The impulse in Berber rug-making to both interrupt and also loosely maintain a pattern seems unique in traditional textiles. If not unique, then it’s hard to name a tradition that equals Berber mastery of this particular tension. In Berber carpets, especially those produced in the Beni Ouarain region, this semi-controlled disorder is said to function as a talisman against evil and as a promoter of fertility. But it also seems to emanate from the nomadic culture’s more general tolerance of uncertainty, nothingness and change. For example, as mentioned in a previous post, the name of one Berber tribe translates roughly as “a people between somewhere and nowhere.”
As far as the rugs’ characteristic broken line goes, it’s interesting to imagine a force of evil thwarted by this disordered pattern or unruly line and then just wandering off elsewhere. Makes sense, if you think of trying to navigate rural Wales, say, where no signage makes sense. But this is a gross simplification of a sophisticated philosophy. As Paul Valery said “Two dangers constantly threaten the world: order and disorder” and perhaps setting those forces against each other in our objects is a daily philosophical exercise in avoiding either. The aesthetic restraint of these textiles is strikingly different from the tightness and horor vacui of many traditional textile designs, not to mention the off-putting tendency of modern hand craft or commercial carpet design toward the overdecorated, the overly tight or the meaninglessly ‘expressive.’
I think what you can feel in these carpets is a a design rationale containing philosophical and cultural depths we just don’t expect of commercial textiles.
These images are a small collection of photos from the excellent Berber Arts site. Directly below, a Berber house in a more permanent settlement.