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Last weekend I was alone in Manama, Bahrain and looking for something to do that wasn’t too strenuous. On a previous trip I had visited the National Museum of Bahrain and bought some lovely Dilmun inspired sculptures. I was staying just across a huge intersection from the museum, at the Raddison Blu Diplomat Hotel so I strolled over there to have a coffee and buy some more of those sculptures. The museum cafe is a calm and relaxing place with a nice view over the water. I sat on a comfortable lounge and watched Arabs eating Bahraini breakfast and an American soldier with his pregnant wife having coffees. I checked the shop but they no longer sell the sculptures and on my way out I noticed the temporary exhibition on Berber women in Morocco. Tickets were only 1BD (about $3) which is a bargain for the entire museum and temporary exhibition.
The exhibition show-cases examples of the intricate and highly skilful work of the Berber women of Morocco. These women are preserving their culture through designs passed down through the generations. Different regions have different designs and the original meaning of many of them has been lost but the patterns and the use of plant dyes persist.
I took some photos as I wandered through the exhibition and share them here. The photos are not good quality but should give you an idea of the amazing work of these resilient nomadic women who live in quite difficult conditions but array themselves and their families in exquisite clothes and shoes and weave the tents that protect them from the harsh elements. The book that accompanied the exhibition contains photos of excellent quality that do justice to these amazing works of art.
According to the exhibition organisers:
The Berber (Amazigh) identity developed thousands of years ago on a vast territory that stretches from Morocco’s Atlantic coast to the borders of the eastern Maghreb. Over the millennia it has proven as remarkably resilient to cultural mixing with other Mediterranean civilizations as to various conquests. Throughout history, women have been the guardians of traditions and language, ensuring the preservation of the tribes’ cultural heritage. Transmission has been guaranteed by many symbols that can be found in weaving (the exclusive province of Berber women), jewelry, wickerwork, pottery, tattoos, and henna body painting.
An invitation to travel into the heart of Morocco and Berber culture, the “Berber Women of Morocco” presents the most beautiful objects—carpets, capes, woven belts, necklaces of amber and coral, silver fibulae—predominantly from the sumptuous collection of the Jardin Majorelle’s Musée Berbère in Marrakech and Musée du Quai Branly in Paris – Together with stunning archival photographs, it is a tribute to the women who have never ceased transmitting the Berber culture’s singular identity.
One room in the exhibition housed a cinema with two screen showing films made in Morocco in the 1970s. One showed a nomadic family group moving their sheep herd to fresh pastures, which they do on the same day each year. We were privileged to watch the women grinding grain, milking sheep and putting up the hand-woven tent. They did all of that dressed in the full regalia that you see in the photos above, head ornamentation, big jewellery, hand-woven clothes and hand-made shoes. The second film showed some young women drawing make-up on their faces in preparation for a ceremonial dance with young men around a fire. Interestingly, they were using commercial lip-stick but the patterns that they drew on their faces were not something I’ve seen before.
The exhibits were displayed very nicely and well-lit. The background colours used were lovely, with red against the jewellery and yellow against the fabrics. Unfortunately the majority of the exhibit notices did not have useful descriptions of the age of the artefacts, the location they come from, the techniques used or the significance of the objects. However, the objects themselves are fascinating enough that it didn’t really matter and the exhibition book amply makes up for the lack of information in the exhibition itself.