Whilst running my business in London I was introduced to a tribal silversmith Mohamed Ahnou from the Tuareg tribe in Niger, West Africa who worked with me in London, supplying jewellery , selling and who taught me a great deal about his own Muslim/tribal culture and its jewelry.
Tuareg jewelry fascinates me for its geometry and its symmetry and balance, as well as the fact that silversmiths are born into their trade. They have a worldwide reputation for some of the most interesting tribal jewels in Africa. I am fascinated by their culture and traditions in this very forbidding land. And I adore silver, it is a warm and soft metal.
I began to think of ways I could run my business differently. My business plan from its very beginning included notions of producing my own lines, despite the fact that I had absolutely no training as a jewelry designer. I just felt instinctively I could design and create based on my appreciation and knowledge of tribal jewels, particularly the vocabulary of Tuareg smiths. So encouraged by my friendship and dialogue with Mohamed I decided to go to Niger at the beginning of 2015 to see how I could create some of my own collections working with the smiths there.
Agadez is a remote but historic town in the North of Niger where many Tuareg smiths live and work. Even getting there was an extraordinary ordeal. Despite stern warnings from my government and the tourist agencies in the capital city Niamey, there was a war against Boko Haram so that internal flights were cancelled. I travelled over 20 gruelling hours in 42 degree heat. The only white face in sight through these remote desert regions, eventually suffering both Typhoid and Malaria (thankfully caught early) all to get to the silversmiths I had grown to admire and love from studying their work.
Agadez is a desert town that used to have tourists but now they have all disappeared. War and drought have caused great poverty. But there is a thriving industry of silversmithing that keeps many families going. The town is full of small workshops with basic tools centred around the hammer, the anvil, file and the saw. As well as the lost wax process. Sitting on the ground is a normal way of life. (my hips and knees are killing me from all that sitting I ended up doing).