My Father’s Story through His Hands

My father Sulaiman Labat Abd was born and raised in a nomadic community in Western Sahara. He grew up a nomad moving from place to place. He witnessed first-hand a lot of the historical events in the Saharawi people recent history including the 16 year war in Western Sahara and the dislocation of the Saharawi community into Algeria where they live now near Tindouf.


The turban travels around the head in many folds. It’s a daily personal and social ritual in the desert. It’s always ready to provide shade when the sun is scorching. It’s also ready when sandstorms blow from all direction. It cloaks the head and shelters it. It’s a performance that gets forgotten as it becomes second nature with daily repetition. Hands play and perform the folding and unfolding of the turban layers. They also play the tricks and hacks of tacking the end of the turban under the folds in different places so it’s all in place.


Every day; around midday, my father comes back from his shop in the local market. He makes tea. He loves to play with things, so he gets some coins out of his pocket and he starts to make something.


Sulaiman is person who loves to use hands. He is a self-taught person. Throughout the years, he taught himself to be a craftsman and a calligrapher. Growing up in the Saharawi refugee camps, I learned a lot from him, he is my teacher, mentor and a guide to creative expression. With him I learned sewing, carving, and drawing and painting. It always fascinated me how he uses his hands.

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