Berber rugs, the art of a “people from between somewhere and nowhere.”

Azila Berber rug 1950

Azila Berber rug, chain pattern

Berber rug, Moroccan Beni Ourain

Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen used these rugs regularly in their interiors, which is not surprising. Their unusual combination of minimalism and handmade detail, restraint and inventiveness works well with modernism’s aesthetics by both echoing the abstract geometry of the architecture and also counterbalancing that austerity with some softness. The Berber people—Berber women, actually—of the Atlas and Rif Mountains in Morocco prooduce these practical and also talismanic carpets. Their graphic patterns play with the relationship between form and nothingness by repeating lines and then unravelling them. This habit is repeated in the culture; the names of dialects, places and tribes in the regions where the rugs are produced also reflect the same shifting interplay of foreground and background—the name of one tribe translates as “people from between somewhere and nowhere.” The willingness to give up a degree of order, both in terms of craft and philosophy, or to defy order while also approaching it, seems rare in traditional craft. This particular group of rugs embodies this phenomenon to a strong degree, but even more regularized carpets deviate from pure order. An Italian dealer posted these photos on his website last year, but sadly it seems the site has been taken down. For excellent info on Berber rugs, see the Berber Arts website as well as the essay below.

Rugs from the Beni Ourain people of the Middle Atlas Mountains and Azila in the Rif Mountains are among the most prized. Corbusier commissioned custom Berber rugs from these regions.

Berber rug, Beni Ourain, 1930

Diamond stump Berber rug

Below, famous Villa Mairea house by Alvar Aalto with Beni Ourain rug:


House by Corbusier, with Berber rug:

Berber rug in house designed and decorated by Corbusier

Below, Berber rug in house by Frank Lloyd Wright:

Berber rug in room by Frank Lloyd Wright

From the Axis Gallery page on their Berber rug exhibition (see their photo collection):

“Berber carpets do not fit the stereotype of African art. Like much African art, however, these rectangular compositions woven by Moroccan women are religious works designed to repel negative spiritual powers. Also, like African sculpture, they influenced such masters of modernism as Matisse and Klee, and played a key role in interiors designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, and Charles and Ray Eames. To Modernism’s pared-down interiors and abstract art, the restrained markings and subtle color shifts on luxurious, deep-pile woolen Berber carpets imparted human warmth and the trace of the human hand.

For their nomadic makers, however, the carpets provided physical and metaphysical protection. Carpets served as blankets, shielding Berber families against the elements, while their talismanic designs deflected evil and promoted fertility. These mystical intentions perhaps explain the surprising asymmetries of Berber designs, as if the lines were themselves nomadic, open to chance meanders and deviations, like the paths and folds of Atlas landscapes. Monochrome carpets, on the other hand, yield the subtle pleasures of a Mark Rothko painting, also meditative and, for many, transcendental. Such freedom of design, far removed from the repetitive patterns of urban carpets, strikes a chord with Berber identity. The tribes of the Middle Atlas speak Tamazight, literally “the language of the free,” and their tribe names can be equally evocative – one translates as “people from between somewhere and nowhere.” Their designs seem to similarly hover between being and dissolving.

… Few museums featuring African art include Berber carpets. A progressive exception is the new musée quai Branly in Paris, whose North African display includes Moroccan carpets collected in the early 1900s.”

Azila Berber rug, with house shapes, 1950

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2 Responses to “Berber rugs, the art of a “people from between somewhere and nowhere.””

  1. antiquarian books Says:

    Great site. Thanks… 🙂

  2. Home decor Says:

    These are so gorgeous! I love the two bottom ones! Fantastic, unlike all the rest you see these days..Great blog btw:).

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