Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity

Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity

Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity

Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity

Excerpt

When I first arrived in Morocco in 1993 with the intention of learning about Berber art, I soon discovered that women rather than men were the artists in Berber societies. Berber women wove brightly colored carpets. They decorated their faces with tattoos, dyed their hands and feet with henna, and painted their faces with saffron. They also embroidered brightly colored motifs on their indigo head coverings and wore elaborate silver and amber jewelry. Women both created the artistic symbols of Berber identity and wore them on their bodies, making the decorated female body a public symbol of Berber identity.

These connections and intersections of art, gender, and identity are the subject of this book. This study considers women and their participation in the process of identity construction by examining the centrality of the textiles, jewelry, and other art forms created by women to the social relations and ethnic identity of the Berbers of Morocco, the indigenous peoples of North Africa. Unlike Arab groups in North Africa, in Berber societies women rather than men are the primary producers of art, and women's arts identify the group as Berber. This examination, in addition to revealing a rich body of art, is meant to illuminate the complexity of women's roles in the Islamic societies of Africa and to demonstrate the role of women's agency in negotiating complex social and religious issues. Its central argument is that women's control over the visual symbols of Berber ethnic identity grants them power and prestige yet also restricts them to specific roles in that society.

I use the term [ethnic identity] in this book to refer to Berber attitudes regarding group membership. Ethnic categories, according to Nira Yuval-Davis (1998: 169), are based on constructs of collectivity, centering on the notion of a [common origin and/or destiny and engaging in constant processes of struggle and negotiation.] As I demonstrate here, Berber groups, who typi-

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