Libmonster ID: UK-1235



Candidate of Philological Sciences

KeywordsTunisGafsaTuareg, carpet weaving

Global processes taking place in the modern world make it more and more open and recognizable. But many secrets still remain deep inside the seemingly well-known world of today. They are encoded in ancient symbols and hidden signs, which are revealed only to those who seek a deep knowledge of the world in its historical movement.

Such symbols of the past, revealing the world around us as a way of expression, a form of historical narration and a special vision of modernity, are captured in the traditional art of the countries of North Africa, the Arab Maghreb, in particular - in the art of carpet weaving of the modern Tuaregs of Tunisia.

Over the centuries, Berber artists and artisans have embraced various, sometimes contradictory elements of art - from traditional images of the ancient African world, and then the Islamic visual canon, to modern forms of symbolic and abstract painting. In their works, it is easy to find evidence of the influence of various schools: from Carthage, Roman antiquity and Byzantium to Arab-Muslim and modern French civilization.


Archaeological discoveries provide constant evidence that Carthaginian fabrics were widely known throughout the ancient world. At the same time, some Arab researchers (Muhammad Issachar et al.) recognize that the art of Phoenician Carthage and ancient Rome, whose architectural monuments have survived to this day in Carthage, Shershella, Timgad and other places, did not have as deep an impact on local traditions as Arab-Muslim art, which took deep roots in the countries of the world. North Africa and Spain 1.

Berber craftsmen-from Ores, Greater and Lesser Kabylia to the mountainous regions of the Reef-created magnificent carpets, fabrics, jewelry and pottery.

Geometric ornaments - triangles, rhombuses, squares and squares-have long remained the most popular motifs of applied art. The flourishing traditions of medieval Arab-Muslim art brought to these areas epigraphic motifs based on Arabic graphics, characteristic plant ornaments, their own special flora and geometry. All these elements were combined in a whimsical way in the patterns of carpets and fabrics, everyday utensils. Arab pictorial traditions "underwent changes, being melted down by contact with the red-hot breath of the artistic context of African art"2.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, with the arrival of the French cultural tradition in the North African region, easel painting using the techniques of European masters gradually appeared in the Maghreb countries. The French colonial authorities supported local craft and art production centers in Beni Yenne, Constantin and Tlemcen in Algeria, and in Tunisian cities and craft centers. Local artists, getting acquainted with various Western trends in art and drawing inspiration from the deep origins of national traditions, sought to create original works.

One of the most important elements of such traditions - weaving, creating textiles and carpets - is still a fundamental layer of Tunisian material and spiritual culture. It is particularly developed in the central and southern regions of the country. Here, in each locality, and sometimes in each individual ethnic group, there is a special type of production.

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In Tunisia, as in other regions of the Maghreb, this craft is mainly carried out by women, whose hands make all the fabrics for household use. Not only in villages and rural areas, but also in some cities, the ability to spin and weave remains one of the first practical skills that older women teach young girls. In Tunisia, almost every traditional family has at least one or two looms.

Written evidence of Gafsa carpets has existed since the 12th century. So, according to the medieval historical source " Kitab al-istibsar "(Book of Observation), dated 1191, in Gafsa blankets were made - rida-from especially fine wool.

In the 19th century, many travelers noted the high quality and beauty of the extraordinary ornaments of Gafsa fabrics, which were distributed not only in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, but also throughout the East and European countries. The favorable geographical position of Gafsa at the intersection of caravan routes also contributed to the wide distribution of these handicraft products.

The origins of the skill of making Hafsi fabrics are not reliably known. Some historians attribute them to the influence of Eastern traditions: Greek, Syrian, Persian, Kurdish; they can also be associated with the long occupation of the city of Gafsa by the Turkish garrison in the XVIII-XIX centuries. Others see its origins in local pre-Islamic cultural traditions.

Whatever the origins of the decorative elements, the success of traditional Gafsa ornaments is due to a highly developed manufacturing technique comparable to that of tapestries, as well as their artistic style, which ignores the prohibitions of Islam on the image of people and animals, as well as the harmonious interaction of images of figures with iridescent colors.

As in the past, today carpet weaving provides creative freedom for women who work in it, who create real paintings from a variety of motifs that skillfully interact with each other in pictorial images, selected colors, symbolic or mythological themes.

Based on the research of about three dozen visual compositions from the collections of the Center for Arts and Folk Traditions of the National Bureau of Crafts of Tunis, modern French scientists distinguish the main stages of the development of traditional visual art: pre-colonial, colonial (late XIX-early XX centuries)and modern, which began with the achievement of Tunisian independence. 3


In the years since independence, the Tunisian Government has sought to support the development of national arts and crafts. To this end, the National Bureau of Handicrafts opened weaving workshops in most of the country's major cities and rural centers. One of these centers was Gafsa.

The Tunisian National Bureau of Handicrafts organized extensive research in Gafsa among local homeworkers in order to obtain a list and systematize all existing visual motifs and themes.

On the basis of an exhaustive inventory, specialists selected many traditional motifs for composing new compositions. However, the first steps in this direction could not be called quite successful. Some of the craftsmen (whose work was organized at home at the expense of the Bureau) refused to follow the unusual canons. Then they began to be supplied with raw materials and high-quality dyes, leaving a certain creative freedom to create new compositions based on long-known motifs. In the 1960s and 1970s, the products of these weaving workshops became widespread in European countries thanks to various exhibitions and international fairs. But gradually, the compositions created according to the templates of the Craft Bureau began to acquire a standard shade.

Still striving to support and adapt traditional art to the needs of modernity and the commercial tastes of Western clients, the directorate of the local branch of the Gafsa Crafts Bureau and its artists made attempts to introduce changes in new compositions, this time in the field of harmony and color combination. Muted and refined pastel tones began to replace the contrasting shades that made up the glory of Gafsa fabrics for many centuries.

Similar impact of politics

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modernization significantly increased from the 1980s to the 1990s, during the period of activation of the tourism industry in the country. The National Bureau of Crafts has opened a special section for the production of author's works. Famous artists such as Lursa and Hervé Lelong, Mtimet and Yuja Mahdavi provided a large number of their samples and patterns to the workshops of the National Bureau. Local Tunisian craftsmen perfectly mastered the latest French techniques. But with the flourishing of the art of modern carpet weaving in Gafsa, there was a gradual impoverishment of authentic, traditional weaving skills, replacing traditional life stories with templates of Westernized standards. The reorganization of the National Bureau in the 1990s to support handicraft production by providing assistance to private enterprises accelerated this process. The privatization of state-owned enterprises has resulted in the widespread production of high-fleshy wool carpets, named after the North African city of Kairouan.

They proved to be more cost-effective and were successfully implemented abroad.

National Tunisian, European, and French ethnographers note with concern that as a result of such commercial transformations, the production of traditional carpet fabrics is currently experiencing a decline. Even experienced craftswomen face serious problems of employment and adaptation to new technologies of weaving high-fleshy and woolen knotted carpets, to which it is no longer possible to organically transfer authentic stories of the recent past that are amazing in their artistic style.

Despite the highly developed modern technology, constant efforts to update the aesthetic significance of unique products, the centuries-old art of carpet weaving Gafsa today is one of the most fragile and vulnerable phenomena of the national tradition.

Will it be possible today to overcome the threat of the disappearance of one of the most original arts of fabric making, which have captured in their patterns bright archetypes of national consciousness, millennia-old images of national history and culture?

What new unexpected subjects and images will modern, updated Tunisia offer? Perhaps tomorrow we will see a stylized airplane or an image of a Bedouin with a laptop in the patterns of the ancient art of carpet weaving?

Let us look forward to the continuation of the picturesque pictures of the history that the Tunisian people are creating today before our eyes!

1 Kul'tura sovremennogo Alzhira [Culture of modern Algeria]. Sb. statey [Collection of articles], translated from French], Vostochnaya literatura, 1961.

2 Anthology of Berber Literature (Kabbalah). Vol. I-IV. Prozhogin, Moscow, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2001; Anthology of Berber Literature (Morocco), vol. I-II. Sost. and ed. by S. V. Prozhogin, Moscow, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2005.

Bont Pierre 3Claudot-Hamad Elene. Etudes du monde nomade touareg et maure. Aix-en-Provence, 2000.


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