Soon after arriving in Morocco in 1966, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé started collecting Berber artworks. After Saint Laurent's death in 2008 their collection was turned into the Berber Museum, located in the studio and garden founded by Jacques Majorelle in Marrakesh, and purchased in the 1980s by Saint Laurent and Bergé.
The Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent has now tried to recreate at its head quarter in Paris the spirit and aesthetic of the Berber Museum, with an exhibition dedicated to Berber women and to their cultural identity.
Entitled "Berber Women of Morocco" this event is an exploration of the Amazigh culture from a female point of view: the focus is indeed on feminine skills such as weaving, embroidering, adorning and making pottery.
Four years ago an exhibition at the Jardine Majorelle displayed Morocco-inspired garments by Saint Laurent, but this is the first time the foundation organises an exhibition entirely dedicated to Berber women.
Divided into sections, the event includes an informative section with beautiful archival photographs taken in the late '30s; a part dedicated to the crafts, including carpets and garments, and a final section focusing on the importance of ornaments and sumptuous amber, coral and silver jewellery.
The idea was really to pay homage to women, and look at the jewellery and garments they used to wear, but also at the production of specific objects, emphasising the importance of understanding the meaning behind talismanic elements and symbols in traditional textiles such as the "adrar" and the "akhnif", as highlighted by Björn Dahlström, curator of the exhibition.
Can you take us on a virtual tour of the event?
Björn Dahlström: The first section is an introduction about mapping the tribes and explaining who are the Berber and the Berber women from Morocco and where they are coming from. We have a slideshow dedicated to an artist as well who has been taking photographs of women from Morocco in the late '30s and we've been working from these images to recreate most of the mannequins and the busts included in the exhibition. The main idea was paying homage and show at the same time how jewellery and garments were worn by the Berber women in Morocco. The second part is dedicated to the crafts produced by the women: the weaving is particularly important as this art is done exclusively by the women, men do not weave. The most important objects they make are the carpets as specific motifs, patterns and colours belong to a tribe and define the Berber identity of that specific tribe. We are also showing in this section one male item - a young boy's cape woven by the women and called "akhnif". This is maybe one of the most significant objects of the Berber production. The last part is dedicated to women and ornaments and combines clothes and jewellery that are important in the Berber culture.
Is there a piece among the ones on display that is particular important for historical reasons?
Björn Dahlström: The rarest piece is the "adrar", a wedding cotton and wool veil decorated with henna dyed motifs. While it's very pretty, the pattern is very important since it explains to a young bride what her life as a married woman will be like. The veil is really impressive when it comes to the fabric and the dying technique is also interesting.
What strikes the visitors the most about the pieces included – the crafts behind the weaving, the armour-like adornments, the materials employed, or the beautiful portraits of these women?
Björn Dahlström: As I said before, this is the first exhibition dedicated to Berber women and the aim was really to teach people and impress them as well with selected pieces such as the jewellery that women wear in ceremonial occasions or the garments, like these big 5 metre long and 1.5 metre wide rectangles of textiles. In one section of the exhibition we have a central space that shows how women used to wear these garments, fabrics and jewellery and I think this is an enjoyable but also didactic space for the visitors.
Why was Berber art dismissed as "rural" by Moroccan national museums?
Björn Dahlström: It is a rural art. But the Berber tribes have been fighting for the recognition of their culture, and recognising a specificity in a country creating a modern state was not deemed possible. So, instead of defining this production as "Berber", they named it "rural" in opposition to the production that was city-oriented and therefore mostly Arab-oriented in terms of inspirations. Times have changed now and the Berber identity and language are recognised within the new constitution of the kingdom.
Do you have a favourite piece in this exhibition?
Björn Dahlström: My favourite piece is the men's cape, the 'akhnif' that is actually produced by women and woven by women on one loom in a very difficult way, combining goat and sheep wool, and features embroidered Berber motifs and also the red 'half moon' or protective eye. It looks like a painting and it is a significant piece because it's the only male object in the exhibition and also because both Muslim Berbers and Jewish Berbers used to wear it, it was quite popular until the '70s.
Who is the ideal visitor of this exhibition?
Björn Dahlström: This is for everybody, we're not making a special exhibition for historians, anthropologists and fashion experts, but we want to grant access to everybody who wants to know more about the Berber tribes and in particular celebrate Berber women. When we talk about the Berber of Morocco we talk about a big population and, while they share many traditions and skills, in some remote places in Morocco they have specific traditions. Pierre Bergé decided that this event would have to be dedicated to women and to the key role they have in the Berber culture and society.
Yves Saint Laurent reinvented traditional Moroccan costumes in some of his collections. According to you, which aspects fascinated him the most about Berber culture?
Björn Dahlström: From what he had been collecting, I can tell you that jewellery was the most significant aspect that fascinated him in the Berber culture, but he also loved Moroccan colours, so his fascination was also more diffused, it wasn't about one object in particular, but about attitude and atmosphere. Yves Saint Laurent always quoted art and culture in his designs, coming up with his most significant collections in 1967 and 1979, when he captured African and Russian motifs, respecting and reinterpreting them in an interesting way and combining ready-to-wear and Haute Couture.
Will this exhibition travel anywhere else?
Björn Dahlström: It will be on show in the National Museum of Bahrain in January next year, so at the other edge of the Arab world. Then it will be back in Morocco at the National Library in Rabat in Spring 2015 and we hope it will be showing in other countries as well where Yves Saint Laurent has still got many fans and in institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Image credits for this post
1. © Claude Lefébure
2. © Mireille Morin-Barde
3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 Installation images by Luc Castel
6. Painting by Titouan Lamazou, 2013, Acrylic on paper
8. Adrar, © Musée Bargoin, Clermont-Ferrand
10, 12, 13 Jewellery © Musée berbère / photo Nicolas Mathéus
14. © Claude Lefébure
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos