Art Through Time: A Global View
Domestic Life Art: Bag (taghrek)
Traditionally a semi-nomadic, pastoral people, the Tuareg are spread out over the central Sahara, inhabiting regions of what today are the nations of Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, and to a lesser extent, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
The environment they live in is one of the harshest on earth. Despite this, or perhaps in response to it, the Tuareg take care to make the objects that they use in their everyday lives not just functional, but also beautiful. Camel saddles, tent poles, jewelry, pillows, tools, and leather bags like this one, thus, become statements of identity and pride in the Tuareg way of life.
Tuareg culture is organized in a class system. Artists and smiths, called inadan, belong to their own class, which also includes poets, musicians, healers, and others. The inadan specialize in various art forms, generally based on gender divisions. The men are usually metal smiths, while the women work primarily in fiber and leather arts. Andi Ouhoulou, the woman who created this bag, is renowned for leatherwork. Her husband, Saidi Oumba, is a jewelry maker.
Bags like this one are traditionally made of goat leather, which is colored with natural dyes to obtain rich earth tones and vibrant colors. Ouhoulou has decorated this fringed, leather bag with geometric motifs and tribal patterns. Tassels have been added to either side. The bag exhibits a number of qualities that appeal to Tuareg notions of beauty, which is discussed in terms of “brightness,” “evenness,” “balance,” and “organization.”
For over two millennia, the Tuareg people thrived as traders, crossing the Sahara in large camel caravans destined for markets on the desert’s periphery. In the twentieth century, various factors upset that traditional nomadic lifestyle. Today, many Tuareg have settled in villages and towns and adopted modern conveniences. While they continue to produce domestic and personal items with great artistry for their own use, Tuareg inadan such as Andi Ouhoulou and Saidi Oumba now participate in a global economy, creating goods for foreign as well as local clientele.
Thomas K. Seligman, Director of Cantor Arts for the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University
“The Tuareg are a nomadic pastoral people whose central homeland is the middle of the Sahara in the countries today of Southern Algeria, Northern Niger, Eastern Mali and a little bit of Southwestern Libya. You have a specialist group of people, the inadan, whose job it is to make things with a fairly limited repertoire of materials that they work with. The inadan are both men and women, and they marry in and amongst themselves. So the women are primarily responsible for the leather side and then the men more the metal and animals—women more domestic. Their job was to make things for the Tuareg to use.
They move a lot in a harsh environment, so the stuff has to be durable. It has to function absolutely well—has to be lightweight, quite portable, easily manipulated, transported. So, what do they make? Pastoral people have animals, so they make leather things—bags, tents, camel trappings, saddles for camels; they make very elaborate decorative bags. For a pastoral nomadic people that live in a tough, harsh environment where resources are very scarce, your first considerations have to be functionality. But they always make it more. They make it more beautiful.”
Albacete, M.J. “Tuareg Art and Artisans.” African Arts 11.4 (July 1978): 82–84.
“Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World. (October 10, 2007–January 27, 2008).” In Exhibits. National Museum of African Art web site. http://www.nmafa.si.edu/exhibits/tuareg.
Loughran, Kristyne. “Jewelry, Fashion, and Identity: The Tuareg Example.” African Arts 36.1 (Spring 2003): 52–65, 93.
Rasmussen, Susan J. “Gendered Discourses and Mediated Modernities: Urban and Rural Performances of Tuareg Smith Women.” Journal of Anthropological Research 59.4 (Winter 2003): 487–509.
Rasmussen, Susan J. “Art as Process and Product: Patronage and the Problem of Change in Tuareg Blacksmith/Artisan Roles.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 65.4 (1995): 592–610.
Seligman, Thomas K., et al. Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 2006.