It is no secret that I am drawn to the art of Moroccan mosaics. I find the geometry and repetitive patterning engaging, the colours beautiful, and the craftsmanship awe inspiring. On my trips to Morocco in recent years I have been particularly drawn to Moroccan mosaics and their vast and varied application in the way they are used to adorn to decorate public building, historic sites and private homes. They are applied to the full length of walls, ceilings and floors, they provide visual highlights for water fountains and bathroom basins. The centuries-old tradition of creating Moroccan mosaics is known as ‘zillige’, and has been passed down from generation to generation. They draw on impressive geometric and calligraphic designs, their complicated patterns studied by many in diverse fields including mathematics and engineering.
Back in the 14th century, the wealthy rushed to decorate their homes with zillige as a statement of affluence. The practice is very much still alive today. Those who can afford to do so will commission mosaic tile designs for their homes or public buildings. The commissioning process involves enlisting the services of a group of highly skilled crafts people who create individual ceramic pieces that are glazed, cut, painted and ultimately placed within a larger broader design.
Moroccan mosaics are visually intense, their designs complex, yet also ordered and repetitive. It is this repetitive pattern on a large scale that particularly draws me in, and I find parallels with the repetitive patterning that is the stitched needlepoint tapestry. I am also curiously attracted to the imperfections of ageing and chipped individual Moroccan mosaic tiles. They represent the longevity of the centuries-old tradition that is Moroccan mosaic making. To me, they also represent nature’s imperfections.
Although inspired by Roman mosaics, Moroccan mosaic designs only ever form abstract patterns, never representing images of living things. Their designs have roots in pre-Islamic Berber culture of North Africa, which influenced the straight lines and hard edges, and have also been heavily influenced by Moorish architecture and design from Spain.
The colour palette has changed over time from simple, earthy shades of brown and white in the 11th century, to a broader colour palette that included yellows, greens and blues and in more recent times, turquoise. The relatively modern Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (built in 1993) boasts eye-popping panels of turquoise mosaics.
Moroccan mosaics have such a distinctive design style, and have come to influence modern western interiors. I am excited to continue to explore ways in which the ancient technique of hand-stitching can be juxtaposed with the Moroccan tradition of zillige. You can see examples of my Moroccan mosaic-inspired tapestries here