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.


Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Dogs’ takes hard look at an unfeeling society

Updated 20 October 2018
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Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Dogs’ takes hard look at an unfeeling society

CHENNAI: A brutal title, “Beauty and the Dogs” is an electric French-Tunisian drama by Kaouther Ben Hania (“Imams Go to School,” “Zaineb Hates the Snow”), which has been entered as Tunisia’s submission for the best foreign-language film at the 2019 Academy Awards. Although the film is yet to earn a nomination, it is a powerful piece of cinema that deserves recognition.
Based on a real-life incident in 2012, the movie begins at sunset and ends at sunrise and zooms in on a woman traumatized by an unfeeling society. A rather weak script, but bolstered by a strong, moving story mounted on lovely long takes, Hania’s creation is an unflinching look at how a young woman who is raped by a policeman fights a degenerate system.

Hania does not sensationalize and focuses on the aftermath of the horrifying incident when her protagonist, Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani), doggedly pursues the villainous cop, who has all the muscle power and support of his superiors. They try every trick to derail Mariam’s grit and determination.

The movie begins on a note of fun with Mariam attending a college party at a Tunis disco. After a mild flirtation with Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli), the two go for a walk on the beach, where she is raped. We only see Mariam running with Youssef at her heels, and we get a feeling that he is chasing her. But no, she is running away in desperation.

“Beauty and the Dogs” is a hard critique of an unfeeling society. Even a woman police officer that Mariam approaches is uncaring and, worse, throws her back into the den of dogs, so to speak. Earlier, a female attendant at a clinic where Mariam goes for a mandatory physical examination seems contemptuous. The film is littered with points of horrific humiliation for Mariam, something which leads to audience sympathy staying unwaveringly strong.
The film is especially important in the current #MeToo climate, where an international discussion on sexual harassment and rape is taking place from Hollywood to Bollywood but has yet to shake up the Middle East.