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  • Methods, Making, and West African Influences in the Work of Fatimah Tuggar
  • Fatimah Tuggar
    all artwork by the author; photos courtesy BintaZarah Studios

My process as an artist involves all modes of using already existing objects, images, sounds, footage, and methods and then incorporating them into a single artwork. This approach to making speaks to my experiences growing up in Northern Nigeria, a region where the influences of the Middle East, the colonial West, and sub-Saharan African cultures converged in a way that gave me permission to observe, embrace, and alter the social, the structural, and the visceral within and among the civilizations involved.

This idea of cultural convergence is exemplified in Letter to Kyauta (Fig. 1). I create a fictional letter written on wooden Qu'ranic boards that have been decorated for graduation ceremonies. Kyauta, a woman living in a rural area, writes her sister who now lives in an urban area, seeking her help because this year's harvest has been affected by a drought. The same letter is written in four different ways; English and Hausa using Latin letters, Arabic and Hausa using Arabic alphabet. The two quarters of a calabash below the boards are traditionally used for learning Arabic characters; here they serve as surfaces for footnotes explaining additional meanings of words, such as the name Kyauta, which means "one who gives." The intent here is to speak to the regional influences of both the trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic exchanges. I also want to draw attention to the fact that the ability to write in all four languages/scripts is disappearing with the generation of people educated in the precolonial and colonial eras. This furthermore alludes to the issue of girls' access to education. It is unlikely, even today, that a rural woman would have been able to write a letter without help from male relatives. This, of course, disrupts intimacy and the level of engagement between the two women.

I embrace all aspects of collage: amalgam, assemblage, bricolage, hybridity, installation, montage, and suture. These processes mirror the cultural appropriation that exists in West African traditions in both music and craft. In this context, to adapt, borrow, and innovate from multiple sources both at home and abroad are common and acceptable. Communities of artisans and musicians have for centuries used sharing systems for both content and technique—well before the 1950s and '60s open-source or the 1970s introduction of copyleft—without naming it.

My object-based works fuse together aspects of different traditional Western African household tools with aspects of their Western counterparts. The intent is not a one-on-one binary relationship but an engagement of how daily life is conducted in contemporary urban West African context, where the implements of power systems and infrastructure leads to a juggling act, as we adopt, and modify our lives and realities.

These approaches to art-making enable me to imagine and create new cultural relationships from preexisting forms, and to metaphorically bridge cultures. Through these works, we can hopefully glimpse the possibilities of how we can live together with our differences. Low and high tech, low and high art can coexist in artworks uncomfortably without attempts to absorb all differences. The goal is not assimilation or homogeneity, but an honest discourse about complex historical and geographical entanglements. The use of preexisting parts requires the artist to negotiate what parts to include and what to leave out. In this process sometimes what is left out says more than what is included.

Broom (Fig. 2) focuses on the most characteristic element of sweeping. Whether you are using plant fiber or a vacuum, sound is the most common aspect of sweeping. Hay and other plant [End Page 12] fibers are used for sweeping in Western Africa from small villages to urban homes, where lack of steady supply of electricity does not make vacuum cleaning practical. In this artwork, the swooshing sound of the hay broom is recorded on a chip and the embedded speaker emits the swooshing when one presses the power button.

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Letter to Kyauta (1998) Quranic broads, calabash, letter written in English, Hausa, and Arabic; dimensions variable...


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pp. 12-17
Launched on MUSE
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