Kantara Project Rides Magic Carpet to Oberlin

Peter Meckel, Staff Writer

The Kantara Project is coming to Oberlin this October. Founded by Alia Kate, OC ’08, the Kantara Project is an educational program that aims to develop and inform the world view of its participants as they learn about the traditional art of weaving in Morocco.

A Politics major with a concentration in international relations, Kate took a leave of absence in 2008 to learn Arabic and volunteer for a human rights organization in Morocco. While there, she was deeply moved by the art and culture of Moroccan rug weaving. “Initially, I was drawn to the carpets because of the artistry,” she said. But after witnessing the financial exploitation of women rug-weavers by larger Moroccan industries, she wanted to make a difference. In 2008, Kate started a fair-trade business that imports carpets directly from women’s weaving cooperatives in rural Morocco, in order to encourage the growth of the art, pay the artists the wages their work deserves, and increase an understanding of Moroccan culture within the United States. This business is now Kantara.

The Kantara Project grew out of Kantara in an effort to more comprehensively educate a wider American audience about Moroccan culture. Focusing mainly on young people, the Kantara Project collaborates with existing state standards and curricula to provide elementary, middle and high school students with classes inspired by the traditional art of weaving in Morocco.

The Kantara Project in Oberlin has several components: a gallery exhibit of hand-woven Moroccan rugs alongside photographs documenting the lives of the weavers, on display at the FAVA gallery in downtown Oberlin; artist walk-throughs of that exhibit, for which Kate is a docent; and a supplementary curriculum that will be taught in the Oberlin public schools this fall.

The interdisciplinary curriculum relates every subject to Moroccan weaving; it includes math classes that focus on surface area and design through the examination of Moroccan geometric motifs, art classes that explore the style of contemporary Moroccan street art and graffiti, and chemistry classes that study the chemical processes of dying wool. Kate believes that by learning about the world through different aspects of Moroccan culture, participants will glean an invaluable understanding of themselves and their communities.

Donna Shurr, a teacher at Oberlin High School, has been instrumental in bringing the Kantara Project to the Oberlin school system. As the school system’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, it is Shurr’s job to foster a multicultural academic environment. “The Kantara Project in the schools is a wonderful program for many reasons,” she said. “It has been a perfect way to link high school students with community members, and a fabulous project with learning about another culture.”

As for the future, Kate envisions the Kantara Project spreading to schools across the U.S. Inspired by cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, a non-profit, cross-cultural arts and educational effort spanning three continents, Kate said, “I would love to take this project as far as it can possibly go.”