Mernissi Homepage
Fatema Mernissi

Portraits Of Women Weaving Magic Carpets
In Morocco's High Atlas Mountains
Text and photos by Ruth V. Ward, 2005/2006

Tribal rugs, antique and contemporary, with their vibrant colors and bold designs have always fascinated me, just like the art of Matisse and Klee and others under the spell of indigenous art. Many art lovers and collectors all over the world feel passionately attracted to these artistic creations from the most remote desert and mountain areas of North Africa. Numerous books have been published but nobody has focused on the women artists who have been creating these carpet paintings for a very long time.

I have often visited the Berber villages where carpet weaving is still alive, always with Fatema Mernissi, the Moroccan writer and sociologist. The last time, in the summer of 2005. Fatema Mernissi and Najia Elboudali, a geology professor at the university in Casablanca, rented a jeep and driver in search of the women weavers creating the magic carpets full of ancient symbols and so high in demand by collectors all over the world. I was fortunate to be invited to join their adventure with my two digital cameras to record the trip and take the portraits of three generations of some of the women artists behind these compelling carpets.
We spent several days in villages around Taznakht, following desert roads and driving up mountain paths. Some of the weavers were old friends Fatema Mernissi had interviewed and I had photographed more than twenty years ago. The children had grown and a few of the daughters and granddaughters had joined their mothers weaving carpets. The houses were the same, but now they all had satellite dishes and cell phones and could go to a cyber café in the center of Taznakht. They were connected to the world and some of their carpets are on websites international buyers had established.

The rug merchants from Marrakech and other parts of Morocco still come regularly to the weekly souk in Taznakht to buy what the local dealers do not take for their tourist shops. Fatema's and Najia's dream project is to save some of the best and oldest carpets in a series of family museums. There visitors could see wonderful old carpets on the walls and also choose directly from the weavers' family those on sale. Much of the profit would stay in the families. The men would want to stay at home rather than migrating to Europe. It is the latest grassroots project of the "Synergie Civique".
Fatema Mernissi is looking beyond the immediate project of family museums, websites, exhibits abroad and profit for the weavers' families: she is searching for connections and links to the ancient symbols and patterns embedded in the unconscious of the artist weavers and the attraction of their carpets to the sophisticated collectors in the big cities around the globe. For me, Fatema Mernissi's unique interview talents and her rapport with the weavers and their families made the often shy women into true collaborators when proudly posing with their carpets in front of my digital camera.
Text and photo: Ruth V. Ward, 2006