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Nomad Chic


By Daniel Hernandez '07

Published Oct 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Camel caravan en route from Tabelot to Bilma, Niger.

For years — centuries, in fact —Westerners have been fascinated by the Tuareg. Desert-dwelling and seminomadic, the Tuareg craft elaborate silver jewelry, ride striking white camels and are known as "the Blue People of the Sahara" for the indigo turbans that sometimes stain their skin. Now the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History presents a rare look inside this evocative and elegant culture, including its smiths and artists known as inadan, in an exhibit called Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World.

Co-organized by the Fowler and the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford, the exhibit observes the history and complexities of the Tuareg culture. Thomas K. Seligman, curator of the exhibit and director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, has been involved with these legendary Saharan wanderers since the late '60s while serving in the Peace Corps. He says the motivation behind the exhibit is his desire for people "to know that there are sophisticated, complex societies in harsh conditions, like the desert, who make works of art."

The exhibit ranges from firsthand accounts of what it means to be Tuareg to a boutique of the culture's artistic items that can be found in Western retail outlets like Hermès catalogs and other art fairs and shops globally.

"They have [used] the way the West looks at them for commercial purposes; they are savvy, thinking people," Seligman explains.

What's for Desert?

Want to learn more about what it means to be Tuareg? Pick up a copy of Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World by Thomas K. Seligman and Kristyne Loughran, distributed by the University of Washington Press. Available for $45 (paper) or $75 (cloth) at the Fowler Museum gift shop, online and at select bookstores. Log on to, click on "About the Fowler," then click on "Publications." For toll-free ordering in the U.S., call (800) 441-4115.

Boasting 235 objects, the display features the Tuareg's detailed use of leather and metals in their art and everyday lives, silver and gold amulets, authentic clothing and other decorated items from more than 20 years of museum collections. Also included is video footage of how they make their jewelry and a three-day wedding in the desert showing some guests arriving on their camels — and some in 4x4 trucks.

Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World. Oct. 29–Feb. 25, Fowler Museum. Admission is free. Call (310) 825-4361 or log on to