned January 1st, 1951 as a birth date by the registry office.

He went to primary school in Lalla Aicha, a school located in a popular district in Rabat. As a sharp young boy, at the age of 12 he dared ask Mahjoubi Aherdan, the Minister of National Defense at that time, to intercede on his behalf so that he could enroll in Kenitra’s military school. Though he stayed only for a short period there, it was then that his destiny took a decisive turn. He discovered he had a vocation for painting and enrolled later at the School of Fine Arts in Rabat, where he devoted two years (1968-1969) to painting. He was 17 years old at that time, and had a feeling that his destiny was bound to artistic creativity. His meeting with the painter Jillali Gharbaoui was a turning point in his career. Moved by the poetic quality of his paintings, Gharbaoui, who was then at the height of his glory, encouraged him to persevere in his poetic quest and helped him sell his first two paintings.

In 1969, Mehdi Qotbi decided to pursue his training in France. He enrolled in Toulouse’s School of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 1972. He then moved to Paris, where he attended classes at the School of Fine Arts while giving courses in drawing and painting. He taught at St Joseph’s high school in Auxerre, and at La Rochefoucault’s high school in Paris. He continued, from then on, to juggle with his job as a teacher and his creative quest. As of 1968, his work began to be distinguished and acknowledged.


The originality of Mehdi Qotbi’s artistic approach lies in the way he establishes a dialogue between writing and painting, which he intertwines intimately and amorously by delving into his Muslim-Arab origins. He reapproriates Arabic calligraphy in order to re-invent it, thus elaborating an imaginary ideography made of delicately embroidered lattice-like scriptural signs, painted with gouache, acrylic or ink. Writing becomes painting and signs become forms. The letter, stripped of all linguistic meaning, turns into a graphic element and a symbol of abstraction and takes on plastic, scriptural, as well as iconic qualities. Mehdi Qotbi offers an ever-shifting artwork which can be neither defined nor assigned to any given genre, and which is at the crossroads of the figurative, symbolic and abstract art. The artist is committed to an act of un-writing, and explains that: “I do not write paintings, I un-write, I fill the vacuum.”

Writing, said George Perec, is about preserving a trace, leaving a furrow or some mark. Mehdi Qotbi’s work is an attempt at reconquering the spaces made fragile by time and oblivion and lies between personal remembrances and collective memory. That is the very essence of his approach. Therefore, it is not a coincidence if his work has been subjected to the test of text. As someone enamored with literature, Mehdi Qotbi set up multiple collaborations with prestigious authors such as Léopold Sédar Senghor, Octavio Paz, or Michel Butor, with whom he established for the first time what he calls “written encounters.” In 1991, Mehdi Qotbi illustrated Aimé Césaire’s work “Ausculter le dédale,” a collection of poems accompanied by etchings, which are exceptional in the career of the poet from Martinique, to whom we owe only one other similar collaboration, conducted with Picasso.


Mehdi Qotbi was awarded several distinctions: He was named Commander of the Legion of Honor., Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, Commander of the National Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, Officer of the Order of the Crown, Officer of the French National Order of Merit, and Knight of the Order of Academic Palms.

As a member of the Advisory Council for Human Rights in his country, where he went back to live in 2006, he has been working relentlessly to foster understanding between the Western world, Morocco, and the Maghreb through the Franco-Moroccan Friendship Circle, of which he is both president and founder, as well as through the association “Trait d’Union Maroc-Europe” or “La Lettre Ensemble”, of which he is both founder and editor.

In 2011, he was appointed as President of the Fondation Nationale des Musées au Maroc. (The Museum Foundation of Morocco)

Mehdi Qotbi pursues his work in parallel with his new duties.


France                          Flaine – Angoulême – Toulouse – Paris – Lyon – Mâcon – Grenoble – Annecy – Tours

Maroc                           Rabat – Casablanca – Marrakech – Tanger

Allemagne                  Cologne – Hambourg – Francfort – Düsseldorf – Wiesbaden

U.S.A.                           New-York – Washington – Boston – Miami

Japon                           Tokyo

Canada                         Ottawa – Toronto

Grande-Bretagne      Londres

Arabie Saoudite        Djedda – Khobar

Jordanie                      Amman

Tunisie                         Tunis – Sidi Boussaïd

Indonésie                    Djakarta

Malaisie                       Kuala Lampur

Pays-Bas                     Amsterdam

Brésil                           Sao Paulo

Colombie                    Bogota

Espagne                      Madrid – Barcelone – Séville – Valence

Emirats Arabes         Dubaï – Abou Dabi