From Marginal Object to Collectible Art
The exhibition “Contemporary Morocco” at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris featured numerous brightly colored textiles hung on a bright orange wall. When I visited the IMA in 2015, I immediately recognized them as boucherouite, a type of textile made by women of discarded pieces of cloth. I first learned about this unique style of carpet in the 1990s when living in rural southeastern Morocco and discussed them briefly in my book Amazigh Arts in Morocco (2006). The name boucherouite is Tamazight and derives from two words: bou, meaning “one of/one made of,” and achourite, meaning “a piece of cloth" [icherouiten: plural]. While the name literally translates to mean “the one made of a piece of cloth,” people understand that it is made from hundreds of cloth scraps, using both flat-weave and knotting techniques. In the 1990s, Amazigh women experiencing economic misfortune and not having access to wool made textiles from discarded pieces of fabric that were repurposed to make a boucherouite [plural: id-boucherouiten]. They were typically used by families as an inexpensive form of bedding.
We publish these articles as the museums consolidate into one nominal entity, het Wereldmuseum: since the articles were written between 2020 and 2023, they do not yet reflect the March 2023 name change.
All contributors called into the Un/Engendering research project were asked to think outside their respective specializations. Without their courage, openness, humility, and without the peer reviewers’ generous attention, such an interdisciplinary project could have never taken place.
Image: Boucherouite woven by Fatima Ouadderrou that features tifinagh letters. Unless otherwise indicated, the photograph above and photographs in the article were taken by the the author, Cynthia Becker, with permission accorded by those photographed to publish the photographs.
Author | Cynthia Becker
Cynthia Becker is Professor of African art history in the History of Art & Architecture Department at Boston University. Her book Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity (University of Texas Press, 2006) won a Choice book award in 2007. She has written numerous articles about such topics as the Sahara as a cultural and artistic zone, Amazigh identity politics, contemporary art in the Maghreb, in New Orleans, as well as counter-monuments to the Confederacy in New Orleans (her hometown). Her latest book, Blackness in Morocco: Gnawa Identity through Music and Visual Culture, was published by the University of MN Press in November 2020 and won an Honorable Mention Award from the American Institute of Maghreb Studies.
Her writings on North Africa have been included in numerous museum exhibitions, including those organized by the Musée berbère du Jardin Marjorelle (for Berber Women of Morocco), the Institut du Monde Arabe (for Trésors de l’islam en Afrique), the Block Museum at Northwestern (for Caravans of Gold), the Newark Museum (for Arts of Global Africa), and the University of Florida Harn Museum (for Africa Interweave: Textile Diasporas). She has publications in such journals as African Arts, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, Critical Interventions, the Journal of North African Studies, de arte, and Contemporary Islam.
Her research has been supported by grants from Fulbright, the Council of American Overseas Centers, Fulbright-Hays, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the American Institute of Maghreb Studies, and Boston University’s Initiative on Cities.