THE ALLURE OF AMAZIGH/BERBER RUGS.

By Damali and Nii B. Andrews.

For us at ARTcapital Ghana, the Sahara has never been a boundary.

We are fully committed to the perspective that the people of North Africa and West Africa have always communed with each other in a mutually beneficial relationship that goes back at least thousands of years.

That is why our atelier always stocks a high end range of Amazigh/Berber rugs often of breath taking aesthetic beauty. 

Early 20th century photo of Amazigh women using a Beni-Ouarain rug.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, aka, Le Corbusier said that he felt Amazigh/Berber rugs ‘flicker on the floor’ and should therefore create a sense of comfort similar to that of sitting round a campfire.  

Berber carpets featured in both his Maison La Roche-Jeanneret and the rooms of the Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau (1925). 

Le Corbu exhorted, ‘Do as the Berber do: marry imagination to the most recognisable geometry, but define the imagination’. Thus, he included these rugs in the handful of powerful decorations he used in his rooms.

The rugs are often loaded with Berber symbols. If you are able to decipher them and add a little bit of imagination, you may have access to the weaver’s story hidden in each weave and weft.

For the weavers – most probably women in a self-sufficient traditional culture, their accounts of life’s ups and downs may be subtly recorded or encoded in the weave.

Boucherouite Rug; a burst of color and rhythm – ?jazz. Ready for an eclectic interior, either on the floor or as a wall hanging.

But alas, some of the symbols have long lost their meaning for both weavers and viewers. 

Furthermore, the repertoire of images may vary between regions, communities and across time; some may even have a deeply personal meaning.

The symbols must therefore always be interpreted with caution since the same symbols have been found in other continents on artifacts that are 10 000 to 30 000 years old.

The rugs often have two sides, but, “you only pay for the front, the back is free”. Why? 

This is because with the looser pile rugs, the shaggy side is for winter warmth and the smoother reverse side is for summer. 

Such is the situation in the High Atlas Mountains where rugs are sometimes actually used as winter wrap or bed covers.

So what then are the available styles? 

Here are a few and by no means an encyclopedic survey.

Beni Ouarain rug in a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home, Falling Water.

Let us start with the “Zees”: Zeemour and Zaiane; oftentimes reddish in color.

When placed next to each other,  the difference is obvious as the latter has extensive and distinct lozenges.

Intricate embroidery in a Zemmour rug often marks it out as relatively modern.

Next and most popular by far in Europe is the cream/beige/ivory shaggy pile 100% wool Beni Ouarain.

Genuine Beni Ouarain carpets are much sought after and the demand for them has fuelled synthetic imitations by the usual suspects…..ehrm, you know who; ssh! 

A much loved vintage Glaoui rug. Private collection.

Beni Ouarains often provide an excellent counterpoint to mid-century and early 20th century modern design. 

Amazigh/Berber weavers have been recycling materials long before it became popular in the West; supplementing wool with recycled fabrics and cheap synthetic fibers like nylon and incorporating them in their rug weaving.  

The result is a bright emphatic and visually assertive rug type called the Boucherouite, (pronounced boo-shay-REET), a word meaning in Arabic ‘a piece torn from used clothing’,

It is a “rug of rags”, “a rug to make you smile”.

New and vintage Zemmour rugs in a modern living room, Gueliz.

Here, a modernist elan comes to the fore: zigzag bars form gawky,  chorus lines, dense passages of pointillism and chevrons; all told perhaps, the logic of jazz and exploded convention.

Since Boucherouite rugs have a practical everyday use, such as protecting other rugs while eating or are placed over or under a donkey saddle, they are seldom large. 

The home of Charles and Ray Eames.

A Glaoui rug is a stunning example of Amazigh/Berber weaving prowess; it is NBA’s favorite rug type and provides umph as a wall hanging or on the floor.

They are easily recognizable by the combination of three weaving techniques used to make them; flat weaving, knotting, and embroidery, all of which results in the incredible detail and texture they are famous for.

Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto, living room with Beni Ouarain carpets. Photo Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Museum

With these indigenous African rug types, exuding exemplary artistry to choose from, is it really appropriate to have a machine made rug or remnant on your floor anywhere in your home, office or clubhouse?

Besides, these African rugs can hold their value and become heirlooms.

Amazigh/Berber rugs provide an opportunity to create an authentic eclectic and refined style that connects with Africa’s proud history and heritage while charting a solid, progressive and inclusive future. 

Another vintage Glaoui, showing the “Triple Threat”.
Yet another Glaoui in the foreground and an antique Zemmour in the background, Tema.

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