Wish I could have afforded it.
Albaka is a towering Tuareg nomad, regal and laconic in his deep purple robes, who produces stunning silver-smithed jewelry from a pencil point place at the edge of the Saharan desert so remote, he could have just as likely arrived here from Mars. I couldn't stop staring at him, he was so fabulous-looking.
How strange was it to walk into the Afghanistan and Palestinian booths and realize that I had something in common with these artists? Each of us are embroiderers that utilize a counted thread technique, although their work far and away outshines mine. Pillows like the one above were going for around $100, shawls for about $80—a pittance given the time and skill that go into them.
This photo doesn't even begin to do justice to these ceramics. They are incredibly intricate in their design, flawlessly executed, and so beautiful, they made my fingers itch.
As did these carpets by Fatullo Kendjaev. Who knew? If I ever get rich, fuggedabout the Turks; I'm snagging me a houseful of Uzbekistani carpets.
In fact, I'd have to say the Uzbekis were the stars of the market, excelling in embroidery, carpet weaving, ceramics, jewelry making, painting, and chest-making.
But there were reminders, too, of just how far some of these countries have to go in matters more practical and political than artistic.
When I finally caught up with Elizabeth Savanhu, master of Zimbabwean applique quilts, she greeted me with her usual exuberance and then proceeded to tell me about yet another gut punch to her country. Thanks to irresponsible men who refuse to remain faithful to their wives and a superstitious people who put their faith in witchdoctors instead of western medicine, Zimbabwe is slowly being ravaged by HIV. Out of Elizabeth's nine siblings, six are HIV-positive, and along with her own four children, she is also caring for two HIV-positive children out of the many orphaned in her village. Hanging behind her this year were two huge quilts illustrating the problem, their exuberant colors and cartoon-like composition a stark contrast to the grim reality of the story.
And in the last booth I visited that day, I met Rebecca Lolosoli, who was raised in the Samburu tribe of northern Kenya, which is renowned not only for its colorful bead work, but for the ingrained cycle of violence perpetuated by many of the native men against their women. To combat this abuse, Lolosoli secretly purchased a parcel of land outside her village to serve as a woman-only sanctuary for those escaping physical abuse and seeking economic independence. To support themselves, they utilize their tribe's age-old traditional beading techniques to fashion jewelry and baskets for sale at markets around the world.
And this, too:
Adam and Eve? Of course, I had to have it.
I'm not naive enough to believe that a country as hellish as Nigeria can be saved by its artists, but I am heartened to know that at least the impulse to create is as strong as the impulse to destroy. Maybe one day, it will win out.