14 Oct 2016


Paul Vandenbroeck
A book, woven

7 pm

We close the exhibition Bakhnoug, a book, woven with a lecture by Paul Vandenbroeck about these astonishing textiles from Tunisia: although Western aesthetics usually (de)classifies these art works as ‚decorative’ or ‚applied’ art, they are sometimes pure art works with a deep sense of space, color intensities, and multi-layered abstract motifs that can be read —at least by those sharing this Berber culture on the female side (they have never been made by men) and its abstract sensibilities. A bakhnoug can be read like a coded, psychocorporeal autobiography.

The ethics, philosophy, life attitude of the weaver is expressed in the garment itself, it is an open but at the same time a codified book. Female weavers write their inner motives on their clothing and wear and show the message everyday in public (that is, if you can read the abstract writing), a daily exercise in tension between closure and openness. In traditional culture there is no openness in spoken communication. One was not supposed to express her inner feelings verbally. The sense of closure in itself was considered as dignity. Nevertheless it was allowed and even encouraged to express thoughts, emotions and feelings via weaving. This is a remarkable paradox: how in fact a closed and segregated community allows emotional and intellectual openness, albeit encoded in abstract and geometrical forms. Many of these notions are fundamentally paradoxes, not in a logical/discursive but in an experiential (not: experimental) way (e.g. the motif taklil refers to weakness and strength at the same time, indicating the necessity of flexibility). These motifs are more like psychograms, graphic expressions in a visual and spatial way of psychic processes. Language as a non-visual means of expression follows this ‘psychogrammatic’ mechanism. Often, psychocorporeal perceptions bear analogy with bodily movement in space-time. Mental experience and activity, vision and spatial expression co-emerge. This is not about representing the world, but about coping with the world in life, immediate and experienced. Within each community, the weavers’ bakhnougs resonated with each other, as these garments/art works were worn in public space.

Paul Vandenbroeck, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, and Research Group IMMRC, KULeuven, has studied North African textile art since 1991 - although initially trained as an iconologist, specialized in late medieval figurative art from the Netherlands.