My Father’s Story Through the Movement of his Hands

hands, myymala2
He Puts on the Turban ©Mohamed Sleiman Labat

The turban travels around the head in many folds. It’s a daily ritual in the desert. It protects you from the scorching sun. 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 of tacking the end of the turban under the folds in different places so it’s all in place.
My father Sulaiman Labat Abd was born and raised in a nomadic family in Western Sahara. He grew up a nomad. 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 we now live near Tindouf in mid and late seventies.
Sulaiman runs a small shop in the local market in Samara Camp. When he comes back from the market, he pulls out some coins from his pocket and he plays with them, creating shapes and telling stories. The Saharawi use the Algerian Dinar in the camps. Practically the Saharawi refugee camps are located on an Algerian soil. The people in the camps relay on international aid. Local markets provide some supplies usually arriving from the markets in Algeria or neighbouring Mauritania.
Sulaiman is also a creative person who loves to use hands. He is a self-taught person. He is a calligrapher and a craftsman. Growing up in the Saharawi refugee camps, I learned a lot from him, he is my teacher, mentor and a guide to creative expression. He advises me on all my art and cultural projects; we have a very special relationship.
One of my father’s passions is tracing back the origin of Hassania words to classic Arabic and native Amazigh language. I think he could have been an amazing linguist had he lived a normal life in which he could pursue an education and a career.
I try to narrate his story by capturing him in such moments when he is performing, his hands playing with coins, and drawing things he misses from his past nomadic life, a lizard, a single tree in the desert, and a place he calls home; Western Sahara.

Hands was a photography exhibition on the Process Wall at myymälä2 gallery, Helsinki 12.10 – 26.10.2019