A small group of Moroccan carpets from the Middle Atlas mountains ,and the Plaines surrounding Marrakesh have little in common with either the urban or tribal rugs of Persia, Turkey or Central Asia.
In most, there is little or no sense of geometry or symmetry, both fundamental principles in Islamic design.
In their most basic form these Moroccan tribal rugs consist of two tone , borderless rugs ,where a single coloured undyed wool , decorates an undyed woollen field with a random number of lines, that sometimes cross to make a series of different sized diamonds. These rugs from the Middle Atlas, are woven by the Beni Ouarain. Both the lustrous wool ,and the freedom of design are exquisite. They were woven as bedding rugs to be used pile side down in the winter, pile side up in the summer,and tend to be carpet sized , 6 x 10 ft and larger.
Recently while touring the souks of Essaouira, and Marrakesh, i was struck by the shortage of early 20th century examples available, and for the most part only offered later examples, that were no doubt woven with the western market in mind.
Beni Ouarain carpets from the later part of the 20thC have succumbed to modernism, with harsh black wool replacing the undyed browns of an earlier age .The lustrous off white of the earlier rugs has been replaced with a brighter cleaner white. The result is a modern looking rug, but one that looks rather contrived.
Other rugs in this group of Moroccan rugs come from the Rehamna and Boujad regions, and are both described as coming from the plains of Marrakesh. Rugs from both areas display bright and vibrant colours , blocks of colour and a care free sense of design.
First impressions you could leave you feeling that the weaver was suffering from attention deficit disorder, where one design is started, then stopped. Another started only to be scrapped, when the design is mastered. It would be easy to think that you were looking at the work of beginners, children without supervision, or the work of unsophisticated weavers. However, a casual glance at the other weavings from these groups will quickly dispel the idea that the carpets were the work of beginners. Take a look for example at the women's shawls woven by the Beni Ouarain .Complicated , tight and world class , they remind me of the best supplementary weft faced weavings from the Baluch in both colour and design. And in no way amateurish.
Given that these weaving groups are capable of great technical weaving, we can only suppose that this loose freeform type of piled weaving is just another means of self expression .
Rugs of this type first came to the attention of European artists, in the early 20thC .
Paul Gauguin, an avid rug collector introduced his friend Henri Matisse to rugs and textiles from the Maghrib.
Later in the 20th Century, Corbusier championed Moroccan rugs in his interiors, as did Frank Lloyd Wright in America, using Beni Ouarain carpets in one of his most famous residential projects "Falling water"
During the last few years there has been resurgence in all things Moroccan, the number of Europeans and Americans buying Raids has escalated, and with that that supply of these relatively new carpets has slowed.
For further reading see .
From the far west : Carpets and textiles of morocco. The textile museum .Washington 1980
Moroccan carpets : Hali publications 1994