What is a moarragh?
Hundreds or perhaps thousands of years after the first stone carvings by human …
Nobody knows for sure when and where, but the creative human being eventually found the mysterious world of trees and wood through scrutiny. A wonderful creation by the only painter of the universe, who has created a world of color and pattern right into the heart of trees so that every beholder, having cut a tree open and finding a world of beauty inside, involuntarily open his lips to praise: “So blessed is Allah, the best of creators”.
With the discovery of a wooden comb in the ruins of the ancient Shahr-e Sukhteh in Zabol, the latest archeological studies have estimated this form of art to be dating back to 5000 BC. Investigation of the patterns and techniques used for inlaying this work of moarragh has revealed that all of the patterns on this comb are Persian and resemble the patterns on other excavated ceramics in the region. The technique used in its production was also fundamentally different from Indian moarragh technique. These findings have rejected the hypothesis that the comb, hence the art itself, was imported and proved the authenticity and antiquity of the art of Morragh in Persia.
Traditionally, wood moarragh has been used to decorate doors, windows, and tools. Moarragh artists were trying to embellish their surrounding with a number of woods of different natural colors, like ebony, betel nut, pear, mulberry, and Russian olive woods.
Over time, the art of moarragh woodwork developed and more delicate and complicated patterns and compositions of more diverse woods were used. Within a few centuries, as artists and the art of moarragh gained more prominence, great masters began to appear in the field, who had a fundamental role in the spread and development of the art in Iran. Hussein Taherzadeh Behzad, Ahmad Emami, Ahmad Raana are just a few examples of such masters.
Unfortunately, the art of moarragh is still known to be a branch of handicrafts. Those who consider this art a craft have misunderstood its basic definition and assume that moarragh is nothing more than cutting wood into small pieces and laying them along each other. However, this definition does not fit the professional practice of this art, nor does it do justice to it.
To put across the idea, let’s compare the art of moarragh with the more widely known art of painting.
A moarragh artist should not only master the knowledge of colors, principles of perspective, various designing techniques, visual aesthetics, and color harmony and interaction, in a way comparable to a painter; she/he should also be familiar with and master a number of other principles that are specific to their expertise. Knowledge of trees and woods with respect to their physical and chemical properties, colors and places of growth, and the calculation of oxidation level and the changes of color over time of various wood types are some of the required expertise, based on which various woods are used. Finally, patience and perseverance in exploring the nature is a must to pursue various patterns and colors from the heart of trees.
If in painting, colors are skillfully combined with careful consideration and calculation of saturation, harmony and principles of visual aesthetics, in moarragh all such considerations and calculations are taken into account but with considerably more difficulties; because they all need to be accounted for given the limited number of wood colors and particular characteristics of patterns and fabrics of woods.
Remember, you cannot create color in moarragh woodwork. You cannot create shades of color with one stroke of the brush. You cannot mix colors to create a new one. You cannot fade one color into another in the same way as in painting. In moarragh, the composition of color and pattern of a specific wood is unique in nature and can be used only once: trial and error is irreversible. In this form of art, one should be exploring and searching the natural world in order to find a suitable color (if he is lucky enough). In this form of art, even the simplest techniques of painting may not be accomplished unless with great difficulty and superior skills of the artist. And that’s just the beginning. The actual creation of a form that usually takes an artist a few minutes to paint, requires several days of moarragh woodwork.
In fact, the moarragh artist tries to manifest what he sees in a form made of wood. He tries to graft his drawing, not onto the paint, but onto the soul and matter of the tree, so that he can extract the divine patterns out of the tree and present them as masterfully as possible by grafting them onto the human drawing. His artistic abilities are pattern-finding, portrayal, pattern combination, and the creation of an original work of art. His artistry is to draw by wood.