Arab tradition glitters in Colombia

A goldsmith works in the creation of silver filigree jewellery, in Mompox on 24 September 2017. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Arab tradition glitters in Colombia

SANTA CRUZ DE MOMPOX, Colombia: With strong yet delicate hands, Daniel Alfonso Garrido masterfully manipulates fragile threads of gold to craft fine jewelry, perpetuating an ancient Arabic art handed down by generations of Colombian goldsmiths.
Lacy spindles of silver and gold have been used to make jewelry in the isolated northern Colombian town of Mompox since the time of the Spanish conquest.
Built on an island on the wide Magdalena river, the town’s colonial beauty inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian magic-realist partly setting his “General in his Labyrinth” there. However, tourists make their way here — four hours upriver by boat, an hour’s droning by small aircraft — for the magic realism of handcrafted jewels.
“It’s an Arab tradition, and the Arabs taught it to the Spaniards who, when they conquered us, brought this art to America, and especially to Mompox,” the gray-haired Garrido told AFP.
Here, at a counter in his workshop, the 53-year-old goldsmith creates jewels mostly inspired by nature, weaving filigree animals and flowers from precious metals as his father and grandfather did before him.

The skill has been handed down here through the generations, as is the case with several families across Mompox, and the town boasts 170 goldsmiths working in 13 jewelries, according to the Institute of Culture and Tourism of the Department of Bolivar (Iculture).
“We have goldsmithing in our blood,” said Garrido, the best known goldsmith here, with a hint of pride.
The filigree graces the windows of the 23 jewelers of Mompox, a city founded in 1540 and listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995 for its traditions and colonial style.
Its relatively isolated location far from the densely populated Caribbean coast, 250 kilometers (155 miles) away, has helped Mompox preserve its culture over the years and become a jewel of Colombian architecture.
“I love the drawing of their filigree pieces,” said Viviana Devia, 42, a visitor from the capital Bogota. “When we go to the workshop, we realize the work that this represents and it has a real value.”
The “Tito” workshop is classically styled with a patio blending wooden beams and wrought iron, reminiscent of an era when the conquistador’s gold was first hauled into the town. The share to be shipped back to the Spanish crown was then calculated in the river port of Mompox.
Although its goldsmiths are world famous, Mompox is not located in a gold mining area. The locals got their skills with precious metals from its importance as a coin-minting center.

“Our added value is the tradition, the time, the fragility in our hands, the patience we have to put in,” said Garrido.
“Because if a silversmith is not patient, it does not work.”
A piece of filigree jewelry can sell here at anything up to several hundred dollars, and Mompox “yields a total of close to 2.5 million pesos (around 867,000 dollars) a year to the 23 jeweler workshops here,” Iculture director Lucy Espinosa Diaz told AFP.
The creation of a filigree piece takes anywhere between half a day and two weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the design, says Jaime Florez, 27.
After first defining the style of the bracelet he wanted to create, and then calculating its weight, he melted a chunk of silver and started at dawn to craft a bracelet that he hoped to finish before sunset.
In Mompox, aloof from the tourist hordes, the blows of a hammer mingle with the noise of the silversmith’s welding, while the great wide waters of the Magdalena murmur in the distance.


‘Atlas of Beauty’: A Romanian photographer captures images of female beauty that defy every stereotype

Updated 16 July 2018
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‘Atlas of Beauty’: A Romanian photographer captures images of female beauty that defy every stereotype

  • Since 2013, Mihaela Noroc has photographed over 2,000 women in more than 50 countries, listening to their stories and learning about their lives.
  • For Noroc, beauty is diversity. She believes each one of the “shining stars” in her book radiates dignity, strength and beauty. 

JEDDAH: We live in a world where female beauty standards vary but are all socially and culturally constructed. The Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc traveled that world with her camera and backpack, photographing women in their everyday surroundings and listening to their stories. The result is the “Atlas of Beauty.”

Since 2013, Noroc has photographed over 2,000 women in more than 50 countries, listening to their stories and learning about their lives.

“I noticed that there is a lot of pressure on women to look and behave a certain way,” she told Arab News.

“In some environments, it’s the pressure to look attractive. In others, on the contrary, it’s the pressure to look modest. But every woman should be free to explore her own beauty without feeling any pressure from marketing campaigns, trends or social norms.”

For Noroc, beauty is diversity. She believes each one of the “shining stars” in her book radiates dignity, strength and beauty. 

During her five-year odyssey, there have been tremendous ups and downs. Yet, with each country, Noroc never failed to tell the story of the woman in her photographs. Some countries were deemed dangerous — but she traveled there anyway. 

“In Afghanistan, I traveled in a remote area called Wakhan Corridor. The fighting was very close, condemning this place to total isolation,” she said. “People were living like their ancestors lived hundreds of years ago, so photography was a miracle for them. They were incredibly happy to see themselves in photos and I was invited to every home to photograph each member of the family.” 

Visiting North Korea, Noroc was accompanied by local guides as she walked the streets to get a glimpse of women in their daily routines as if nothing was out of the norm. 

“There is a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way, so sometimes it’s a struggle to be yourself, to make yourself accepted as you are. But I hope this project will encourage more women and men to follow their own path, to explore their own beauty without feeling constrained.”

Traveling as a backpacker introduced Noroc to all kinds of environments. She has captured beauty in Brazilian favelas, in an Iranian mosque, on the Tibetan plateau, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the Amazon rainforest, upscale neighborhoods of Paris, downtown New York and more. 

She focuses on photographing the environment around the women, and prefers to photograph their natural faces, without a lot of makeup.

Noroc also makes sure that she chats with her subjects while the photographs are being taken — she is an excellent conversationalist. 

Woman shopping at a market in Nampan, Myanmar.

“Many of the women I photograph are in front of a professional camera for the first time. This isn’t bad at all because they are more authentic. For even more authenticity, I always use natural light. Through my camera, I try to dive into their eyes and explore what’s inside.”

Each image is raw, colorful, delicate, intimate, striking and empowering. A Jordanian Bedouin grandmother sits with her children and grandchildren in the background, the woman’s deep wrinkles revealing her desert life living off the land.

Another image shows the resilience in the striking green eyes of a Syrian refugee with her two daughters in a camp in Greece. In Jodhpur, India, a young woman heads to the market in a vibrant fuchsia outfit and silver jewelry. 

“There is much love, beauty and compassion in the world and I see it with my own eyes. Yet a few sources of hate and intolerance can ruin all this. Many times, the victims of intolerance are women, and while on the road, I hear many heartbreaking stories,” she said.

Gauri, an Indian from Kolkata, India, sells splendid flower garlands at a Hindu temple. Female “bomberas” (firewomen) in Mexico City. Sisters Olga and Anya, street performers from Odessa, Ukraine. Eleonora, a ballerina from St. Petersburg, at one of the most prestigious dance schools in the world. A Mayan descendant in Guatemala donning a colorful dress and posing in her village. These are just some of the stories in the “Atlas of Beauty,” yet the journey is continuing since there are no limits to beauty in this world. 

“For me, beauty is diversity and it can teach us to be more tolerant. We are all very different, but through this project, I want to show that we are all part of the same family. We should create paths between us, not boundaries,” said Noroc.