Triangular brooches

Triangular brooches, Kabyle, Algeria, early 20th century. Photo by Mark Craig. PM 46-40-50/5966.

Beauty & Artisanship in Berber Life

December 2, 2004–August 30, 2006

Now online!

Imazighen! features an extensive collection of cultural artifacts made by the Berber peoples of North Africa in the early to mid-twentieth century. Elegant etched and cloisonné jewelry, punched and embroidered leather work, inlaid metal and wood saddles, and glazed pottery highlight a sophisticated artisan culture that has received little attention, even within the context of Islamic world arts.

Never displayed before, the objects chosen for the Imazighen! exhibition express the aesthetic vision of rural craftspeople working within a distinctive design tradition, significant both for their local influence, as well as for their role within the greater mosaic of Islamic world arts. Some objects show the commonalities among regions through their use of shared geometric motifs and symbols; others retain a distinctly local flavor. Yet all of the items bear the imprint of the diverse cultural traditions—Berber, Arab, Islamic, Mediterranean and African—that have shaped North African artisanship over the centuries.

Artistic production among the Berbers traditionally focused on making objects for everyday use. Women made pottery and basketry; wove carpets, blankets, and clothing; and added embroidered decoration to leather goods. Men produced metal locks and keys, jewelry, sandals, saddles, and other leather items. Although these objects were destined for daily use, the artisans put great effort into making them beautiful, as well as practical. Although artistic production continues to thrive within Berber communities, and many items continue to be made, many others have been replaced by mass-produced, and imported goods.

Imazighen! focuses on these artifacts and the stories they tell about the daily life and culture of the Berber people in the recent past, with special attention to the craftspeople who made the objects and the ethnographers who collected them.

Curated by Susan G. Miller and Lisa Bernasek.

Available from Peabody Museum Press

Artistry of the Everyday Beauty and Craftsmanship in Berber Art
Lisa Bernasek; Photographs by Hillel S. Burger and Mark Craig;
Foreword by Susan Gilson Miller