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The Enigma of the Return

It is argued that the Modernist interest in the abstract patterns often found in rural weavings of north Africa was a reaction against the Orientalism which dominated art of the period.  
Deconstruction of the Orientalist myths and stereotypes projected in the 18th and 19th century western art marks the beginning of the modern perspective of the Orient spearheaded by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and others.

Carpet of Memory
Carpet of Memory Paul Klee

If viewed exclusively in this contest, that is, as rebellion of the early 20th century art against romanticised realism of the past; it is as if a spiritual and highly evocative image reveals itself once the seductive veneer wears off.   

Paul Klee’s 1914 journey to north Africa was not one of disenchantment; it was a journey of discovery.  The heat, dust and streets bustling with ordinary people outside of the Ottoman courts that was depicted in paintings by his predecessors offered a glimpse into a world of different scents and colours.

The connection between Modernist and by extension contemporary art and Berber textiles of north Africa has been a subject of intense scholarship for a few decades.

Paul Klee’s and Le Corbusier are the best-known artists whose work has been scrutinized in this respect.

Jurgen Adam, as well as Gerhard Blazek, both foremost experts on Berber rugs, have contributed to this discourse on the occasion of numerous international exhibits and lectures.

Parallels between genuine Berber rugs from Morocco and the Modernist paintings may appear obvious and while the direct inspiration remains a subject of debate, the presence of Berber rugs on the western market at the beginning of the 20th century has no doubt played part in the transition from the realism to abstract, a return to art as spiritual experience. 

Piotr Wesolowski

Additional reading Paul Klee Carpet of Memory
Paul Klee

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