Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts have long been important in Morocco and are produced both in cities and in the countryside. Handicrafts are part of the Moroccan national heritage. They were originally made as items for daily use rather than works of art, but are now found in shops and souks (markets) in every city and town. The industry has expanded with the tourist trade, but it would be wrong to say it has been revived just to satisfy the demands of visitors. Crafts have always been an integral part of the Moroccan scene - carefully and beautifully created, and useful at the same time. Fine examples can be found in the country’s museums. Morocco’s handicrafts include jewellery, leatherwork, pottery, textiles, carpets and woodwork.
Damascene, or inlaid metalwork, is a specialty in the city of Meknes. The products are usually well finished and nicely designed to make durable gifts.
Moroccan jewellery, of both gold and silver designs, are done in a distinctively Moroccan style. Gold jewellery is largely confined to the cities, whereas silver smithing has been both a major Islamic and Berber art-form for hundreds of years. Silver jewellery comes in many forms: bracelets, earrings, fibulas, anklets and necklaces, sometimes set with semi-precious stones or studs inlaid with enamels. Among the most popular are heavy solid silver bracelets with deeply- etched designs.
Moroccan leather is some of the very finest in the world. Morocco's souks offer a thousand types of leather goods, all of extraordinary quality and all completely traditionally created. In Fez and Marrakech a whole district is reserved to tanners, which is a good thing - for the whole business can create quite an aroma!
Moroccan woodwork, produced in Tetouan, Essaouira, Sale and Meknes, is rightly famous for both its elegant carving and its marquetry, works which are woven like a carpet with several different kinds of wood. Smaller items, but just as richly decorated, include cigarette or jewellery boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
In Marrakech and Azrou, the woodworkers and cabinet makers use cedar or olive tree wood to make a wide variety of objects. Coffers are also made of carved cedar wood with studded wood in the Sahara, covered with leather and studded or intricately painted designs in many colours. These coffers or chests used to be a kind of Moroccan hope-chest for keeping women's caftans in. Smaller caskets, coffee tables with marquetry and chessboards are made out of wood inlaid with ebony, lemon wood or cedar, while chests or babies' cribs made of brightly-painted wood are made mainly in Fez.
Also wildly popular are Moroccan pottery and ceramics. Earthenware, in every conceivable form, is available throughout the country, although styles vary. The main centres for ceramics are Safi, which produces pottery inlaid with metal or covered tightly with leather, and Fez, which produces the very distinctive blue and white fassi pottery.
Finally, a variety of distinctive wrought iron products, from small tables, lamps and knick-knacks to plate rests and candle holders are very popular with visitors.
One of the most common sights in the souks of Morocco is piles and piles of olive-coloured powder, the crushed leaves of the henna plant. It is used as both a hair treatment as well as a dye to make decorative designs on the skin. Its use originated more than 5,000 years ago in Egypt, when Cleopatra was said to have enhanced and prolonged her beauty with henna.
In Morocco it is quite common to see henna on women's hands and feet for weddings, special occasions or even just for a treat. Yet while this retains an aura of festivity, it remains a sacred practice intended not just to beautify the body, but to invite good fortune into one’s home, one’s marriage and one’s family. Henna is still used as part of the marriage ritual. It is said a good dark design, applied to the bride’s hands and feet, is a sign of good luck for the married couple.
Pregnant Moroccan women in their seventh month seek out well respected henna practitioners called hannayas, to have certain symbols painted on their ankle, which will be encircled with a corresponding amulet. These are meant to protect both the mother and the child through birth.
Morocco is known throughout the world for its carpets. Carpets are made regionally and styles in different cities, and different parts of the country, are very different. However, like many things in Morocco, broadly speaking all carpets originate in one of two different styles, based on the weaver's Berber or Arabic roots. Carpets in the high-Islamic urban style, most closely associated with the city of Rabat, have a very high number of knots per square inch, and can take many months to complete.
Outside of Rabat, carpets are made by hundreds of Berber tribal groups. Each of these carpets is utterly unique and covered with symbols of significance to the individual tribe.
The value of a carpet is based on the complexity of its visual design, the number of knots (an indication of its durability), its age, its constituent ingredients (such as high or low quality wool, vegetable or chemical dyes) and other factors.
The Visual Arts
The visual arts have a long and thriving history in Morocco. The visual style of Morocco's decorative arts has enthralled visitors for centuries. Common themes are a deep commitment to complex geometric, floral and calligraphic visual pattern, pared with simple, bright, and often whitewashed colours. Islam forbids the representation of people and animals in art, so there is a widespread use of pattern and abstraction to focus the mind of the viewer on higher truths.
A walk through any medina will reveal extraordinarily complex tile, or zellij mosaics, covering public fountains, walls and furniture. A visit to any medersa will reveal stone and wood carved calligraphic patterns taken from the Koran, against a background of near-infinite geometric complexity.
The high Islamic art of the riads, medersas, gardens and palaces, the bustle of the medina, and the daily rhythms of Moroccan life have inspired both native Moroccan and Western artists alike. Today, modern Moroccan artists like Ahmed Cherkaoui and Hassan Slaoui have a growing international reputation. And throughout the centuries, western artists as varied as Delacroix and Henri Matisse, who did important work during, and in response to, their lengthy visits to the country.
Morocco has a long history in film, having been used as the backdrop for classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and such modern pieces as The Last Temptation of Christ, Hideous Kinky, and The Mummy, among hundreds of other major Hollywood and international films. The centre of Hollywood's activities is Ouarzazate surrounded by kasbahs and ksar in the Draa Valley.
Morocco also maintains a thriving national film industry, with national
film acting and directing stars.
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Date last edited:
12 November 2012