Dahia by
Émile Vernet Lecomte

The history of Amazigh Arts is diverse and complex. After of a millennia of the North African Amazigh peoples being invaded by the Romans, Jews, Portuguese, Arabs, French and Spanish… it is hard to tease out what is purely Amazigh. Based on the invasions and mixing of the diverse cultures certaily the mix has created wonderful works to study and admire.

…………………………..TYPES OF ART

The Amazigh are known for jewelry, weaving, pottery, and leatherwork, all largely created by women, though men also produce decorative and functional objects. A great deal of

Amazigh art incorporates geometric shapes (triangles, lozenges, diamonds) and abstracted eye and hand motifs that protect against the evil eye. Despite common motifs and color schemes, there is artistic variance in Amazigh culture and stylistic characteristics differ depending on sub-regions (e.g. Ait Khabbash in southern Morocco), villages (e.g. Taghzuth in Morocco), and other smaller subsets of Amazigh people (e.g. Tuareg). Noted collections of Amazigh art are featured in the Bardo National Museum and Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, both in Algiers; Musée National Bardo in Tunis; Musée Dar Batha in Fez; Musée Dar Si Saïd in Marrakesh; and the Musée Dar Jamai and Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. In 2008, the Peabody Museum organized an exhibition on Amazigh art entitled Artistry in the Everyday,which described Amazigh art as “based on the embellishment of everyday art” (Bernasek 2008). While much of the textiles, carved wood, and other objects created and used by Amazighen embellish the household, brides wear silver and amber jewelry, and  commonly wore it to mark their marital status until the 1980s. The Stanley Museum of Art is the only museum in the world with a complete Ait Khabbash bridal gown.

Painting By José Tapiro y Baro

Amazigh weavers typically use a fixed heddle loom to create wool fiber pieces that are used as clothing, blankets and floor coverings. When the Amazigh lived in the desert, women wove long, narrow panels that they sewed together to create wool tents. This ceased for many groups in the 1960s, including the Ait Khabbash, one of the largest Amazigh groups in southern Morocco (Becker 2006). Ait Khabbash women often weave tents from undyed goat wool and floorcoverings and pillows from sheep’s wool, usually dyed red, green, yellow and black.  Ait Khabbash women wear indigo-dyed or black head coverings that they embroider with brightly colored motifs and sequins, incorporating a visual dichotomy in which dark and light colors appear side by side.  Most of the motifs consist of triangles, plants and flowers, which serve as fertility symbols (Becker 2006).

Moroccan Amber

While Amazigh jewelry is primarily made of silver, women largely sold their amber and silver jewelry to European collectors and tourist shops in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, choosing instead to wear gold (Becker 2006). Silver jewelry is often set with coral-colored glass or coins, and rarely with precious stones. Jewelry serves as a woman’s portable savings account and can be sold in case of need.  Many of its designs and motifs protect women from malevolent forces, which is why women often wear pendants in the shape of the the hand (referred to in Arabic as khamsa and in Tamazight, the Amazigh language, as afous).

Amazigh Pottery

Amazigh women in the Middle Atlas and Rif Mountains of Morocco also make hand-coiled pottery that is typically low-fired in open fire pits and features painted decorations. It is not usually sold, but is used for personal consumption. Bowls, water jars, milk pots, and vessels are unglazed and decorated with painted red or white slips, including geometric shapes that protect against the evil eye. Although women make and use pottery, men also throw less decorated, larger vessels on pottery wheels for carrying and storing water and oil.

Farid Belkahia

Contemporary artists in Amazigh culture thrived after Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, after which many artists traveled to Europe to learn to paint (Becker 2006). Most well-known contemporary artists are men, which is a contrast to Amazigh art made prior to Morocco’s independence from France, in which women are the primary producers. One of the most prolific Moroccan contemporary artists is Farid Belkahia who is is inspired by traditional Amazigh art and uses Tifinagh (an Amazigh writing form) script.