As part of the British Council Common Thread Residency I spent several weeks living with an artisan weaver Kenza Oulaghda collaborating on new product and learning about the incredible heritage of the Amazigh people.
Kenza described about how secret messages had been sent by weaving the Tamazight language and symbols into rugs .The idea that that patterns and shapes could be arranged to communicate hidden messages and that an everyday object, the rug could carry such stories captured my imagination. The Association of Tithrite is a cooperative of 20 women based in a small mud building close to the mosque in the centre of the village. The weave “shed” has space for 3-4 vertical looms, it is far from spacious, there is no electricity so the weavers work during the day light hours only and return home at midday and times of prayer. Central to the village, the “weave shed” is a place not just for production but somewhere the women of the village come together to chat, laugh, sing and share stories whilst weaving, spinning and setting up looms.
It was in this spirit of cooperation, collaboration and exchange that I became part of, which shaped our work and our conversations around the symbols woven into the brightly colored carpets. I collected stories from each of the women asking them about the motifs that held particular significance to them. Many of the woven symbols are associated with protection from evil spirits and have roots in the nomadic heritage of the Amazigh people. Motifs include triangles, diamonds, zigzags, stylized flies, birds, and the shape of a saw as well as others symbols linked to fertility, and prosperity such as bird tracks or animal claws. This wonderful jumble of shapes and patterns- could also be found on doorways, walls and in the tattoos on the hands and faces of the weavers. Their stories were everywhere I just had to look…
In Amazigh society the weaver, the wool and the loom are all revered. The beliefs and superstitions around the loom allowed me an insight into this magical world. The loom was blessed with songs and prayer before and during weaving, then when the weaving was cut down, the warp threads were splashed with salt and water to keep away bad spirits.