Artists share their crafts on the Smithsonian Folklife Competition: Goats and Soda: NPR


Simaloi Saitoti, a Masai bead artist from Kenya, ties a bracelet round a customer’s wrist. Saitoti is one in every of many artisans from all over the world to current their works on the Smithsonian Folklife Competition.

Phillip Ryan Lee/ Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Establishment


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Phillip Ryan Lee/ Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Establishment


Simaloi Saitoti, a Masai bead artist from Kenya, ties a bracelet round a customer’s wrist. Saitoti is one in every of many artisans from all over the world to current their works on the Smithsonian Folklife Competition.

Phillip Ryan Lee/ Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Establishment

Since beginning this weblog in 2014, we have lined Smithsonian Folk Festival. It is a two-week occasion in Washington, DC that brings collectively artists and artisans from all over the world to share their crafts, their songs, their meals.

We interviewed an Armenian calligrapher and a leather craftsman of Niger and took part a peruvian alpaca blessing. We even tasted goat stew supplied by a Kenyan chef from a restaurant in Washington, DC

Then got here the pandemic. The competition was on hiatus for just a few years, however this yr has returned – and so have we.

From our international perspective, we had been extra thinking about speaking to artisans from the World South – international locations that will lack the sources of Western nations however are extremely resourceful in the case of creating objects of magnificence at from probably the most abnormal components. It might be: yak hair, tree bark and easy beads.

Why It is Exhausting To Acquire Maasai Beads – Actually


Simaloi Saitoti holds a Maasai beaded necklace given to ladies once they get engaged.

Madeleine Callanan for NPR


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Madeleine Callanan for NPR


Simaloi Saitoti holds a Maasai beaded necklace given to ladies once they get engaged.

Madeleine Callanan for NPR

In a tent there may be an intricate collar so giant that it covers the shoulders and chest – and it is not simply ornamental. This can be a present for engaged ladies. Household and associates tie knots within the strands on the backside of the necklace, which function a type of ledger. The nodes point out the quantity of cattle, for instance, that they are going to give to the couple as a present for the marriage.

The colours are daring and symbolic, says Simaloi Saitoti, a Maasai who leads beadwork tasks for Maa Trust, a non-profit group in Kenya that conserves nomadic Maasai tradition and wildlife. “Inexperienced represents the earth. When it rains, the earth turns inexperienced, so we’re completely happy as pastors as a result of we elevate cows. White represents peace, blue represents power, black represents individuals and crimson is a logo of the meals we eat.”

It’s primarily ladies who make the beaded jewellery and baskets which have been a part of the Maasai tradition since tons of of years, says Saitoti. “Beadwork is one thing you be taught out of your mother and father, handed down from technology to technology,” says Saitoti. “It defines who I’m as a Maasai.”

Saitoti says Maa Belief helps Maasai ladies earn cash by promoting their beaded jewellery on their behalf. The group, she provides, helps practically 500 ladies by way of this system, which additionally teaches them the right way to save and spend correctly.

On the competition, guests strive their hand at making their very own jewellery, nevertheless it’s not a simple job. Hundreds of pearls are unfold on a desk. They’re too small to be grasped with the fingers; Maasai beaders present the right way to choose them up one after the other on a stiff wire, then string the beads on a fishing line which can function a bracelet. It is an train in endurance – and one which makes the handfuls of elaborate items on show all of the extra spectacular.

Horses and sheep shed their hair to make conventional Mongolian felt


Mongolian couple Enkhbold Togmidshiirev (left) and Munguntsetseg Lkhagvasuren stand in entrance of their first collaborative paintings, a felt tapestry comprised of the hair of 5 totally different animals.

Madeleine Callanan for NPR


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Madeleine Callanan for NPR


Mongolian couple Enkhbold Togmidshiirev (left) and Munguntsetseg Lkhagvasuren stand in entrance of their first collaborative paintings, a felt tapestry comprised of the hair of 5 totally different animals.

Madeleine Callanan for NPR

In one other tent, a big summary tapestry in shades of gray, cream, brown and black hangs from the ceiling. It’s comprised of fibers from totally different animals in Mongolia, together with sheep, horses, camels, and yaks.

This fiber artwork was created by Mongolian artists Enkhbold Togmidshiirev and his spouse, Munguntsetseg Lkhagvasuren. The tapestry was the couple’s first collaborative murals. “It is particular as a result of we used pure supplies [from the land] associated to the nomadic Mongolian lifestyle,” says Lkhagvasuren.

For 1000’s of years, Mongolian nomads have turned animal hair and wool into felt. The material is sewn into clothes for the winter and is used to make yurts for housing practices that proceed to this present day.

At a desk close to their marquee, the couple present a festival-goer the right way to make felt. First, it is advisable clear the pet hair with sizzling water, then pound it with small stones to separate the fibers. Soak the fibers once more in water to bind them collectively. Then tangle them, roll that tangle and press it by hand to make a material, which is left to air dry.

Felt is a crucial materials within the couple’s work. Togmidshiirev typically makes use of natural supplies corresponding to felt, ash, leather-based and wooden in his contemporary and performance art pieces. And Lkhagvasuren, a designer, makes garments and felt boots.

The couple hope that by persevering with to make artwork with felt, individuals will admire the traditional follow. “We imagine we are able to protect this cultural custom for a lot of extra years,” says Togmidshiirev.

tree bark material portray


Ugandan artist Fred Mutebi holds one in every of his work, which makes use of conventional Ugandan barkcloth as a canvas.

Madeleine Callanan for NPR


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Madeleine Callanan for NPR


Ugandan artist Fred Mutebi holds one in every of his work, which makes use of conventional Ugandan barkcloth as a canvas.

Madeleine Callanan for NPR

Fred Mutebi proudly holds up a portray he fabricated from a Ugandan lady carrying a zebra print headgear and matching costume in her tent on the competition.

What’s exceptional about this portrait, he says, is that he did it on barkcloth, a canvas-like material that dates again to the dominion of Baganda in southern Uganda. . 800 years ago. Mutebi makes use of barkcloth in his artwork as a approach to maintain the custom alive.

For hundreds of years Ugandans have used the bark to make clothes, bedding and even curtains and mosquito nets. On the competition, Aloyzius Luwemba, a tenth technology barkcloth maker, demonstrates how the material is made. First, artisans harvest bark from the Mutuba tree, a species of ficus. They boil it till gentle, then beat the bark into material utilizing particular wood mallets in order that it stretches and expands. Though comprised of tree bark, the material is surprisingly gentle and supple sufficient to be pieced into attire and tunics – and canvas for portray too.

Barkcloth is such a vital a part of Ugandan tradition that in 2008 UNESCO declared it “Masterpiece of oral and intangible cultural heritage. The title encourages communities to guard and assist works of significant cultural expression. It joins Congolese rumba, falconry, Inuit drum dancing and singing, amongst tons of of different traditions.


Aloyzius Luwemba, a tenth technology barkcloth maker, makes use of a ridged wood mallet to beat the barkcloth in order that it expands.

Xueying Chang/ Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Establishment


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Xueying Chang/ Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Establishment


Aloyzius Luwemba, a tenth technology barkcloth maker, makes use of a ridged wood mallet to beat the barkcloth in order that it expands.

Xueying Chang/ Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Establishment

However Mutebi, a former Fulbright scholar who has exhibited his work and woodcuts in galleries throughout Europe, america and Africa – says conventional Ugandan craftsmanship is disappearing. When Arab merchants launched cotton to the nation within the nineteenth century, it largely changed barkcloth as the fabric used for clothes and different items. As we speak, artisans proceed to make barkcloth, however it’s typically reserved for conventional costumes worn for particular occasions like therapeutic ceremonies or the coronations of Ugandan tribal chiefs.

Mutebi needs Ugandans to do extra to protect barkcloth craftsmanship. “I am making an attempt to mobilize a gaggle of artists to collaborate with businessmen and politicians,” to create a sustainable trade for barkcloth makers, he says. Within the meantime, he’ll proceed to make use of barkcloth because the canvas of selection for his artwork.

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