|wax cloth from Senegal and Mali|
In their minds they are doing something significantly different from the fabricator of this ashtray that a friend gave me--another cherished gift. The clay used for this small item is essentially mud. I doubt that the artist purchased anything in order to make this; the animal hair is likely to have been trimmed from one of the many work horses around the city. Perhaps here we can make distinctions: Artisans from hand-crafters? Workers from dedication from those who labor from necessity? Levels of talent? I find it difficult to judge as lesser whoever fashioned this comfortable and colloquial old man. It's a different voice in different materials.
Horn is translucent, and can be used in genuinely artistic ways that feature the qualities of the material. A friend honored me with this exquisite small vessel, carved from horn in several thicknesses and, like the bangles, decorated with ink.
Senegalese artisans use natural materials: Horn, mud, gourds, seeds, seashells, wood, and hair are all very common. Jewelry is commonly seen for sale on the streets and on the beaches, and most is made from something that could be collected and strung, or something that could be fashioned into beads, like seed pods. The baobab tree has round, variegated brown seeds of about an inch in diameter, which are lovely as earrings or as an element in necklaces.
I was given a necklace and earrings in Dakar that are not made of natural materials, but recycled ones. The beads of the necklace are made of recycled beer bottle glass. The earrings are beads made from green bottle beach glass, roughened up in the surf. Beach glass and beach detritus are common, useful elements for Dakar artisans.
|Neighborhood tailor shop displaying samples|
|wax cloth samples|
A tailor who sewed for me worked entirely without patterns, having been trained as an apprentice in his village. The most skilled tailor can be shown a picture of any garment and will reproduce it without further instruction. Ornamentation is highly prized. Tailors embroider on the sewing machine. The embroidery on the golden garment, right, was done free-hand for me by the same village tailor.
The idea of craft, precious in the West, has little of the reverential in Senegal. Craft is vital and day-to-day. Even when it's made for tourists, it's bouyant, unique, and provides the livelihood of it's untrained maker. The urban crafts of Dakar are rooted in necessity and functionality. The best of them can reach the level of art, but the ones I have seen—made from personal invention and fashioned from cow horn, seeds, and beach glass—don't approach the gasp of Do Not Touch or You Broke It, You Bought It.