The wetland marshes in the middle and lower basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq comprise a complex of shallow freshwater lakes, marshes and seasonally inundated floodplains. These marshes have provided a home for the Ma’dan or Marsh Arabs for at least five thousand years. They live in semi permanent reed or mud-brick houses that were built on artificial islands made from layers of mats, reeds and mud. All of the carpet weaving, embroidery and related crafts are practiced solely by Ma’dan women. They use locally spun and dyed wool and traditionally weave the blankets on ground looms in two or more separate panels. They are then purchased and elaborately embroidered by young Ma’dan girls for their marriage beds and sometimes by mothers for their sons. The embroidered blankets are often especially inventive and are made without drawn patterns of any kind. Each weaver keeps in her head the position and size of the patterns she wishes to appear on the finished work and weaves or embroiders accordingly. Those most prized are heavily embroidered over their entire surface with a multitude of colourful patterns.
Tremendous changes have taken place in the weaving villages in the last forty odd years. One factor is the total absence of the Bedouin, who used to camp in the area during the winter and who traded with the weavers. Another, and even more devastating factor, which was especially detrimental occurred during the Iraq / Iran war of the 1980’s when huge swaths of marsh were drained, while others villages were flooded and much of the vegetation throughout poisoned. To this day areas of the remaining marshes are still drained in the name of ‘progress’.
The piece displayed here is a striking if somewhat restrained example, that is while not overtly colourful it puts to very good use what colours are used, as are the varying designs interspersed throughout. It is in very good condition.