Marrakesh by Design
BY Annie Waterman | November 21, 2012
Interview with Maryam Montague
Maryam Montague is a human rights, democracy specialist, writer, designer and photographer. Her work has taken her to over 40 countries and has traveled to an additional 32, including Morocco, which she now calls home. In April 2012, Maryam published her coffee table book on Moroccan interior designs entitled Marrakesh By Design. She has also been writing freelance articles about Moroccan lifestyle experiences and global textiles.
HAND/EYE: Can you tell us about which Moroccan craft you love the best and why?
Maryam Montague: It’s hard to choose between Moroccan crafts because I love so many of them and have been studying them for years. I am passionate about rugs (and it was this love that caused me to open www.redthreadsouk.com). I think rural Moroccan rugs (especially Berber rugs) are fantastic. Coveted in the interior design world for years, rural Moroccan rugs tend to feature simpler straight lines and may have abstract patterns or talismanic symbols. The carpet weft can be irregular and is generally not tight, and the rugs are often asymmetrical. They can be found in pile or flat weave versions, woven from wool or sometimes cotton, goat hair, and even camel hair. Rural carpet making, areas encompass such places as, Azilal, Azrou, Boujad, Chichaoua, Khemisset, Mrirt and Tazenakht. Carpet making tribes or tribal confederations in these zones include, the Ait Guerouane, Ait Youssi, Beni M’Guild, Beni MTir, Beni Ourain, Chiadma, Sektana, Zaiane and Zaer.
H/E: What do you feel that this craft has to offer the world?
MM: Besides their beauty, I’m fascinated by the element of magic that many Moroccan crafts have—something I write about in my book, Marrakesh by Design. For example, weaving has many mystical implications in Moroccan culture. Here are a few examples:
The loom with warp threads is believed to have a spirit and possess magical divine qualities, known as Baraka.
The powers of the loom begin before it is even built. Some Berbers are said to believe that those who step over warp threads before they are attached to the loom risk lives filled with bad luck.
Superstitious Berber weavers use salt—which is believed to be powerful in warding of genies—to dust the loom and the area around the loom.
In some Berber tribes, a girl entering puberty steps under and through a loom to tie up her virginity. Before she is married, she must repeat the process to be "untied."
H/E: Considering that you have lived most of your life as a gypsy, what made you decide to put roots down in Morocco?
MM: I am a democracy and human rights specialist by training. We were living in Namibia where I was working on a national women’s rights campaign. My office in Washington DC called me and asked me to consider an assignment in Morocco. My husband and I had never been to Morocco, but that didn’t matter—we were gamblers and nomads; we moved to Morocco sight unseen. Marrakesh is special in many ways. It’s filled with writers, poets, filmmakers and artists. I feel such creative abundance living here and I am dazzled on a daily basis by the design culture… not to mention that the food is fantastic, the weather is amazing, and Moroccans are incredibly kind, generous and hospitable people.
H/E: What are you views on modern vs. traditional design seen throughout Morocco?
MM: I am so glad that there is a place for both traditional and modern design in Morocco. But whether old or new, Moroccan decor has one distinctive trait—a commitment to the handmade. In a world filled with factory production, shelves upon shelves of identical objects, and imports from China, Morocco offers another model: a place where things are made not by machine but by people. Centuries of artisanal tradition and expertise, thankfully, die hard. And so Moroccan craftspeople can be found plying their trades in workshops using coloring and patterning that has been carried down by generations. Over the last 10-15 years, we have also seen more and more modern interpretations of Moroccan design and fusions of Western sensibilities and Moroccan know-how. You can see this in Moroccan slippers with Liberty fabrics, Moroccan pottery in single colors (rather than the typical several), machine-made versions of centuries old hand embroidered fabrics, and poufs made out of flour and cement sacks. This outcropping of new designers are producing items that are very cool, affordable and liveable.
H/E: If there was one thing that you want all readers to get out of your book, Marrakesh by Design, what would it be?
MM: Moroccan style is distinctive and iconic. It’s really about layered decorating at its best—similar to a school text book with translucent pages that overlap until the full image becomes clear. Ultimately, Moroccan style is a combination of strong architectural shapes, sublime decorative finishings, vivid inky colors, intricate fresh patterns, and one-of-a-kind objects. It mixes well into all sorts of décor—from traditional to modern. A little Moroccan flair goes a long way in creating an unforgettable atmosphere.
For more information, please visit http://moroccanmaryam.typepad.com/