Between the Sea and the Desert: The Many Cultures of North Africa

Every thread has a soul – this Arab proverb is particularly true for the textile culture of Maghreb, the most northwestern part of Africa. Between the Sea and the Desert showcases the Textile Museum’s rich and diverse Northwest African collection of rugs, shawls and garments on view for the first time.

From ancient times this “place of sunset” (meaning of the Arabic word maghreb) served as a crossroads for peoples and influences moving between sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean.

Type: Exhibition

Date: Nov 21, 2007 - May 18, 2008

Curated by: Natalia Nekrassova


For the nomadic tribesmen of the Atlas Mountains, the sedentary countrymen of the plains and the multicultural city-dwellers of the Mediterranean seashore textiles have always been more than simple necessities of life. They were a means of creative expression, and a way of recording life experiences and relationships with nature and other cultures.

The rich Northwest African collection of the Textile Museum of Canada demonstrates the variety of textiles shaped by the region’s natural diversity and cultural history. Luxurious silks and embroideries from the coastal cities present a cosmopolitan Mediterranean tradition based on Hispano-Moresque, Arab, and Ottoman sources. Their intricate abstract and floral designs were inherited from the flourishing art traditions of Andalusia and the Middle East, and reflected artistic canons of international Islamic culture. The men’s robes and women’s shawls of extraordinary beauty produced by the indigenous Berber population reveal traditions that flourished and remained unchanged deep in the Atlas Mountains. Rugs made by sedentary Arabs and Berbers of the plains between the sea and the desert with their bright colours and dramatic patterns demonstrate the weavers’ exposure to the different cultures of Maghreb.

The Textile Museum of Canada is exhibiting its Northwest African collection for the first time. This collection is one of only a handful of its kind in North America.



Workshop: Hands-on Henna
Saturday March 8, 1:00 – 5:00 pm
Learn how to prepare and paint henna designs on your body at this fun hands-on workshop. This activity will include learning about the history of henna painting and will appeal to adults and youth (12 and up).
Members $50, Non-members $65, Full-time students and youth $40, Materials $20
Advance registration is required, class size is limited. To register, call 416-599-5321 x 2221.

Curator’s Tour
Wednesday March 12, 6:30 pm
Join Natalia Nekrassova in the galleries for a tour of Between the Sea and the Desert.
Free with admission.

Performance: Arabesque Dancing and Music
Wednesday April 9, 6:30 pm
Yasmina Ramzy, Bassam Bishara and Suleiman Warwar of Arabesque Dance Company and Orchestra will present an evening of Arabic dance and live music. From the glorious Bellydance to the spiritual Whirling Dervish, haunting vocals and intoxicating drums, the leading artists of this world renowned company will reveal the mysteries of Arabic art.
Members $12, Non-members $15, Full-time students Pay-What-You-Can.
Please arrive early, seating is limited.

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