Tribute to Artisans of Morocco
preserving traditions of the country. Morocco is a wildly diverse land, a confluence of cultures, and home to myriad ancient craft traditions still thriving today, endangered though from the massive industrial imitation, or production to say best.
One of my friends in Morocco brought up the subject of the traditions in risk due to the industrial era, with imitations fabricated and this is how he approaches the subject. Abdessalam El Bassami, a rising star journalist, speaking fluently three languages, a novelist and author, helped me a lot with his interview of Ahmed and shaped most of the content you will read.
In the midst of the ancient cities lie the endeavor yet the art of one of the most skilled workers. In every city, there are hundreds of artists carrying out the skill and art they inherited up to ten generations ago. Morocco does have quite a history with the cultural shifts that have happened in its lands, but the true core and essence of their craft have never been modified or removed.
These workers that struggle hard every day to earn a living creating man-made beautifully crafted art barely get any recognition from the larger side of the country.
Morocco is moving forward with the world, but these workers are left behind
The sad reality is the fact that even the utility of these art pieces that have taken weeks to craft and perfect are now replaced with international mass-produced items that follow trends rather than embrace roots, Abdessalam says.
The carpets: In the case of the Moroccan Amazigh heritage, the carpet that the women weave means much more to them than just a piece of fabric in the house, it’s a distinct piece that tells a story.
The woman is an organic constant museum that constantly exhibits art even though Amazigh people’s art in highly underrated in the Moroccan community
This is because the Moroccan community had traditional family roles, so while the men carry out their tasks, the women often spend their time together weaving carpets. Before they knew it, the carpets were even used as messages from a person to another, they were used as an identity shaper because of the land.
Although the art seems to be similar in most cases, it is very different from one community to another as each tribe represents different language, methods, and customs; the woman is the only one that can transmit those boundaries.
The Moroccan Berber tradition is hybrid, which opens the door for different and multiple interpretations in the artistic sense. The art is represented in the weaving as it is an extremely significant superior form of expression. It was first in the high and middle Atlas mountains, but it also moved to the outskirts of major cities such as Fez and Rabat. Nowadays, in Rabat, Fez, Marrakech, and many other cities, almost half of the city is dedicated to the working force of the new generation, but the other half is marginalized and put at bay.
The Arab carpet is also called the royal carpet, it shadows an oriental view that is characterized by symmetry and balance. This carpet is known for its perfection in symmetry, and it has not been altered or modified by any other agents.
The Medina carpet is the Islamic carpet which is also characterized by the aesthetic symmetrical aspect. The other carpets are not based on symmetrical balance and have an abstract sense.
The amazing carpet can signify the free spontaneous imagination which is not primitive art and it is up to the viewer of the art to interpret what the meaning is.
These little symbols are found in the carpets themselves, as the theme of tents, flowers, women, and lion’s claws are very apparent.
The weaving itself can signify many other things such as the repetitiveness of the weaving which can signify the continuation, emphasis and the marker of identity that the woman puts out in her art piece.
The colors, patterns, and textures of the materials used in the carpets can also signify the characteristics of the region as the carpets of the cold high mountains are found to be white dominant which signifies snow and clouds. In other regions, we also find busy colors and rose inking which signifies the fertility of the land: Green means grass and rose means flowers.
The carpets themselves are a signifier for the culture as it inscribed in the folklore and the way people live, it is an important piece in the lives of Amazing people.
The role of the woman, in this case, is very important as the one that carries meaning and culture but it also limits her role in the social domain. The weaving of the carpets itself can hint to the struggle of women or their happiness and it can also show how woman are just as effective as the men are.
The more significant and artistic the piece looks like, the more it is a resistance against the weakness and incapability of the woman stereotype. The woman succeeded to produce something so significant that maybe only the sophisticated can decipher.
The wooden crafts: Luckily in Morocco, one of the most sought after pieces in a house is the bed board stands which are made by hand. These pieces are the foundation where the bed stands on and it has one of the most beautiful artistic features that can combine bones, wood from different oak trees, wet wood with old wood, and various creative ways to make the bed stand look apart from every other competitor.
Since the place to shop for these bed stands in only one street, every neighboring worker is another competition, so every one of the workers has to come up with truly unique and attractive looking woodwork that would make them stand apart.
Ahmad that works from al bazaar in Rabat in the street of “souk sabbat” tells his story of the woodwork that he inherited from his great grandfathers.
“ I have tried to go to school, my mother forced me to go when I was young, but I never liked sitting and watching the professor say things I had no interest in, I would always find myself drilling my name with the pen in the wooden tables we had and I would always draw something like faces in that table.
I love the smell of fresh dust of wood, it makes me really creative
When I was fourteen, my grandfather and uncle have gotten me to work with them in the shop where we would make tables, stands, and even small rings and bracelets from wood, I enjoyed that very much, I love the smell of fresh dust of wood.
It makes me really creative. The money isn’t much but it’s honest work, we get paid enough to make a living and buy equipment and wood to make more crafts, I specialize in the artistic designs and the crafting of tables. My other brothers are in charge of cutting the wood and the symmetry.
One of Ahmed’s creations just breathtaking patterned furniture in artistry
I love what I do but sometimes it feels like the country doesn’t support us. At times, we nearly have no Moroccan visitors for a whole month, but what helps us grow are foreigners, they love the fact that we make this from scratch”.
Ahmed, I wish you well always and hope someday to be able to admire your creations from close.
Pottery and ceramics: South of Morocco, in Tamegroute at Draa village, are situated the major spots for pottery and ceramic lovers, with mass produced plates and ceramic pieces seeing the art and craft of the region which seems like magic. Because of the region’s rich magnesium and copper, it has a distinct green color that stands out from other places.
The job that they carry out is centuries old, young men embark on this job even today because the region is gaining attraction internationally. The businesses that make it in the region are passed from father to son for dozens of generation, each with a new different touch.
The pride of Moroccan craftsmanship does not stop here, the pottery arts often times blend with other artist crafts.
For instance, the cone pendant lantern lamp can be made with the pottery of magnesium and copper to all kinds of shapes. The lantern itself signifies happiness and hospitality in certain events such as the holy day “laylat alkadr” which happens to be in Ramadan. Mosque goes would buy candles and put them in their doors. With the scent of “alouud” which is a special wood scent similar to frankincense.
The slippers: Slippers are actually one of the hottest items in fashion in 2018, many trendy stores have created similar looking slippers to those of the Moroccan slipper “ albalgha”. There is not a single Moroccan that do not have these in their wardrobe.
The most famous place for these is the city of Fez. These places make all kinds of leather products, known as “ souk jeld” and it’s where the workers wash skin, dye, and dry the leather to be made into leather jackets, shoes, belts, and the Moroccan slipper “albalgha”. The workshops in fez have a different nature of working, each master of the leather house making marks their products with a distinct mark, some have a strip in the middle, and some others have tougher leather that needs to be broken in. One of the most known slipper styles is the “bennani” style, it’s known for its tougher leather and the distinct hair on the outside of the slipper.
The art and craftsmanship of Morocco are truly one of the only distinct things about the country, and the current generation is letting go of their cultural roots. The heritage of Morocco needs to be reestablished in the minds and hearts of Moroccans and everyone else. They are a small minority that makes up the distinctive nature
The architecture: Following the way of their fathers and grandfathers, home builders and traditional designers continue to fade away from the population. This is perhaps the most significant hit in the Moroccan craftsmanship world, many traditional home builders have stopped their profession due to low demands of the citizens. However, only true Moroccan families with heritage have a home that is built traditionally with the proper ways of the old Islamic architecture.
What is so sad about the death of traditional Moroccan architecture is the fact that it’s one of the most unique designs in the world.
It blends between true Islamic values and design influence from the Persian side. The home building history goes as far back as the fourteenth century, and it is a truly marvelous design. What is more interesting is that most of the buildings that were built 500 years ago still stand tall today with no problem whatsoever.
The issue that craftsmen faced in the twentieth century is the French occupation and colonialism.
The French have started to establish businesses, small cheap houses that took very little time to make and other easy ways that the people of Morocco have found easier to resort to.
In addition to that, the French army started to attack the outskirts of the cities that were mainly the old cities as we know them today. The occupation has established itself in the center of the cities, spreading out into the old medina instead of starting from the borders which challenged the Moroccan heritage.
After the French occupation and during the time Moroccan regained its independence, the people of Morocco have taken a different turn in terms of where they choose to live and how they want to live.
Though the French army has left Morocco, the French lifestyle has left a deep mark in the mindset of the people. Therefore, most citizens in the 80s and 90s have resorted to living in the city and very few people were left in the Medina.
Moreover, even inside of the old Medina which was known for traditional ways of architecture, people built French style houses
This caused a major issue within the Moroccan craftsmanship community and it led to a serious drop in the old architecture.
The old medina in Rabat, fez, Marrakech, Meknes, and many other cities luckily still has some of the most fundamental values in traditional housing, we still see the mosque as the centre of the area, small roads, small windows and big doors.
This is deeply rooted in the Islamic ways of architecture, it signifies protection from the outside world with strong barriers. But what you would see on the inside is something that would shock people who have never been into traditional houses. The inside is remarkably more colorful, open spaced, green and luxurious.
This can take literally months to make and it needs special hands to craft for every single piece alone. The ‘zelij’ that is used now to mimic those old traditional ways is manufactured and mass produced with cheap material that can break very easily.
It’s remarkable for the Moroccan architecture to have many blue and green colors as it signifies calmness and relaxation, in addition to that, most traditional houses known as ‘riad’ have a small fountain in the middle of the house. This is to make the citizens feel calm and relaxed.
There is something very remarkable about living in a courtyard house that is traditionally made, the houses are always cold in summer, but can be very warm in the winter. Though it may look like this was just an architectural design that was made in the medieval era and developed to this age, the ideology behind the buildings is very revealing in the personality and spirit of Moroccans.
It shows the pride of Moroccans and their protection for their personal life, the houses on the outside look dull, yet strong. But what remains on the inside is truly aesthetic and of value.
Women Artisans: This is another chapter to extend in a new blog. I’ve had this book “Women Artisans of Morocco“, which tells the stories of twenty-five women who practice these textile traditions with an inspiring pride and fortitude.
In rural Berber villages, in bustling cities, and in a remarkable desert oasis, you will meet extraordinary women who honor their cultural traditions as well as those who carve new roads in the social landscape through political office and entrepreneurship. Each is guided by her fierce determination and hope for economic stability.
Women spin wool and weave rugs, they hand-knot silk buttons, embroider intricate designs passed down through generations, and sew stunning native costumes
Joe Coca’s photography brings the women, their work, and the colorful richness of Morocco to life and all is well written in this beautiful book ‘Women Artisans of Morocco: Their Stories, Their Lives’ issued by Thrums Books, written by Susan Schaefer Davis, who had been captivated by Morocco since she was the Peace Corps Volunteer there in the 60s.
Her work and research with traditional women led her to a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan and post-doctoral work at Harvard. Susan has taught or held research positions at Haverford College, Rutgers University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Al Akhawayn University, Morocco. In addition to consulting with NGOs regarding gender roles in Morocco, she leads to cultural and textile tours.
In a time when women’s voices across the world are louder and clearer, Women Artisans of Morocco: Their Stories, Their Lives is an important volume for anyone interested in textile traditions and in the lives of Muslim women. Buy and read from https://thrumsbooks.com
Support for the world’s most untapped start-up community http://www.artisanalliance.org/
Artisans of Morocco contribute to reshape Morocco’s artisan economy so that it works for them rather than against them. By purchasing direct from artisans you are supporting both an artisan’s livelihood and their ability to shape the future of craft in Morocco
Co-Author: Abdessalam Elbassami, journalist, speaking fluently three languages, a novelist and author, Moroccan freelance writer that has gotten his masters in Morocco & a great Fitness Coach and Ambassador of healthy lifestyle.
Abdessalam has always been interested in old traditional crafts that have been preserved and seeks to reestablish the beauty of Moroccan craftsmanship. Interviewing Ahmed, and helping with information shared.
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