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Kantara Blog

Kantara Project in Oberlin HS


Fadma and Majda, Photo by Anna Beeke


by Rachel Mentzer, Oberlin High School

As part of the Kantara Project, several Oberlin high school classes have taken on curriculum that relates to Morocco and the Untangling Threads show. This Advanced Art High School class led by Danielle Camino has produced beautiful pieces of mixed media artwork that is a response to Anna Beeke’s photography of Moroccan artisans that are part of weaving cooperatives in the Middle Atlas mountains that Kantara works with.

Wool to Yarn



The sheeps wool shuffle : from raw wool to spun yarn

Sneak peek of a video installation for our next exhibit of Untangling Threads: Women Artisans in Morocco’s Rug Weaving Industry

Breaking Bread with Moroccan Artisans



All of the weavers from this cooperative in the Middle Atlas of Morocco gather in the home of an artisan who has just given birth to a healthy baby boy. The mother and her newborn rest in the next room while the rest of the women share an afternoon snack of Moroccan mint tea, recently-pressed olive oil and freshly baked bread.

This photograph by Anna Beeke is part of Untangling Threads: Women Artisans in Morocco’s Rug Weaving Industry, a traveling exhibit that displays the documentary photographs of the life and lifestyle of women artisans beside handwoven Moroccan rugs woven by the same women. This exhibit has been shown in a wide variety of places, from New York galleries, college libraries, high schools, and street fairs and offers the viewer a glimpse into rural Moroccan life as it documents the life, culture, and craft of female weavers, while specifically focusing on artisans from rural weaving communities in the Middle and High Atlas mountains.

Moroccan Family Portrait



A glance into rural Moroccan family life.

This photograph by Anna Beeke is part of Untangling Threads: Women Artisans in Morocco’s Rug Weaving Industry, a traveling exhibit that displays the documentary photographs of the life and lifestyle of women artisans beside handwoven Moroccan rugs woven by the same women. This exhibit has been shown in a wide variety of places, from New York galleries, college libraries, high schools, and street fairs and offers the viewer a glimpse into rural Moroccan life as it documents the life, culture, and craft of female weavers, while specifically focusing on artisans from rural weaving communities in the Middle and High Atlas mountains.

Family Life in Morocco



Jamila and her son Adam pose inside their Taznakht home, which is also the headquarters of a weaving cooperative. Jamila spends most of her day in this room, or in the workshop around the corner.

This photograph, by Anna Beekeis part of the traveling art exhibit, Untangling Threads: Women Artisans in Morocco’s Rug Weaving Industry. This exhibit displays documentary photographs of the life and lifestyle of women artisans beside their very own handwoven, Moroccan rugs. This exhibit has been shown in a wide variety of places, from New York galleries, college libraries, high schools, and street fairs and offers the viewer a glimpse into rural Moroccan life as it documents the life, culture, and craft of female weavers, while specifically focusing on artisans from rural weaving communities in the Middle and High Atlas mountains. 

Presentation - High Atlas Foundation

At yesterday's presentation for the High Atlas Foundation, I spoke about how the variety of languages and alphabets in Morocco may play a role in the low literacy rates in rural areas. Overall, in Morocco 65.7% of men and 39.6% are literate, defined as those who are older than 15 that know how to read and write. While these figures are not high to begin with, they are considerably lower in rural areas.

Given the multitude of languages in Morocco, it is no wonder that literacy has been momentarily kept at bay. These low literacy rates in rural areas fly in the face of all the recent efforts that have been put forth by non-formal education and literacy projects aimed mostly at rural women.

Off the loom

One last excerpt from Tracy Chevalier's The Lady and the Unicorn, recounting the moment when the weavers cut the finished product off of the loom.

As Georges, the lissier, or master weaver recounts:

The cutting-off is a good day for a weaver, when a piece you have worked on for so long-- this time eight months on the one tapestry-- is ready to be taken off the loom. Since we are always working on just a strip of tapestry the size of a hand's length, which is then rolled inside itself onto a wooden beam, we never see the tapestry whole until it is done. We also work on it from the back and don't see the finished side unless we slide a mirror underneath to check our work. Only when we cut the tapestry off the loom and lay it face up on the floor do we get to see the whole work. Then we stand silent and look at what we have made.

He concludes by saying, "That moment is like eating fresh spring radishes after months of old turnips." This picture below is of Hashmiya right after she cut off her piece that is now in Kantara's' inventory.

Dressing the loom

"We went back to the warping, with us pulling, Georges cranking, Aliénor testing. It was not so much fun now. My arms ached too, though I would never have admitted it... Madeleine huffed and sighed and sulked next to me and Nicolas began rolling his eyes in boredom. "What do you do after you finish this tedious task?" he asked.

We thread the heddles, to make the shed," I said.

Nicolas looked blank. "Heddles are strings that pull every other thread apart so that you can run the weft through them," I explained. "You push a pedal and the warp separates into two. The space between those sets of threads is the shed."

"Where do you put the tapestry as you're weaving it?"

"It gets wound onto this beam here in front of us."

Nicolas thought for a moment. "But then you don't see it."

"No. Only the strip you're working on, then it gets wound on. You don't see the whole tapestry at once until you've finished."

"But that's impossible!--"

The Lady and the Unicorn
 

Nicolas' confusion and surprise mirrors my own. How do the artisans know what to weave next? Unlike the Brussels' tapestries in Tracy Chevalier's, The Lady and the Unicorn, Moroccan rugs do not have convenient paint-by-number cartoons behind them indicating the next design. In fact, oftentimes several women weave on the same rug in silence, all instinctively knowing what comes next.