Sew Empowering: How Sewing Classes are Changing Lives

by Shayna Watson

The phrase “doing well by doing good” has been said many times to express the importance of making an impact with our altruistic actions. Documentaries like “Poverty Inc.” warn us about the dangers of giving to communities in need without allowing them to make a future for themselves. With good intentions, aid programs often displace local merchants with the donation of food and clothing in villages who once had their own goods economy. NGOs are becoming aware of these potential pitfalls and are adapting accordingly by ensuring that locals are involved in the development of long-term, sustainable aid programs that work to build on existing local economies and trade.

The Association of Unemployed People, in partnership with USAID, is a local resource that works to give young people in Niger the opportunity to learn trade skills. With unemployment on the rise after a shift in the (local) uranium mining industry, many young people were turning to illegal activity in order to provide for their families. The correlation between the high unemployment rate, mortality rate, and increased crime can be seen in countries throughout the world. In 2016, the association, with support from international aid initiatives, was able to refurbish sewing machines and secure training so Nigerien youth could learn to sew traditional clothing as a trade. Young adults who may have otherwise suffered from the decline in employment opportunities are able to take advantage of the two-year training program that includes sewing, knitting, and current events discussions. Students of the program are able to sell their clothing in the studio’s boutique and also take their talents back to their village to teach others.

Before the revitalization of the studio, only women were trained to sew in most villages. After the revamp, both women and men (ranging in age from 14-27) are able to take part in the training curriculum, and gain a very valuable skill set to provide for themselves and their families. The surrounding communities have shown support and excitement for the growing program, with many tailors hiring students from the studio to help in their shops.

The positive effects of building sustainable opportunities for communities plagued with poverty and terroristic threats can be seen on both the smaller and larger scales in the change it has brought to the Agadez region of Niger. In addition to the trade program, community cohesion initiatives have worked to aid local citizens in detecting, preventing, and responding to threats of violence with awareness training and workshops. These programs hope to empower local organizations to identify at-risk youths, connect them to programs, and advocate for their needs and concerns.

With the inaugural class of students graduating from the two-year program, the sewing studio is still flourishing and even has a waitlist of young adults hoping to join future classes. The citizens of Agadez will hopefully continue to feel the social impact of a program that focuses on addressing financial, social, and emotional needs in their local and worldwide communities.



The Lifeboat of the Desert

by Jennifer Dees

On June 20, 2018, the world honored millions of refugees for World Refugee Day. Along with their bravery and resilience, I also want to honor Niger, one of the countries that has given refugees hope for a new life.

To understand Niger’s role, we first need to understand the refugee crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. From Mali and Chad, Cameroon and Libya, hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children have fled the ruins of their homes and the threat of death. Many cross through Agadez, Niger on their way to Libya and on to the Mediterranean Sea where they board tightly packed smuggler boats bound for the safety of Europe. Some never make it to the sea, caught by traffickers, rapists, or ransomers on the long trek. Those who do make it to the coast then begin the most dangerous part of the journey. In 2017, over 3,000 migrants drowned when their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. These tragedies are increasing as more European ports close to migrants, leaving them stranded on the waters. The Libyan Coast Guard often sends boats out to bring them back to shore, but then they’re then held in detention centers where some remain for years.

Migrants wait before being deported by Libyan authorities

This is where Niger comes in, seeking out refugees in Libyan detention centers and on their long journeys north. The UN Relief Agency resettles the refugees most at risk, either in Niger with host families, or in a resettlement location in another country. After resettling 122 refugees in Niger, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, praised the nation: “One of the poorest countries is also one of the most generous. It has security issues, economic problems, and a complex neighborhood, but it has always kept its borders open.” Like a lifeboat in a tumultuous sea, Niger is often surrounded by conflict. Despite its limited resources, it continues to reach out and pull these desperate refugees to safety.

Nevertheless, the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to Niger is increasing, and with limited resources, Niger is struggling to keep up. It had to suspend refugee resettlement operations for two months because too few countries would accept them. In addition, many of the Nigerien communities that integrate refugees are extremely underdeveloped and lacking in resources. As Wells Bring Hope continues to drill wells, rural villages will be more equipped to help. Migrants suffer through unimaginable pain and loss, through heat, hunger, and absolute uncertaintythat anyone should have to walk miles for uncontaminated water is heart-wrenching. As Niger continues to keep its borders open, I hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the world, that even in great need, we can offer hope to millions of people just looking for something to hold on to.



Water Action Decade

by Stephanie Coles

2018 marks the start of what the U.N. is calling “the Water Action Decade:” a decade-long quest to improve the world’s access to clean water. As outlined by the President of the United Nations General Assembly, “clean, accessible water is critical for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger, and it is indispensable for human development, health and well-being. There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. But water-related challenges, including limited access to safe water and sanitation…remain high on the global agenda.”

The goals of this plan, however, are being rolled into the U.N.’s larger “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Goals for this agenda include:

People – We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

Planet – We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations. 

Prosperity – We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

Peace – We are determined to foster peaceful, just, and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

Partnership – We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The agenda in total lists 169 targets in 17 goal areas.

I recently read a book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism. The core of the book can be distilled into three sentences:

  1.  “Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”
  2.  “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in.”
  3.  “When faced with so many tasks and obligations that you can’t figure out which to tackle first, stop. Take a deep breath. Get present in the moment and ask yourself what is most important this very second – not what’s most important tomorrow or even an hour from now.”

There’s a very powerful image in the book that demonstrates how much more progress can be made when channeling your energy into one goal, rather than splitting your focus in 12 different ways:

While I can’t help but feel inspired by the lofty goals of the U.N.’s agenda, it is hard to feel empowered to help as an individual when their objectives are so numerous and widespread. I worry that the lack of focus and prioritization will end up preventing them from being as effective as possible. I can’t help but wonder if the U.N.’s resources were focused on one priority, like solving access to clean water, what might be accomplished and how quickly?

Essentialism helped justify my continued support of the mission of Wells Bring Hope, which focuses strictly on solving the water crisis in Niger, the world’s poorest country. It does not try to fix every issue. Wells Bring Hope determined their priority, and how they could make their greatest contribution to solving that problem. This year, Wells Bring Hope was proud to announce that over 500 wells have been funded, transforming the lives and communities of those most in need.

If you are reading this and considering donating, I hope this comforts you. I believe that a small organization like Wells Bring Hope can have a huge impact, simply based on their focus and sense of purpose.


The West African Giraffe: Niger’s Success Story

by Elaine Wallace

In the past 30 years, Africa’s giraffe population has been reduced by 40% due to habitat loss, poaching, and civil unrest. In some areas, it has plummeted by more than 80% bringing some giraffe species close to extinction. The future looks bleak for many of Africa’s giraffes. But in Niger, home of the West African giraffe, a different story is unfolding. Giraffes are making a comeback thanks to a conservation strategy that has the government, conservation groups, and local communities working together to save them.

photo taken in 2015 by Barbara Goldberg at the Giraffe Park in Niger

A hundred years ago, West African giraffes numbered in the thousands and their habitat stretched from the coast of Senegal to the middle of Africa. By 1996, the population had been decimated. Only 49 giraffes remained, and their habitat had shrunk to one small part of Niger. The West African giraffe looked certain to disappear forever. Under pressure from conservation groups, Niger became the first country in Africa to adopt a National Giraffe Conservation Strategy. Other African countries and the wider international communities have been slow to respond to the plight of the giraffe, in part because of a public misperception that the iconic animal is “everywhere” in Africa. Niger was the first country to recognize the severity of the threats facing giraffes and its conservation strategy has been remarkably successful. Today, there are more than 600 West African giraffes in Niger.

Niger’s conservation strategy was three-pronged. The government passed, and actually enforced, strict laws forbidding hunting and imposing jail terms and large fines for poaching. Recognizing the potential importance of ecotourism to Niger’s economy, the government also allocated resources to promoting giraffe-based ecotourism. Most importantly, the government also took steps to resolve ongoing conflicts between giraffes and local communities. This has been a key factor in the success of Niger’s conservation policy because it has brought local communities into the conservation effort and given them a stake in the outcome.

photo taken in 2015 by Barbara Goldberg at the Giraffe Park in Niger

Most of Africa’s giraffes live in protected areas far from human activity. But Niger’s giraffes live on community lands alongside farmers, villagers, and nomadic herders, and they have to compete with people for scarce resources, such as trees and water. Giraffes eat 75 to 125 pounds of leaves per day; when people cut trees for firewood or to plant crops, the giraffes’ natural food source disappears and they must find other food to survive, which often means raiding fields and eating crops. Giraffes also get most of their water from leaves; without trees, they must compete with people for other water sources, such as lakes and rivers. The government tried to solve these problems by banning woodcutting in the giraffe zone, but people ignored the law because they needed firewood. Better solutions were required.

The government and conservation groups have adopted a variety of solutions designed to provide viable alternatives to woodcutting, poaching, and other activities that harm giraffes. To reduce deforestation and preserve water sources for giraffes, they provide free firewood and drill wells for local communities. To reduce poaching, they bring local people into the conservation effort to assist with protecting giraffes, including training local guides to track the giraffes’ locations and behaviors. They also educate local communities on the cultural and economic importance of the giraffe, provide strategies for avoiding human-giraffe conflict, and create local committees to resolve conflict.

photo taken in 2015 by Barbara Goldberg at the Giraffe Park in Niger

Women have also played a key role in Niger’s conservation strategy. For example, to combat deforestation, local communities established nurseries to grow seedlings and have replanted thousands of trees, with women sowing the majority of the seeds. In addition, many women have received microloans to start small businesses, such as raising and selling livestock, in return for pledging to be “pro-giraffe.”

Because of Niger’s conservation efforts, local communities view giraffes as bringing aid, development, and eco-tourism to the region rather than as a threat to their livelihoods. The future of the West African giraffe is still far from guaranteed, but Niger’s success has made it a model for other countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, which are now developing their own national giraffe conservation strategies.

Clean Water: Why accessibility to adequate water matters

by Britt Lipson

March 22nd, 2018 was World Water Day, but not everyone observed it. Among those who didn’t celebrate were the people of Cameroon who are suffering from frequent water cuts which means the water is turned off and stops running. As a result, water is not easily accessible.

Schools in Cameroon are particularly affected by the water shortage. When this occurs, the government shuts off the water so they can’t access it easily. They must trek far and carry gallons of water. Buea School for the Deaf is just one example. Located near the mountains of southern Cameroon, the school operates from Monday to Friday, but some students remain over the weekend if their commute is too far. The school is nestled amid beautiful mountains and trees. It almost seems an ironic background for such a serious crisis. For those who have to stay for the weekends, it is hard to leave the school in search of water as the school is located a few miles up a mountain. There is occasionally running water however the government shuts it off often to conserve it. When this occurs is not predictable to them. Also, some students are as young as 5 years old and not strong enough to carry water. They have 1 employee who remains with the students on the weekends to watch over them. This affects the students because they require water to cook. Without the ability to cook, they struggle to eat. Cameroon plans to solve the crisis by tapping into the largest river, the Sanaga, This is especially helpful for those who remain in the dorms on the weekends because they cannot go home to eat with the family. They completely rely on the school’s supply of water and food which is often limited.

Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, has a population of over three million. Residents need a daily supply of about 300,000 cubic meters of pipe-borne water, but just 35 percent of it is supplied by the city. People have resorted to unsafe sources to get the precious liquid. Some must rely on rainfall. Most cannot afford the cost of a water bottle which is normally 5 cents for 1.5 liters.

Cameroon has plans to help solve the crisis by tapping into the largest river, the Sanaga, which is 600 kilometers in length. It will increase the water supply. This would help thousands of people access more water in the capital of Yaounde. Unfortunately, that is one solution and it is not enough. This water shortage needs to be brought to everyone’s attention.

Having the opportunity to teach in Cameroon for one year, I witnessed the water crisis firsthand. I experienced the struggle of finding enough clean water to meet my needs. Children are particularly susceptible to water-borne diseases like cholera, which causes diarrhea that can result in life-threatening dehydration. They are particularly sensitive because they have young immune systems, which aren’t yet developed.

With access to clean water, the risk of illness and death drops dramatically. Some 768 million people still do not have access to an improved source of drinking water; 40% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. There is still a long way to go, but progress is being made. If 100% of people had access to clean water, the number of water-borne diseases and deaths would be close to zero. Clean water is critical to human health. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity1. That’s why creating water infrastructures and drilling wells is so important. Everyone deserves access to clean water.




  1. 1.
  2. 2.

A Festival for the Water Spirits

by Shayna Watson

Water plays a unique role in our daily lives by providing us the ability to remain healthy and well. Outside of it fulfilling a crucial need, water serves as a symbol of purity, fertility, and rebirth in many cultures. The people of the Niger Delta region have recurring festivals that concentrate on the two great spirits believed to govern the earth – hero people and water people. Folklore from these areas explains that hero people originated from water people, coming from them in order to live with mankind. According to this story, water people are the most powerful spirits and the genesis of man. Many villages hold these celebrations for the enjoyment of the spirits, to honor these great forces and request that the spirits control water levels, increase fish supply, and keeping flooding at bay. The Kalabari, a tribe of the Ijaw people living in the Western Niger Delta region of Nigeria, hold a four-day festival to honor Duminea, the head water spirit of their village.

During this major annual festival, the Kalabari remove a ritual basket from a shrine erected to the water spirit. Designated villagers take the basket on a canoe-guided journey to a small stream dedicated to Duminea. After the traditional religious rituals are completed at the site of the spirit’s rivulet, the rest of the villagers organize elaborate performances dedicated to the water gods that use masks and intricate structures made from material gathered by the river bank. The masks are said to be created according to the wishes of the water spirits and often include fish tails and fins. Dancers from the village perform routines around towering structures, erected to look like humans, with their faces pointing upwards toward the sky to emulate how they believe the spirits are postured while floating around the streams. Priests and priestesses of the village perform dances, often invoking and embodying the important spirits of their village.  are then manipulated by dancers to delight the spirits with the hope that they will be generous to the village in the upcoming year. The fishing and agriculture that sustain the Kalabari are dependent on water, so the Kalabari and many other tribes in the Niger Delta region work very hard to please the water spirits they believe control the bounty of their closest water sources.

In addition to these religious rituals, people of the Niger Delta region hold many celebrations and jubilant festivals that revolve around water. The annual boat regatta festival includes sailboat races and many days of other water activities. Documentation of these festivals record that villagers can be heard chanting “peace, strength. children, life!” as a call to the spirits of what they hope for their future. Access to clean water affects all aspects of life, and the Kalabari people (and many others) wish for the opportunity to have prosperous lives full of health for them and their children.

The Superpowers of Desert Animals

by Lilia Leung

Over 80% of Niger’s land mass lies in the Sahara Desert, an arid region with an annual rainfall of a few inches or less. All animals on earth require water to survive, but desert animals have evolved the incredible ability to survive in hot, dry climates by making the best use possible out of the limited water supply. Let’s take a look at some of these desert animals and the characteristics they have developed through years of evolution that have allowed them to survive in arid climates.


The first desert animal that comes to mind is the camel. Contrary to popular belief, camels do not store water in their humps. Rather, fat is stored in the humps, which allows camels to efficiently regulate their body temperature. The concentrated fat is also useful for the long, grueling days when food is scarce and the extra fat could easily be metabolized for an energy boost. Camels have also evolved the ability to excrete less water in their urine when water is scarce, and to only start sweating when temperatures reach 105ºF, allowing them to conserve more of the water in their bodies for later use.

Desert Kangaroo Rat

The desert kangaroo rat is a desert animal that makes efficient use of the water they produce through metabolic processes. As their diet, kangaroo rats eat insects and various parts of the plants, including seeds, stems, buds, fruits, and leaves, all of which they could extract water from. The kangaroo rat’s kidneys are also able to produce concentrated urine, allowing them to rid their bodies of waste without expelling too much water. In addition, desert kangaroo rats have long nasal cavities that help cool the air as it’s being exhaled, allowing it to be condensed into moisture and reabsorbed into the body. All of these body mechanisms allow the kangaroo rat to survive on limited amounts of water.

Desert Tortoise

Inactivity prevents water loss, so desert tortoises heavily regulate their activity and body temperature for the purpose of water conservation. They are the most active during rainy seasons and are less active for the remainder of the year. Desert tortoises also try to seek out the optimum habitat for water conservation. Aside from the rock shelters and pallets that they find, desert tortoises are also able to dig burrows for themselves during inactive periods. In addition to being sheltered from extreme weather conditions, the burrows hold moisture that helps tortoises from becoming dehydrated too quickly. Tortoises are also able to water in their bladders, which has permeable walls. During dry seasons, the stored water can be reabsorbed for hydration purposes.

Other amphibians like the Australian water-holding frog and the Gila monster have similar characteristics.

Thorny Devil

The thorny devil is native to the sandy areas of Australia and is so named because of the numerous spikes on its head and body. The thorny devil is able to absorb any moisture that comes in contact with its skin via the hygroscopic grooves between the spikes, and the moisture is then drawn into its mouth through the process of capillary action. Just like other desert amphibians, thorny devils lie low in the extremely warm months and the extremely cold months by hiding in underground burrows. 


While many desert animals are restricted to certain areas because of the availability of clean water, other desert animals are able to travel in search of clean water. Recently, a researcher conducting research in Namibia has found that some bat species residing around the area of the Namib Desert not only travel in search of food, they are also willing to fly great distances to search for high-quality water, in particular, water with low salinity. People living in the same area as these bats may take advantage by tracking these bats to find sources of clean water.

While we humans have not evolved the ability to use our bodies as water storage, there may be unobtrusive ways for us to take advantage of other animals’ abilities to find fresh, sanitary water. Unfortunately, the continuous change in our planet’s climate is both taking a toll on our natural resources and reducing the number of animal species on earth. The kindness we must have towards our planet and our fellow earth inhabitants are ever more important now in the face of this looming crisis.


Wrestling: King of Sports

by Jennifer Dees

Horse racing, camel racing, football, and rugby are among the popular sports in Niger. Nigeriens have medaled twice in the Olympics, winning a bronze medal in light welterweight boxing in 1972 and a silver medal in taekwondo in 2016. As Kate wrote in one of her posts, one man even represented Niger, which is  80% desert, in the Olympics rowing competition. But none of these sports holds the same cultural value as wrestling, which is known in Niger as the “King of Sports.”

Wrestling started out as a spur-of-the-moment game. It eventually became more popular during festivals, when people from different provinces would compete against each other. Sorro wrestling originated during these occasions, and it is practiced only in Niger. The aim is to get any part of the opponent, besides the feet, to make contact with the ground. Competitors play against every other competitor, and the one with the most wins is declared champion.

Nigerien Youth Week, a national youth sport and cultural contest, has made wrestling extremely popular. Prominent leaders began to promote wrestling to encourage national unity, organizing tournaments during harvest festivals.  In 2015, Niger won an African Traditional Wrestling Tournament, triumphing over six other countries.

Each year, 80 wrestlers compete over ten days in the Traditional National Wrestling Saber. Ten representatives come from each region of the country, accompanied by supporters and the spotlight of Nigerien media. Spectators pay not only for the wrestlers, but also the clowns that run about the arena, the music and dancing, and the griots—musician poets who recite praises before the match. The griots honor the wrestlers by performing takes, bold, rhythmic, creative, and sometimes humorous songs about the wrestler’s skills and previous victories. Following is one from the national championship of 1983 in Hausa:


A vast plantation is Kassou Dan Tune!

What belongs to us is ours indeed.

Tomorrow is ours,

And the next day,

If fortune smiles on us.

I saw a whirlwind, a bad omen and a lying one,

The day that Salma got himself trapped.

For a whole hour Salma stood upright

For a whole hour Kassou stood upright.

Suddenly, they charged at each other.

To wrestle with a beginner is a delicate matter

Or indeed with a sorcerer,

Or yet with a marabout.

But the strength of Kassou is not that of one man alone!

The wrestler himself also chants a kirari (self-praise), perhaps wearing a gris-gris talisman for luck and strength. Many competitors strongly believe in charms and incantations, spoken as they enter the arena. A fathia (prayer), is offered, and the Minister of Sports gives a speech, speaking of peace, cultural identity, and friendship. The winner receives a monetary award, a boubou robe and turban, a horse, and the ceremonial saber. Both winners and losers receive kari (gratuities) from the audience. Wrestlers compete more for the game itself rather than the award, and often share money with griots and inexperienced wrestlers. This year’s winner was Tassiou Sani, representing Zinder. The tournament will continue next year,  carrying a cultural tradition reflective of Niger’s unity, strength, and resilience.



Sorro wrestling

Clip from the 2018 Traditional Nigerien Wrestling competition in Zinder this year

Mahaman L. Sériba’s “ Traditional Wrestling in Niger: Between State Voluntarism and

Ancestral Symbolism”

The Tuareg: A Tribe of the Sahara Desert

by Sarah Ravazza

Lack of access to clean water negatively impacts many communities in Niger, including the Tuareg people, a nomadic tribe that inhabits the Sahara Desert. This ancient African tribe has been popping up in the news recently due to their involvement in uprisings and with various rebel groups. Although the reasons behind these rebellions are complicated, an undeniable exacerbating factor is the competition for natural water on their indigenous land. The Tuareg have lived in the water-scarce Sahara Desert for centuries, but a mix of climate change and the increased water resource exploitation has seriously impacted their ability to survive in their indigenous homeland.

A very brief background of the Tuareg: dating back to as early as the 4th century, the history of this tribe is vibrant, complex, and has been influential to modern Africa. Traditionally nomadic, the clans traveled throughout their indigenous home of the Sahara Desert living off of resources and their livestock and were heavily involved in trans-Saharan trade. By the 19th century, there were quite a few clans split throughout their indigenous Sahara region, and these tribes were some of the strongest opponents to French colonialism. Once African countries gained independence in the 1960s and the modern country borders were established, the Sahara Desert (and by extension the Tuareg) had been split between 5 nations, a majority of which (around 2 million people) currently live in Niger.

Niger – Agadez – Young Tuareg girls holding a water bucket on their heads.

One of the major challenges the Tuareg are currently facing is the depletion of water in the already resource-sparse Sahara Desert. In Niger, the Tuareg are a marginalized group and have little economic or political power. Their homeland is also rich in uranium, a prized metal that is sought by many nuclear companies. According to the University of Texas’ Climate Change and African Political Stability research, this uranium has led to serious conflicts between Tuareg tribes, the Niger government and the French company who currently mines the area. As the report states, uranium mining “is water intensive, both in underground and open pit operations, and Niger has both.” This has led to a major depletion of water resources, and access to clean water is becoming increasingly limited. Although the French company has stated they are incorporating water-saving updates that will lessen the amount of water taken from mining, with new mines being developed and other environmental issues involved when extracting uranium, the Tuareg are desperate for autonomy and ways to ensure their continued access to clean water.

With the actions of Wells Bring Hope, vitally important access to water is being brought to Tuareg and others living in the water-sparse areas of the Sahara Desert. As CCAPS research indicates, “adaptation to increasing water scarcity need not be high tech or guided by national-level policy.” Empowerment through access to clean water has a significant impact on individuals and communities. This will help not only the survival of these clans but will also impact relations between the Tuareg, neighboring towns, and the government of Niger through easing the burden and fear of not having access to a clean water.


Included below are links to read further on the subject:

Tuareg Wikipedia

Who are the Tuareg?  

Does Supply Induced Scarcity Drive Violent Conflicts? (Case study of the Tuareg rebellion)

Tuareg Society within a Globalized World

Five West African Visual Artists that You Should Know

by Shayna Watson

Every year, art collectors, admirers, and enthusiasts gather in New York during the first week of March for one of the world’s leading contemporary art fairs, Armory Show. An important event for the art world since 1913, this art fair has become increasingly interested in how technology and culture contribute to the art we view and how it is consumed and revered around the world.

In 2016, Armory Show chose the theme of “African Perspectives”, choosing to focus on a region of the world that is very rich in art and beauty, yet often overlooked by the western art world. Curators for the international art event wanted to showcase artists from the continent of Africa, as well as the African diaspora, in order to examine the very unique and innovative perspectives on art, global connections and identity emerging from these artists. Although the theme of this year’s fair was not centered around African artists, many of the breakout talents of the 24-year running show were of African descent. Below are five emerging artists who stole the attention and interest of art lovers from around the globe:


Omar Ba (Senegal)

Known for his mixed media paintings, Omar has been a student of the arts for most of his life. His work marries reality and surrealism in scenes of violence and fantasy from the present, folklore, and dynasties dating back to ancient Egypt. Ba has moved from his origins of abstract painting and now draws from his multicultural experiences to use figurative art as his storytelling medium.

Sory Sanlé (Burkina Faso)

Sanle’s goal as a photographer was never to become famous. First learning the art of photography from his work as an apprentice, Sory taught himself many of the technical aspects of printing and processing through taking pictures of the culture around him. Later in his career, he worked in a studio in his hometown of Nianiagara where it was said, “Rich people, poor people, religious people, artists, musicians, everyone could become a hero at his Volta studio.”

Lina Iris Viktor (Liberia)

Lina’s art can be distinguished from other artists’ from a mile away, with a very technique and time-consuming process seen through the detail of each painting. Her signature use of resin coated in 24-karat gold leaf on blue, black or white backgrounds has gained the attention of artists across visual and music mediums. The artist has explained that she uses these materials to reference the sacred way that gold was used by ancient cultures, and reaffirm the wealth and richness of African heritage.

Seydou Keïta (Mali)

Keita’s eloquent photography has captured a crucial time of transition for his hometown, Bamako – the capital of Mali. After receiving his first Kodak camera at the age of 14, Seydou spent the rest of his life as an artist teaching himself the techniques of shooting and printing by taking portraits of those in his community. Although Keita passed in 2001, his art is gaining popularity for its insightful storytelling of a country in political transition through imagery that seamlessly blended formality and intimacy.


Jadé Fadojutimi (Nigeria)

Jade is the youngest artist on this list, with her very first solo show happening earlier this year. Using juxtaposing vocabulary to define her artistic style, Jade explains that she aims to create “locations of familiar unfamiliarity, fears, and unknowns, my paintings delve into how we use the sense of place to establish our identity”. To go from her first solo show to a stage as big as Armory Show, this emerging artist has an awesomely bright future ahead.