Notes on Zainab and finding talent in corners

Shopping in Lagos, Nigeria

It was during my quest for traditional artwork that I stumbled across Zainab’s store. In a small corner of Lekki Market (also known as Jakande Market) where you can go shopping in Lagos, Nigeria, to pick up sculptures, beaded necklaces, artwork, ceramics, and other decorative gifts at questionable prices. Questionable because you need to start bargaining by taking half away right off the bat.

Actually I was there to see a mallam first. An old mallam who sells beads and whose photo I’d been privileged to take every time I’d visited the market over the last couple of years. So in my hand were prints I wanted to give him. Several prints. His beard growing lighter over the years. His grin upon handing him shots of himself already filled my soul for the day. His eyes lit up. He called his son. Showed him the photos. Called across the alley over to the next stall. Another vendor selling beads. He showed him the photos as well.

Shopping in Lagos, Nigeria

I bought three bead necklaces from him. I didn’t haggle or negotiate. But I needed to move on. To find those paintings I’d promised a friend back in Sweden. So I pressed on. Deeper into the market. Past identical stalls selling almost identical wares so much so it became a confusing maze.

Until I rounded a little corner. It was the green patterned print that pulled me in. Bulbous flower petals etched into traditional Ankara fabric now stretched and molded into a handbag. And I’d never wanted a piece of art more in my life than at that moment. Not the bag. But the beauty in the prints and the artistic eye its maker used to arrange the prints so.

That was when I met Zainab and her handmade Ankara bags.

Shopping in Lagos, Nigeria

Meeting Zainab (pictured in pink) got me thinking about talent and passion, about quietly working in your own corner, making a difference, battling upstream, and fighting off people who feel entitled to what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. To build. To create with your own hands. Working twice as hard when frivolity continually seems to be rewarded yet continuing to work twice – sometimes thrice – as hard.

I absolutely love Zainab’s eye and would love more people to connect with her and her work. I asked her if she had a website but she didn’t have one. Not yet anyway. Maybe she got just a handful of customers that day (myself included). Maybe more. But that didn’t dampen her resolve. She was put here to create and, that, she’ll continue to do. Every single day.

So quietly she works away within her sphere of influence, developing beauty, creating art in her vibrant little corner of the world. A piece of hers now resting in my little corner too.