Amazigh arts, like the Tamazight language, have coexisted with other North African forms of expression since pre-Islamic times. Phoenician, Greek, and Roman invaders left behind the vestiges of a visual culture in the form of figurative sculpture and mosaics depicting scenes of daily life. In contrast, Berbers continued to express their world view and aesthetic vision through abstract design and the embellishment of everyday objects. Utilitarian items like pottery vessels and textiles are as carefully decorated as more ornamental ones such as jewelry or weaponry.
A shared language of geometry is found wherever Berber is spoken. Geometric designs appear on textiles, pottery, jewelry, and leatherwork; they are incorporated into architecture; and they are even inscribed on the body in the form of the tattoo. Some of these motifs have their origins in the ancient Berber alphabet, tifinagh. Others are drawn from the natural world (the star, the tortoise) or from the objects of daily life (the shovel, the scissors). Vessels used for eating and drinking are embellished with symbols that represent grain, olives, or honeycomb—all associated with richness and plenty. Certain symbols such as the “eye” or the “hand of Fatima” are used to ward off the misfortune associated with the “evil eye.”
Though the specific names and interpretations of these motifs may differ from place to place and have changed over time, they are often related to a belief in magic and the protective power of the sign. Together they speak of a deeply felt imagination that informs Amazigh cultural expression.