Gunpowder Girls Exhibit Online!


Artist’s Statement:

If you can feel the sun, smell the gunpowder, and feel the rush of the horses’ charge, I have done my job as a photographer. My mission with “Gunpowder Girls” was to capture the effort and time that the women put into participating in the gunpowder games (also known as the tbourida or the fantasia). I wanted to capture them through candid moments with little or no posing in the hopes that the viewer feels like they were in the middle of the moments.

The Gunpowder Games or also known as “tbourida” or “fantasia” is a performance and competition with roots deep in a centuries-old traditional cavalry maneuver historically unique to the Maghreb. The games consist of multiple groups of six or more horse riders, in traditional loose white pants, white shirts, and capes, armed with gunpowder rifles, standing in their stirrups and charging their horses across a field before firing their rifles in the air. The beauty and difficulty of the games is the synchronization­­–the charge of all the horses together and the simultaneous firing of the rifles. After the discharge of the gunpowder, the riders rein in their horses together, and dramatically stop at the finish line- inches away from the spectators in front of them.

For my debut exhibition, presenting my photos with people I care about and respect makes this experience all the more fulfilling. Each photograph was selected for the purpose of focusing on one aspect of the games in each shot; the sun, the flare of the gunpowder, or the horse.

All the photos in this collection are influenced and inspired by research for my PhD in anthropology and my time in Morocco as a U.S. Fulbright Student Researcher.


Announcing: “Gunpowder Girls” exhibit in Fes!

On May 6, 2016 at 6pm at the ALIF riad, I’m proud to announce that my first solo photography exhibition will be held in Fes, Morocco. Such a big thanks is due to the American Language Center in Fes, Omar Chennafi, all the strong girls who ride, and Fulbright  for making this happen. The exhibit will run for two weeks at the ALIF riad from 4-6pm during the weekdays to coincide with the World Sacred Music Festival in Fes. More information about the exhibit to come soon!A2charge

Jesus and Muhammad Share a Birthday for First Time in 457 Years

(Photo by Mariem Naciri)
In Rabat-Salé, Morocco, Muslims celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad with a street procession known as the Lantern Festival, featuring geometric wax designs on metal stands carried on the backs of believers. (Photo by Mariem Naciri)

This post was first published on the National Geographic Voices Blog December 30, 2015.

By Gwyneth Talley, Young Explorers Grantee

Last week, for the first time in 457 years, the same day saw both Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 and Muslims celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad on the 12th day of Rabi’ al-awwal (though there are large populations of both religions that recognize different dates).

The Calendars

Because the Christian calendar is based on an adjusted solar year and the Islamic calendar on the roughly 11-day shorter lunar year, the two holidays, while fixed in their own calendars, move relative to each other each year.

Wishing “peace and goodwill” as well as “happy holidays” are common during northern hemisphere winter every year to encompass the many celebrations in different faiths. This year (and last, and next, as Mawlid falls in January and December) Muslims have a holiday to be included in that number as well.

The Celebrations

There are so many traditions associated with Christmas that it can be overwhelming: a massive amount of gifts, food, and candy; a jolly man that comes down the chimney without being suspected of burglary; children trying to appease said jolly man; the Peter, Paul and Mary Christmas Celebration; and songs, sculptures, paintings, and church services honoring theVirgin Mary giving birth to Jesus in a stable and placing him in a manger.

(Photo by Mariem Naciri)
Music and dancing are about as universal as human traditions get. (Photo by Mariem Naciri)

Due to Islamic practices, there are no depictions of Muhammad as a child (or any older) so there are no nativity scenes. Muslims who celebrate Mawlid gather with their families, pass out sweets, and read stories about the Prophet. Food and charity are distributed to the poor and people gather at the mosque to pray and listen to poetry and songs praising Muhammad. Many Muslims might fast throughout the day and then feast on traditional fare in the evening.

As with many Christmas processions in Europe, during Mawlid Muslims will carry banners or enjoy street carnivals. In Rabat-Salé, Morocco, their street procession, known as the Lantern Festival, features geometric wax designs on metal stands carried on the backs of believers. In Qayrawan, Tunisia, believers sing hymns welcoming Muhammad. Pakistanis celebrate Mawlid with a 31-gun salute in Karachi and people gather in Lahore for the International Mawlid Conference. In Indonesia, Muslims celebrate with a festival of bright, colorful masks. Just as Puritans once outlawed Christmas festivities in England, strict Islamic sects disapprove of the celebration of Mawlid.

(Photo by Mariem Naciri)
The traditions may date back centuries, but the expression of those traditions always has a bit of newness every year. (Photo by Mariem Naciri)

So whichever religion you follow, whether you have a Charlie Brown Christmas tree or a Festivus pole, a Mawlid procession or just a few quiet or rowdy evenings with your family, be sure to celebrate the universality of celebration itself, and take some time to learn more about some of the many other traditions and cultures around the world.

A Palace Fit for a Fulbrighter

Every morning the coo and flutter of pigeon wings stir me, I pull back the red velvet curtains that separate my suite from the grand and airy salon in an apartment of the Palace El Mokri in the Ziat neighborhood of the old city of Fes in Morocco. My friends back home believe I am finally living out my Disney princess fantasy. Add a Tiger named Raja, call me Jasmine, and it is a whole new world; I am living in a palace that housed the Grand Vizier of Morocco Mohammed El Mokri and his extended family. I just stumbled into living in the jaw-dropping Fesi fantasy.


The courtyard fountains and the outside view of the apartment in Palace El Mokri built in 1906.

Looking for housing in Fes is typically AirB&B or by word of mouth. A fellow Fulbrighter and I had looked at seven different houses and apartments but nothing quite struck our fancy or our budget. Eventually we triedAvito, the Moroccan Craigslist. After finding a nice looking apartment that seemed to have potential, we agreed to meet the landlord. On first meeting, this young landlord named Youssef, said the apartment posted online was not available, but he had something else to show us that was available.
My first impressions while walking through the long hall covered in mosaics was “oh no, not another dilapidated house.” Moroccan architecture is notorious for being sneaky and not revealing its secrets until you enter the house. Upon walking into the courtyard that holds three fountains and two slender pools, my doubt about the house turned into doubt about being able to afford the place.
One of the empty halls that is rented out for weddings. All the mosaics are handcrafted and made in Fes.

One of the empty halls that is rented out for weddings. All the mosaics are handcrafted and made in Fes.

Ever single piece of this is individually constructed.

Ever single piece of this is individually constructed.

We climbed the stairs into the far apartment and were welcomed into the living quarters in which my first apartment in Los Angeles could fit into without the kitchen and the bathroom. The long windows decorated with red stained glass reach over 20 feet high complemented with arches with floral plaster framing them until the carved wall touches the hand painted ceiling. Some might consider the mosaics a bit loud for their taste, but it compliments the entire room with the spectrum of colors.
The grand salon and bedroom.

The grand salon and bedroom.

Sunlight on the stained glass in the mornings

Sunlight on the stained glass in the mornings

The view from the balcony.

The view from the balcony.

I quickly said “I’ll take it!” And moved in with great vigor. I agreed to lease the apartment in the palace until the end of January. Now after living here for a little over a month, the palace’s history and famous residents are revealing themselves:
  • Grand Vizier El Mokri lived in this palace with his four wives and four concubines.
  • El Mokri is in the Guinness Book of World Records for one of the longest living men that held a government office.
  • The musicians Sting and Bob Seger are rumored to have stayed in the apartment that I’m renting.
  • There is a bullet hole in a panel of one of the windows when the brother of King Hassan II was attempting to shoot pigeons and he did not realize the windows were shut.
El Mokri was heavily involved in the Moroccan government under French colonialism. After Morocco gained its Independence, the family was shut out from government life. Their Camelot fell into a state of majestic decline. Here and there you see some hasty repairs to the mosaics, or cementing over the wholes in the marble floors. If it wasn’t on the market for $14 million, I would give up my PhD ambitions and spent the rest of my 20s restoring this place a la Under the Tuscan Sun. Even the old chandelier that fluctuates with power at night even makes me feel like Lady Mary in Downton Abbey ready to devote my life to the upkeep of this relic.
A tourist admires the view

A tourist admires the view

In the meantime, I’m teaching the pigeons to sing to me and dress me in the morning instead of coo me awake with their quarrels and flapping of their wings. Maybe I’ll extend my stay in Fes a bit longer…

Eid al-Adha: A Joyful Holiday for Everyone But the Sheep

Featured on NatGeo’s Food blog, The Plate.

This week, Muslims everywhere celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s mercy in allowing him to substitute a ram.

In Morocco, that means thousands of sheep are bought and sold to celebrate one of the biggest and happiest holidays of the Muslim calendar. Think American Thanksgiving plus the spirit of Christmas, and you have the Moroccan Eid al-Adha. Except American Thanksgiving is like a 300-meter dash compared to this marathon feast. I am spending my first Eid al-Adha as an “adopted middle child” with my Moroccan host family, and so far, I’ve been advised to pace myself.

While the Eid is usually one day, families stretch the holiday out for three to five days, preparing and eating various parts of the sheep and washing it down with the hot and sweet Moroccan mint tea. Fireworks, shopping for the perfect sheep, purchasing new clothes for children, and some days of fasting lead up to the ultimate mutton-eating contest.

In the old city, families transport their sheep via motorcycle, in rickshaws, or in the trunk of the car. They keep their live sheep on the terraces and rooftops, feeding and watering them and hearing their bleats daily as the countdown begins. When Thursday comes, it will be silence of the lambs.

Eid al-Adha morning starts with a prayer and a small sermon about the religious meaning of the celebration, much like a Christmas Eve service. Part of the celebration of the eid is charity: the meat is divided into thirds, a third for the family, a third for friends and relatives, and a third to those in need or unable to afford meat.

Moroccan breakfast

After the prayer and breakfast, the family gathers for the commemorative sacrifice of the sheep. Usually the oldest man in the family along with the help of a local butcher, slaughters the sheep halal style, as family and children look on with anticipation. Within 20 minutes, the butcher guts, divides, and organizes the meat into its respective cuts, and goes on his way to the next household.

Moroccans traditionally eat many parts of the sheep, creating special dishes for this occasion. The first meal is typically boulfaf. It is the major organs, namely the liver, lungs, heart, and kidneys, marinated in paprika, cumin, garlic, and parsley, and then, skewered and barbecued over a charcoal fire. The fat adds some crispy texture and flavor to the iron rich dish, which can be eaten on its own with a salad or thrown into a sandwich with onions, olives, and tomatoes. And this is just lunch.

Take a quick nap and prepping the stomach for dinner is the next task. Douara is a savory, stew-like dish made of the stomach and intestines. Because cleaning the stomach and intestines is time-consuming, this dish is losing its popularity, but is a staple of eid nonetheless. The afternoon is also filled with family and friends, knocking on doors, wishing people a happy eid. Guests are served Moroccan pastries made with almonds and peanuts and piping-hot sweet mint tea.

man collects sheepskins

The next morning is spent boiling the head of the sheep for the delicate and tastiest meat. Many people take out the brain, boil it separately, and serve it with a tomato sauce, a mixture of spices, and eggs. The rest of the head is cooked and served with vegetables in a sauce. Some of the older generation considers the eyes and the tongue delicacies. There are even traditional dishes for the feet, shoulders, and testicles—RockyAtlas Mountain Oysters anyone?

But enough about the offal. Thekebab (thick cuts of fillet), the kefta (minced meat with spices), and themechoui (the pièce de résistance—slow roasted leg or shoulder) are the coveted cuts of meat. My host brother, Marouane, licks his lips in anticipation while my mouth waters at the smell of the meat grilling over the charcoal flames. Even after a day and a half of eating, I can still find room for another mouthful as my host mother orders me to “Kuli, kuli!” or “Eat, eat!” I know I will only want a piece of lettuce for the rest of the week, but I cannot resist.

At the end, roll me out the door like the blueberry girl in Willy Wonka’s candy factory.

About Me


My name is Gwyneth Talley and I am a National Geographic Young Explorer and currently a U.S. Fulbright Student Researcher in Morocco. As a native Nebraskan, I grew up riding horses from a very young age, trail riding and camping in the Black Hills and participating in the National Pony Express Re-ride.  As a undergraduate a rode with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Western equestrian team and I started to re-realize my horsey obsession. As a graduate student my focus is on equestrian cultures, especially the Moroccan tradition of fantasia. While girls and horses are quite a common phenomenon in the United States, women and horses in Morocco are more rare, so I focus on the women participating in this predominately male sport. For more information about women participating check out my Gunpowder Girls page.

To contact me about my work please feel free to fill out my Contact Form:

Finding the female fantasia

Moroccan photographer Zara Samiry celebrates the women who participate in the traditional horseback riding in Morocco. James Estrin of the New York Times wrote an article this past May about Samiry and her photo-project focusing on the same troupes of women that I plan on doing my research with. Check out the article at:

While the women riders get attention from the media, actually finding them in real time is a bit of a challenge. There are not many groups around Fez, so I find myself cold-calling or cold-emailing some of these ladies so I can meet up with them later in the year.

This past week was furititous because I connected with one of the regional presidents of the male fantasia troupes. In Morocco, the way you get around is by not what you know, but who you know and who they know and so on. While sometimes this can be a bit time consuming, it is fun whenever you meet a person who participates in the fantasia because they are so enthusiastic and want to talk for hours and show you pictures and the latest videos of the fantasia groups. It’s like whenever you run into a fellow-horse person, their passion shines through. Hopefully more to come in the following weeks!