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Aalto, Jacobsen, Eames & Le Corbusier

Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, Ray & Charles Eames, Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer and Frank Lloyd Wright all used Moroccan berber carpets regularly in their interiors, which is not surprising. The rugs' unusual combination of minimalism and handmade detail, restraint and inventiveness works well with modernism’s aesthetics by both echoing the abstract geometry of the architecture and also counterbalancing that austerity with some softness.

The Berber women of the Atlas and Rif Mountains in Morocco prooduce these practical and also talismanic carpets. Their graphic patterns play with the relationship between form and nothingness by repeating lines and then unravelling them. This habit is repeated in the culture; the names of dialects, places and tribes in the regions where the rugs are produced also reflect the same shifting interplay of foreground and background - the name of one tribe translates as “people from between somewhere and nowhere.”

The willingness to give up a degree of order, both in terms of craft and philosophy, or to defy order while also approaching it, seems rare in traditional craft. This particular group of rugs embodies this phenomenon to a strong degree, but even more regularized carpets deviate from pure order.

Berber carpets do not fit the stereotype of African art. Like much African art, however, these rectangular compositions woven by Moroccan women are religious works designed to repel negative spiritual powers. Also, like African sculpture, they influenced such masters of modernism as Matisse and Klee, and as mentioned above, played a key role in interiors designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, and Charles and Ray Eames. To Modernism’s pared-down interiors and abstract art, the restrained markings and subtle color shifts on luxurious, deep-pile woolen Berber carpets imparted human warmth and the trace of the human hand.

For their nomadic makers, however, the carpets provided physical and metaphysical protection. Carpets served as blankets, shielding Berber families against the elements, while their talismanic designs deflected evil and promoted fertility.

These mystical intentions perhaps explain the surprising asymmetries of Berber designs, as if the lines were themselves nomadic, open to chance meanders and deviations, like the paths and folds of Atlas and Rif mountain landscapes.

Monochrome carpets, on the other hand, yield the subtle pleasures of a Mark Rothko painting, also meditative and, for many, transcendental. Such freedom of design, far removed from the repetitive patterns of urban carpets, strikes a chord with Berber identity. The tribes of the Middle Atlas speak Tamazight, literally “the language of the free” and their tribe names can be equally evocative – one translates as “people from between somewhere and nowhere.” Their designs seem to similarly hover between being and dissolving.