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North Africa — Algeria and Tunisia: Berber Pottery

In North Africa, two distinct ceramic traditions divide along gender, technology and ethnic lines. The best-known ceramics of Northern Africa are brightly decorated tin-glazed wares, wheel-thrown and fired in large wood-firing kilns. These are products of a male tradition. The alternative—the female tradition—comes from the Berber peoples and is associated with mountain villages in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. The potter Sabiha Ayari, who is from near Sejnane, Tunisia, makes a range of objects from doll-like figures to plates and animals, all with distinctive black and white decoration. She is an unmarried woman of some status in her community and works alongside her mother, sister-in-law and nephew who assist with burnishing and finishing. Her brother has recently given up other work to help expand the business.

In the pottery towns of Kabylie, Algeria, functional pottery is being replaced by mass-produced goods. These communities, though, maintain a commitment to decorated pottery for domestic display. Candlesticks, oil lamps, and formed bowls, all decorated using the same linear geometric technique, are arranged along high shelves around the main room of the traditional house. Each community has a characteristic set of patterns used on these wares.