Kaftan with belt, on loan from Mrs. Azzabi. Photo credit: Alexander Santos Lima

Saida Bennoude Azzabi: A Master Embroiderer at Wereldmuseum

ROTTERDAM, 13 July 2023 – An exhibition at Rotterdam's Wereldmuseum, entitled “Geen woorden maar draden” (No Words but Threads), brings the legacy of Moroccan embroidery to light, showcasing impressive works created with love, patience, and resilience. This exhibition provides a platform for female artists, whose names are often forgotten in history, to be recognised for their work, the most notable of whom is Saida Bennoude Azzabi.

Saida Bennoude Azzabi: A master of embroidery

In partnership with the Ellae Foundation, the exhibition is featuring a series of work under the program, “Art She Crafted,” introducing one of these under-recognised women, Saida Bennoude Azzabi. Azzabi is a master in the traditional Moroccan textile art of Tarz-Fessi embroidery. Her work, steeped in spiritual significance and artistic expression, showcases this centuries-old tradition that she passionately upholds.

Azzabi's unique talent lies in the creation of geometric patterns through intricate embroidery, executed without counting the stitches. She hails from the first generation of the diaspora and currently resides in Veghel. Azzabi began her training in Tarz-Fessi, one of Morocco’s textile heritage treasures, as a teenager at the Artisanat Traditionnel Residence Batha in Fes-Bali. The Tarz-Fessi embroidery style is characterised by its exactitude, evident in the patterns on the reverse side of the fabric mirroring those on the front.

Detail of pillowcase, on loan from Mrs. Azzabi. Photo credit: Alexander Santos LimaDetail of pillowcase, on loan from Mrs. Azzabi. Photo credit: Alexander Santos Lima

Embroidery in modern fashion

Both fashion designers and embroiderers have rediscovered this embroidery technique, whose geometric patterns are enchanting the contemporary fashion world. Azzabi has built a substantial private archive over the past 60 years, showcasing the historical significance of Tarz-Fessi, making her first public appearance at the Wereldmuseum.

The exhibition includes items such as a kaftan, crafted over several years with thousands of carefully placed stitches forming geometric patterns. Also on display is a cushion cover embroidered with an equally detailed pattern that Azzabi created in 1969 at the age of 17. As part of the exhibition, she has also experimented with combining the traditional Tarz-Fessi embroidery with a new medium – photography, resulting in a youthful portrait on linen that she has embroidered directly onto.

A journey of self-discovery

Azzabi found herself drawn to embroidery at a young age, viewing it as a means to connect with her heritage and cultural traditions. As she embroidered, she learnt more about its history, systems, and meanings. “Tarz el Fessi embroidery really embodies everything,” she says. “Geometry, social codes, family traditions, embellishment, and more.”

General Directions

The Wereldmuseum is located at Willemskade 25, 3016 DM Rotterdam, Netherlands, in a bustling, vibrant area of the city. To access the museum, one can use public transportation or private vehicles. The museum is easily reachable by Tram 7 or Metro lines D and E. For those driving, ample parking is available nearby.


The Ellae Foundation

In collaboration with its partners, the Ellae Foundation works towards a diversified, emancipated, and broadly cultured society. Their mission includes bridging the gender, cultural, and socioeconomic gap in the arts/culture/media sector.

About the Exhibition

The “Geen woorden maar draden" exhibition, which opened on 8 June 2023, showcases a broad array of embroidery work, much of it from the museum's collection, crafted by individuals around the world. The exhibition explores embroidery's multifaceted significance as decoration, cultural expression, narrative document, and reflection of group and individual identities. It will run until 22 October 2023.

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