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, he got fascinated by these anonymous but unique weavings from Morocco to Libya. Especially the Tunisian/Libyan bakhnougs - with their sense of emptiness and their microscopic motifs, with their abstraction that bears multiple meanings - have retained his attention.
The bakhnougs are long scarfs to cover women's heads; the weavers were always rural women without any form of schooling. The lack of a verbal discourse around these textiles, the inability of western scholars and art historian to decode their motifs and language are among the reasons why they have been always discarded, always ignored. Nonetheless, this art is bearer of an encyclopedia of feelings, ideas, passions, fears, moral maxims, and, yes: philosophy.
The motifs are not figures - there is no symbolism - nor do they aim to represent the world. Rather, they are kind of hooks on which one might attach a cloud of related - even contradictory - meanings and significations. They do not represent the world, they illustrate how to behave among others in the world, from a female perspective.
Villa Romana is now displaying twenty-five unique pieces of textile art from the collections of Paul Vandenbroeck and of Renata Anna Menzel who has gathered during two decades the largest, and most important, museum-quality collection in this field.
This interview was recorded at Villa Romana and it's the chance to get a passionate insight into the astonishing, magic art of weaving. Paul Vandenbroeck speaks about the philosophy, the weaving technique and the critical misfortune of Tunisian and Libian bakhnoug.
The exhibition The bakhnoug, a book, woven is open until October 14th 2016, when at 7.00 pm, Paul Vandenbroeck will be giving a lecture on this traditional textile art.
The bakhnoug, a book, woven, Installation View, Villa Romana, 2016. Ph.© Ilan Zarantonello, OKNOstudio, Archivio Villa Romana.