Moroccan rag rugs

Axel Steinmann / Gebhart Blazek

Berber tent + loom / electric palm trees

Anyone familiar with the lively Moroccan rug and carpet market will have noticed the emergence in recent years of a previously little known type of ‘rag rug’ (called Boucherouite or Boucherwit, from Moroccan Arabic bu sherwit, ‘a piece torn from pre-used clothing’, ‘scrap’) which marks the (provisional) end of a development in which the traditional materials used for weaving (mainly sheep’s wool) are rapidly being augmented and substituted. This development is an inevitable consequence of widespread economic, social and cultural changes in Morocco’s rural areas: with the move away from nomadic animal husbandry to settled farming and other modern forms of rural employment, wool as the primary raw material for the production of carpets for Moroccan domestic use has become ever rarer, and replacement materials have become ever more important. The materials used include recycled rag strips and yarns from a variety of ‘found’ textile remnants including wool, cotton, synthetic fibres, Lurex, nylon and plastic.This development started during the 1960s and 1970s in the plains – mainly settled by Arabs – around the towns of Beni Mellal and Boujad.

From about 1990, the making of rugs and carpets with the most diverse substitute materials and in a style largely liberated from traditional models gained acceptance even in remote Berber tribal areas of the higher Middle and High Atlas mountain regions. Unlike the situation with traditional knotted-pile carpets made before the 1950s and 1960s, which were primarily devoted to regional stylistics, no conclusions as to the regional origin of these ‘rag rugs’ can be drawn on the basis of either technical characteristics or specific stylistic features. The attribution to Boujad, a term often heard in the marketplace, is therefore misleading for these rugs insofar as, although they are certainly close to rugs from the Boujad region from the second half of the 20th century in their highly individual style that is free from all rules, nowadays they are made all over Morocco in a very similar fashion.

If one focuses on the unusual materials used to make these rugs which – like traditional sleeping carpets – were produced for domestic requirements without any commercial intention, then the best examples reveal an incredible creative vitality, an adaptive continuation of Moroccan textile culture using contemporary means.



boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1419

   boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1463

205 x 130 cm (6' 10'' x 4' 4'') rag, industrial fibres, wool


    205 x 130 cm (6' 10'' x 4' 4'') rag, ind. fibres, wool


Sensory human beings

One of these days some of us may come to the irrevocable understanding that we owe the essential part of our acquired knowledge and view of the world less to our teachers and the culture in which we grew up than to the diverse experiences rooted in the connection which we once, as a child, had with nature. For a child, the world into which it is thrown is reduced to that which he or she sees, feels, tastes, hears and touches with their senses. We touch matter with our hands; it rings in our ears or makes our skin crawl; it dazzles our eyes, fills our mouth: solid, fluid, gaseous matter, acoustic or shining, raw, porous or silky. The given fact penetrates the sensorium and descends through the arteries and muscles, nerves and bones to the tips of the nails. There is nothing in the senses that does not subsequently goes towards culture.

boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1456            boucherouite Moroccan Berber rag rug TM 1457
    140 x 150 cm (4' 8'' x 5') rag, cotton, wool  

110 x 125 cm (3' 8'' x 4' 2'') industrial fibres, wool, cotton

We come into the world as sensory human beings, but only a few remain so. Occasionally one’s own creative activity coincides with art, not forgetting the feelings that we have springing from primary impressions such as colours, sounds, tastes, smells and pain. Bit by bit, due to their activity, the senses engender body and soul. The surrounding world teaches the individual to understand his own nature more or less as a detached fragment, and shows the whole from which he comes. Like a rag rug, the ego is made up of pieces and fragments. Human beings find a sense of self through the familiar surroundings of the group, from worldly preoccupations and the landscape around them, finding the material to take form, to formulate themselves.

boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1440                                                                                                    boucherouite Moroccan Berber rag rug TM 1441
165 x 90 cm (5' 6'' x 3'), recycled industrial fibres, rag     170 x 90 cm (5' 8'' x 3'), recycled industrial fibres, rag 
boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1442                                                           boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1448
230 x 95 cm (7' 8'' x 3' 2''), rag, recycled industrial fibres  

185 x 90 cm (6' 2'' x 3'), rag, industrial fibres, wool


In the flow of time

Observation of nature permits one to understand how time flows. The first mild afternoon in May, a foggy December morning, mountains shrouded in cloud, solstice and equinox, decelerations and accelerations, freezing and thawing; here the waters flow, there they collect. Nature tells of rhythms and orchestrates reality into a kind of symphony, the sequences of which are also well known to the wives of the shepherds and farmers of Morocco.

Time begins in rhythm. It flows like the rivers and mountain streams that pour by, pause, rise, divide, join together or peter out. Once the play of time has been grasped, experimentation leads to contemplation of the infinitesimal and the cosmological, to comprehension of the infinitely small and the infinitely large logics that are active in space. The fractal form is recognised, the quality of self-resemblance, the part representing the whole, the fragment as an expression of the entirety: a fern’s form is repeated in a leaf, which appears in turn, on a reduced scale, on one of its side branches; details are considered from nature’s universal construction plans. Here a fissured relief, there a smooth surface, fine granulations, the interplay of colours, perfumes, sounds and noises. In this way worlds can be invented, bizarre universes created, through which one travels with the soul, which keep the mind moving and enrich the power of the imagination.




Regardless of the relevant economic system, in the Mediterranean region there have always been a few fundamental objectives largely shared by the local population groups. Among these are the numerous precautionary measures taken to prevent one’s living area being overlooked and to remove women from the gaze of strange men, with the intention of protecting their honour (or that of their menfolk). This contrast between the public and private realm, between male and female zones, provides the Amazigh women of Morocco’s farming and nomadic class with a degree of “free space” in which they can express their own views on life in textile art but within the prevailing social norms that regulate human relationships. Thus in the social scenario of the household these social traditions make everyday space viable, visibly materialising a specific way of life, an art de vivre. In the seclusion of the home the women concern themselves with the basics of the social fabric: with the body and its physical well-being, with its health, its beautification.

A body that is symbolically multiplied: by tattoos which give the body an initial social identity; by pottery (built up free-hand, without a potter’s wheel) with its practical and/or ritual functions, repeating the image of the “body-as-container”; and by weaving, perhaps the most complete and artistic “extension” of the ego. Like a symphony, with the help of strips of remnants of recycling material, synthetic fibres, Lurex, nylon and plastic, the female weavers of today compose their colour-fast, variegated time/spaces, since it is time itself which bears their memory, a memory that they wrest from varied oblivion, a memory that makes it possible for them to return to the darkness of time and of the body, to the hidden origins of topology, to the beginnings, where the sense of vision is absorbed into the sense of touch, where the delicate, sensitive sense of touch sees, smooths and separates the surface composition. Origins, which lie a whole age further back than the arrival of words and writing (even if their emergence is heralded).
The weaver is never concerned with imitation of the nature that surrounds her, with the mere rendering of perceptions, but rather with percepts, with bundles of sensations and relationships. In her work she creates sensory aggregates, weaves or knots. A composition results, which is her work on the sensation. No imitation, no experienced sympathy, no imaginary identification, no resemblance, although there is a resemblance but this is purely produced. Everything (including the technique) takes place between the complexes of sensations and the aesthetic compositional level. The weaver always designs a compositional level that, for its part, conveys an amalgamation of sensations under the influence of aesthetic figures or devices. But not the sensation or impression of a tree, mountain, river, time, sound, aroma or movement, but that of the concept of a tree, the concept of time, the concept of movement etc.


 boucherouiteMoroccan Berber rag rug TM 1382                               boucherouite Moroccan Berber rag rug TM 1394
230 x 90 cm (8' x 3'), industrial fibres, wool   235 x 140 cm (7' 8'' x 3' 2''), rag, wool, industrial fibres
boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1467            boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1469
190 x 135 cm (6' 4'' x 4' 6''), recycled industrial fibres, rag, wool    200 x 155 cm (6' 8'' x 5' 2''), recycled industrial fibres, rag, wool  
boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1453    boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1384
190 x 145 cm (6' 4'' x 4' 10''), rag, recycled industrial fibres, cotton    180 x 165 cm (6' x 5' 6''), rag, recycled industrial fibres, wool 
Patchwork identities

We speak with several voices. The world sees itself as a multitude of identities, surrounded by their neighbourhoods and particular sets of circumstances, joined to one another by traffic intersections, which for their part become villages and towns and are joined to one another by roads, the local character of which can only be detected with difficulty. People travel right round the world today out of admiration for what can be seen in its own ecological niche. Body, plane, planet: all are in motion. The world never rests. Things, appearances and processes are in perpetual movement and interaction. Everywhere, incessant development. The world merges from landscape to panorama, from local to something universal. Within his or her body, the wanderer sums up routes, landscapes, customs, languages, mixing them up. Rampant traffic intersections, which fill a local area with their striations and folds, their bends and loops, their coverings and fissures. Generalised traffic intersections: towns and villages, gardens and oases, deserts and oceans, countries and changes of location, the so-called concrete or the ostensible abstraction, the poetry fragment and the colour spectrum.
At a time when traditional, standardised ways of life and lifestyles are breaking up, identities don’t just fall into one’s lap. Sons and daughters no longer follow in their parents’ footsteps. Young female weavers have forgotten how to spin a thread of even thickness, yet they still set themselves at their mother’s loom. The scope of human experiences has multiplied. Living worlds have become differentiated and pluralised. As on an individual rag rug, people move from one living world to another in the course of a day and even over longer periods of time. These changes of location confuse affiliations, but they add up on the basis of an ancient, unforgotten local experience. Identity is revealed to be the sum or combination of one’s own and the “other”. Analogous to a crazy quilt, the structure of the modern ego is creatively interwoven from a great variety of “crazy” patterns, shapes and colours to form a sometimes well-ordered, sometimes vibrant, garish and brightly coloured whole; human and textile as patchwork art. Both came about not just through the reproduction of firmly established, mapped-out designs for life but also from a surprising, occasionally accidental and wild interweaving of materials, forms and colours. What we have experienced is linked and knotted together in a way that is not unlike a rag rug. Not everything that has stamped us can be identified again precisely in the fabric of our memories. Quite a lot has been ruffled and messed up, has become so knotted and intertwined that the former sensations are no longer discernable. Even so, there is still an agreeable feeling of inner unity and rightness in this composition too.

boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1470                                      boucherouite Moroccan Berber rag rug TM 1383
170 x 100 cm (5' 8'' x 3' 4''), recycled industrial fibres, rag    220 x 110 cm (7' x 3' 8''), rag, industrial fibres, wool 
boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1464                                              boucherouite Moroccan Berber rag rug TM 1465
230 x 115 cm (7' 6'' x 3' 10''), recycled industrial fibres, rag    185 x 85 cm (6' 2'' x 2' 10''), recycled industrial fibres, rag, wool, lurex
boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1455                                                                                                                                      



boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1393


250 x 100 cm (8' 4'' x 3' 4''), rag, industrial fibres   200 x 90 cm (6' 8'' x 3'), rag, industrial fibres
boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1392                              


boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1439

255 x 90 cm (8' 6'' x 3'), rag, industrial fibres   170 x 135 cm (5' 8'' x 4' 6''), rag, cotton


boucherouite MoroccanBerber rag rug TM 1424

                                                boucherouite Moroccan Berber rag rug TM 1445
160 x 75 cm (5' 4'' x 2' 6''), industrial fibres   280 x 110 cm (6' x 3' 8''), rag, wool, cotton 

The catalogue 'boucherouite' in which these articles have originally been published is available on the 'BOOKS + CATALOGUES' page.

Axel Steinmann, Gebhart Blazek: 'boucherouite', exhibition catalogue with a comment by Daniel Spoerri. Graz, 2009,

64 pages, 47 full page coulor plates + 8 color photos, English/German, soft cover. Euro 25,00.


Dr. Axel Steinmann is the curator of the Orient department at the Ethnological Museum in Vienna

carpet photos by Julius Steinhauser

translations by Jenny Marsh

video still from the film 'Tapis, Parterres du Maroc', 1946-56

boucharouette, boucherouite, bouchraouit, boucharouit, boucharouite, boucherwit, bou sherwit, bu sherwit, bouchrawit, boucharwit  


Becker, Cynthia J., 2006. Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Berrada, Hammad, 2001. La poterie féminine au Maroc. Casablanca: Publiday-Multidia.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari, 1996. Was ist Philosophie? Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Grammet, Ivo, Min Dewachter and Els De Palmenaer (eds), 2006. Maroc. Les Artisans de la Mémoire. Gent: Editions Snoeck, Herent: Symbiose asbl, Etnografisch Museum Antwerpen.

Paydar, Niloo Imami and Ivo Grammet (eds), 2002. The Fabric of Moroccan Life. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Serres, Michel, 1993. Die fünf Sinne. Eine Philosophie der Gemenge und Gemische. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Vandenbroeck, Paul, 2000. Azetta. L’Art des femmes berbères. Gent-Amsterdam: Ludion, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles.


please view a fine selection of boucherouite rag rugs in the 'carpets' section of the website


Rags to Richesse:  Rugs from Morocco
May 20 – August 8, 2010

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New YorkTimes review of the boucherouite exhibition at Cavin Morris Gallerysummer 2010 by Holland Cotter

>>>>> REVIEW by Holland Cotter in the NEW YORK TIMES, 23rd of July 2010


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