In the souks of Fez and Marrakesh you are rarely alone. Shopkeepers will become your companion guides, trying to build a relationship with their prospective customer so that they can sell something. None more so than the Moroccan Rug merchants. If you lose one, you’ll gain another. Shake one off, and you attract another. Leave that one behind and the first one awaits you around the next corner. And so it goes – Come, sit, have some mint tea. Look at this, and this. Carpets are unfurled, flung out in front of you, one after another, on top of each other. And some, if you can relax, are real beauties.
Morocco is well known for the woollen Moroccan Rugs made by the semi-nomadic Berber tribes. Herders and farmers, these tribal people are rural at heart and their weaving reflects their independence. These rugs are devoid of the classical symmetries from Middle Eastern art, and instead they are freehand expressions of identity, desires and personality. None more so than the Boucherouite (pronounced boo-shay-REET), a word that itself is derived from a Moroccan-Arabic phrase for torn and recycled clothing. The carpets it describes, made by women for domestic use, are a variation of the humble rag rug, without the humility. With their zany patterns and jolting colours, these rugs are made up and ready to party!
The Boucherouite style is a fairly recent evolution, resulting from socio-economic changes. Since the mid-20th century, demand for Berber wool has outstripped supply, and faced with the scarcity of wool, Berber weavers have had to adapt to new circumstances. This has meant, amongst others, substituting wool for other materials, of which the most common are colourful synthetic fibres. Whereas the old fashioned vegetable dyes used with wool tend to look savoury and subtle, the machine dyes used in the synthetic materials are emphatic and bright. They are assertive with Day-Glo oranges, fire engine reds and Post-Punk pinks. Surfaces fill up with traditional fat lozenges and chevron shapes that melt and oozes and zigzag bars form gawky chorus lines. It looks fun!
The feel seems to be “just do it!” The only logic is the jazz logic, directly by chance, exploding convention. Colours and shapes come together because, well, just because it does. It’s as if two different weavers of different minds had been working on opposite ends of the same piece.
More variation is seen in the textures of the carpet. Some have moderate pile with tightly knotted and matte. I’ve even seen some that are not woven at all – essentially embroided into grain bags. There is little uniformity in the patterns or even the yarn or ribbon like fibres used, making a shaggy rug that resembles a plot of untrimmed grass, with each fibre of a different length and growing, spreading and changing shape.
It’s hard to find a word to truly describe these rugs. Some are beautiful – other are garish and weird though their exuberance is catching. The colours and creative opportunities the Boucherouite materials offer gives a certain sense of liberation to the creative applications of Berber hands. Berber tribespeople have to be resourceful and creative with limited materials as a way of life, so when presented with bountiful colours of the rag tips, they can create beautiful artworks that were not possible before.
Boucherouite rugs have featured in exhibitions and art shows around the world, projecting traditional tribal artwork with an updated and expanded colour palate. There is a certain irony with these rugs – they are made from the unwanted fabrics from Western Countries, sent to the poorer parts of the world so they may be reused, where creative Berber artisans have cut them up and woven them together into a rug to be bought back to Western world as a wonderful example of re-purposing unwanted fabrics into a fashionable and warm rug.
While there is always a charm of shopping for Boucherouite rugs in the Souks of Fez and Marrakesh, there are also reputable online dealers who offer a simple, unobtrusive store where you browse, uninterrupted at your leisure. Benisouk is a particular favourite, whose Berber owners are well established with the Berber communities they source their rugs from. They connections with the Weaving tribes of the Moroccan Atlas allows them to have a wide range of authentic Moroccan Rugs, of various styles and types. Go on – have a look!