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Kilims from the Ourika Vally
The Ourika Valley in the High Atlas region of southern Morocco , a place of idyllic beauty, has been a popular tourist destination since the period of the French protectorate. So it was surprising to discover that a previously unrecorded group of highly graphic Berber kilims, which had first appeared on the market as late as 2000, were made there. In 2004 the author travelled to the Ourika Valley with fellow Moroccan textile connoisseurs Wilfried Stanzer and Mustapha Hansali to learn more about this group of horizontally banded kilims, which are entirely woven from natural light and dark coloured wool and are further defined by the use of characteristic lensshaped motifs.
On the northern slopes of the High Atlas, west of the Tizi N'Tichka Pass, the Ourika Valley opens out towards Marrakesh in the north. The largely sedentary inhabitants of this region live in long-established villages and traditional houses at a height of about 1,000-2,000 metres above sea level, where they farm irrigated terraces and keep livestock.
In the general area around Jebel Siroua there is an old tradition of weaving kilims decorated with alternating stripes of undyed white and black-brown wool. Such Berber tribal flatweaves all share the same basic aesthetic concept of alternating stripes, but each specific local provenance has its own particular tradition of embellishing and enhancing the designs with tapestry or other more complex weaves.
In the Jebel Siroua and adjoining regions to the south and southwest, a weft-twining technique called 'shadoui' is widely used to decorate flatwoven material. Certain Ait Ouaouzguite confederation groups were extremely skilled in this technique, which was also used by the Sektana, Zenaga and Feiija Berber tribes , albeit not in such a flamboyant manner as in older Ait Ouaouzguite textiles. Exceptionally old and rare Ait Ouaouzguite weavings include multi-coloured 'shadoui' stripes, but most often these supplementary weft designs were woven with undyed dark and light coloured wool (see Kurt Rainer, Morocco mon Amour , Graz 2005, p.81 ).
Plainwoven fabrics with additional tapestry-weave designs are known in the region inhabited by the Ait Ouaouzguite, Zenaga and Sektana tribes. Among the central groups of the Ait Ouaouzguite this technique, expressed through its subtle polychrome palette, developed into a craft that clearly demonstrated the weavers' skill (see Rainer 2005, pp.82-83).
The use of knotted pile design elements was also common among these groups and, in a modified form, among the Zenaga tribes (see Kurt Rainer, Tasnacht , Graz 1999, p.150). The well-known ‘Glaoua' textiles from the Ait Ouaouzguite region are renowned, especially in rare old examples, for the quite magnificent combination of all the above-mentioned decorative techniques (see Kurt Rainer, Tasnacht , Graz 1999, p.155).
The horizontally banded kilims woven in the Ourika Valley typically have a palette of light and dark earth tones, similar to those from the Jebel Siroua region and the pre-Sahara. However the way in which Ourika weavers use decorative tapestry-weave differs fundamentally from that seen in the textiles of the neighbouring southern groups. The characteristic design of these textiles is a lenticular motif woven using the eccentric weft technique, where the wefts do not lie at right angles to the warps. These ‘lens' motifs measure between about 8-20cm (3-8") in length and 2-4cm (3/4-11/2") in height. The exclusive use of undyed light and dark wool emphasises the design principle of contrasting light with dark: light motifs are always placed on a dark background and dark ones always on a light ground. In addition designs are created through the use of alternating weft colours to produce light and dark vertical lines. Some simple geometric shapes are made the result of weft wrapping.
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