Monday, July 26, 2010

Moroccan Rugs - a Hit in New York

Eric Shanks lives in New York but his favourite travel destination is Morocco's spiritual centre, the Medina of Fez, and he describes The View from Fez as "the best place to keep in touch with all things Moroccan" (Thanks Eric). So, last Friday when he opened the New York Times and turned to page 21 of the arts section, he was delighted to discover that the Cavin-Morris Gallery in Chelsea had an exhibition of Moroccan rugs. He visited, was impressed and emailed us to let us know.

The exhibition, "Rags to Richess: Rugs from Morocco", features the boucherouite style. Boucherouite is a word a word derived from the Darija (Moroccan-Arabic) phrase for torn and reused clothing.

According to Holland Cotter's fine article in The New York Times: The carpets, made by women for domestic use, are basically variations on the humble rag rug, without the humility. With their zany patterns and jolting colors, these household items look dolled up and ready to party; they seem more suitable for framing than for trampling underfoot.

The style developed fairly recently, a result of socio-economic changes. Since the middle of the 20th century nomadic life in Morocco has been seriously on the wane, and production of wool from sheepherding has been much reduced. During the same period, though, Berber culture has come to the attention of the global market, and Berber carpets have been ever more in demand.

Faced with a call for increased output and a scarcity of natural materials, Berber weavers have had to rethink aspects of their craft. This has meant, among other things, supplementing wool with recycled fabrics and cheap synthetic fibers like nylon and Lurex, and various plastics.

With the synthetic fibers came new colors and chromatic intensities. Where old-fashioned vegetable dyes tend to look savory and subtle, machine dyes are emphatic and bright. The first things you notice about the Cavin-Morris show is how visually assertive it is. Yes, there are ranges of earth tones, but it’s the fire-engine reds, the Day-Glo oranges, the post-punk pinks that pop out.

Asymmetrical patterning is the norm in boucherouite work, free-form shapes the rule. One of the show’s more subdued carpets is composed of thin, broken, painterly lines of purple and green that bring to mind traces of beached algae left behind by a tide. In another rug a fairly staid stack of royal-blue and brick-brown stripes is interrupted by a set of nested turquoise and chrome-yellow diamonds that seem to have arrived from nowhere. And things get wilder from there.

Surfaces fill up with fat lozenge and chevron shapes that melt and ooze, Dalí-clock style. Top-to-bottom zigzag bars form gawky, out-of-synch chorus lines. Dense passages of pointillist speckling suggest plates of couscous or Jackson Pollock paintings.

Read more here.

“Rags to Richesse: Rugs From Morocco” runs until Aug. 20 at Cavin-Morris, 210 11th Avenue, Suite 201, at 25th Street, Chelsea; (212) 226-3768;

You can see our guide to Moroccan Carpets and Rugs here.

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