Fadma, aweaver from the Ait Hamza weaving cooperative, poses in her Ait Hilt home.
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Following a design in their heads and the skill of their fingers, Fadima and Jamila work side by side on a vertical loom in their Taznakht workshop.
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Locals spend the day at the banks of a river on the outskirts of Kelaa Mgouna washing their carpets and bedspreads.
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Marhejouba relaxes beside her home-made wooden loom in her living room. She is one of the best weavers in the Ait Hamza cooperative, but rarely makes the half hour trek to the village workshop because she prefers to weave at home and she must attend to household duties.
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All of the weavers from the Ait Hamza cooperative gather in the home of an artisan who has just given birth to a healthy baby boy. The mother and her newborn rest in the next room while the rest of the women share an afternoon snack of Moroccan mint tea, recently-pressed olive oil and freshly baked bread.
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Sheep sheering is an annual ritual that takes place at the beginning of June throughout Morocco. This part of the process is performed by men, but every other part of the carpet weaving process is championed by women. Once the sheep are sheared, the wool is washed by the river, and then laid out to dry in the sun.
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An Ain Leuh loom in the mid-afternoon sunlight.
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Khalti Mimouna poses in her guest living room moments before she pushes the curtains open and invites several of the weavers into her home for an extravagant mid-day meal.
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Adam peers over his shoulder at the TV in the inner courtyard below. It's dusk in the desert of Taznakht, and the outside air has finally cooled off enough to bring out the carpets and the TV and enjoy the last few minutes of daylight.
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Inside the Ait Hamza weaving cooperative.
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Majda plays with Fadma's head scarf. Majda is from the northern Arabic-speaking part of Morocco and has come to spend the summer with her grandmother in Ait Hamza. Despite not being able to speak Fadma's Amazigh language, called Tamazight, the two are inseparable.
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Rabha, Fadma, Majda, and Aisha turn one last time before crossing the bridge on their way home from work. These weavers all live on the other side of the river, about a half hour's walk from the weaving workshop.
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A glance into Ait Hamza family life.
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Khadouj at her spinning wheel in Ain Leuh.
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Fatima laying out carpets in the computer room of the Ait Hamza weaving cooperative.
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Jamila and her son Adam pose inside their Taznacht home, which is also the headquarters of a weaving cooperative. Jamila spends most of her day in this room, or in the workshop around the corner.
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Khalti Hashou stands amid the other women at the baby ceremony in Ait Hamza. Although she doesn't live in the home and has no immediate relation to the new mother, as one of the older and more revered women in the cooperative, she plays a major role in facilitating this event.
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The road between Ait Hamza and Ait Tilt, which many weavers walk several times daily to get between home and work.
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Khadouj at her loom. This vertical loom, as opposed to the horizontal loom, is a more traditional way of weaving, and a more difficult one.
In Morocco, where men are responsible for most of their country’s artisanal production, women have maintained the age-old craft of indigenous weaving. Until recently these rural Moroccan women have remained all but invisible behind the warp threads of their looms, single-handedly passing down the weaving tradition from mother to daughter In this way designs, colors, and patterns are preserved like family heirlooms, within each family, each town, and each region. Untangling Threads: Female Artisans in Morocco's Rug Weaving Industry, offers a glimpse into rural Moroccan life as it documents the culture and craft of female weavers, specifically focusing on artisans from three rural weaving communities: Ain Leuh, Ait Hamza, and Taznakht.
I began photographing this long-term documentary project about these weavers in June of 2010 with my friend and collaborator Alia Kate—fair trade activist and founder of Kantara Crafts—who has been visiting and working with the women pictured in the photographs for the past four years. Initially, we had hoped to create a project that would expose the inherent injustices in Morocco’s carpet weaving industry: while the carpets are generally sold for high-dollar amounts, the female artisans have traditionally received a very small percentage of the profits, which has perpetuated the cycle of poverty and child labor in rural Morocco.
As we moved through the Middle and High Atlas Mountains—staying in the homes of the artisans and experiencing their immense generosity and strength, breaking bread with them and drinking their tea, watching them weave—it was clear that we were capturing a much different story. The weaving cooperatives documented in this project are now mostly self-promoting and making direct sales rather than relying on middlemen to distribute their carpets. Through my photographs, I hope to illuminate the hands behind the handicraft, and celebrate women artisans in Morocco who—despite cultural and logistical barriers—continue to produce beautiful, high-end, and coveted carpets. Ultimately, these photos areabout the humanity of the artisans as they maintain a craft that has endured centuries and as they fight against all odds to keep their craft pertinent in a globalizing world.