Artist Profiles

Artist:

Haoua Albaka

Region:

Africa

Country:

Niger

Organization:

Tawre

Media/General:

Leatherwork

Year(s) Attended:

Santa Fe: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018

About:

Niger’s Tuareg people are responsible for artwork of legendary beauty, including fine silver jewelry and textiles. Leather goods from the region are distinctive for their vibrant, rainbow range of colors, as well for the intricacy of their decoration. Master leatherworker Haoua Albaka tans, dyes and sews leather purses, wallets, belts, and other items using natural dyes. Indigo, for example, is used for darker reds and purples, while brass and milk lend themselves to lighter shades. Each and every item is made by hand from start to finish.

Albaka is as resourceful as she is artistic, and doesn’t cut corners when it comes to her commitment to keep things handmade and locally sourced. Even the glue used to apply various embellishments is made by hand, using a process of boiling flour or millet down until it has a sticky, adhesive consistency. Dyes, too, have natural origins; the artist gathers regional plants, pulverizes them, and then boils them with other solutions to create characteristically vibrant hues. Goat leather is the material used in Albaka’s handiwork, sourced from local animals. Recycled string is even employed for embroidered embellishments, as well as for stitching together purses and wallets.

Consistent with the matrilineal nature of leatherwork in Niger, Albaka learned her trade from her grandmother’s, mother, and aunts. Traditionally, leather pouches called camel bags have been used for millennia by the Tuareg, not just as a means of carrying belongings, but also for ceremonial purposes.

This highly specialized work is unique to the Tuareg and has evolved over time to keep up with more modern-day use. With elaborate, fun tassels and intriguingly abstracted design elements, purses are a remarkably eye-catching offering from Albaka. Unisex wallets and belts are also some of the remarkable accessories offered by this phenomenal artist.