I was struck by how much inventory there is in the markets of Morocco. There is an (emerging?) American concept, which I certainly held until this trip, that handmade = unique. A handcrafted silver teapot. A handwoven kilim carpet. A thrown clay pot. Perhaps because we have so many items available to us that are mass produced by machines, we glamorize the individuality of the hand-made object. In the recent NYT article about ceramics being "White Hot" this perspective is echoed, with a designer saying, " Something made of the hand is so special, it inherently adds soul and dimension within a space."
But can that handmade object lose its soul and depth?
What I saw in Morocco was craftspeople acting as if they were machines: spewing out item after item with the near robotic precision.
As if taking a cue from the Ford production line, the process of ceramics is broken down to support efficiency: I was told that men are trained as potters, painters (glazers), or kiln operators and each remained in their area of expertise through their careers. The result, stacks of nearly-identical pottery. Perhaps, if you had only one tagine or one bowl, you might think it is charming.
Is that same charm there when you see 100 of the same?
What blew my mind the most, was seeing the stacks of hundreds (thousands? I have never been a good estimator of quantity) of nearly-identical, perfectly woven, knotted, and embroidered carpets. The coveted Moroccan rug. Each one represents weeks of work by women who have few other options for earning income in this country where women are most certainly not empowered. Knowing more about the production of these objects changed the aura surrounding them. Suddenly, the fashionable rug being featured in catalogue after catalogue became more complex than its textures and patterns.
When you understand the context in which an item is made by hand, does it retain the same allure?
Is it right to buy an object without knowing it's source?
Questions to consider. I can't say my photographs do justice to the skill of the makers or quantity of products I saw in Morocco, but they might at least offer a glimpse: