Harlem Artisan Market
As part of an initiative for Safari Yangu, Harlem Artisan Market first opened its doors in December 2018 as a pop-up indoor market on
105 west 125th street in Harlem
As the President of Safari Yangu, Nick was at the front line of the opening of the Harlem Artisan Market. As Safari Yangu involved the community in their work more, they quickly realized that they couldn’t limit their mission to only just telling immigrants stories, they had to also be part of the solution. The challenges immigrants faced are overwhelming and complex. Safari Yangu interacted most with street vendors in Harlem, many of whom used to be store owners but lost them due to gentrification. Safari Yangu’s interest in working with street vendors in Harlem was inspired by a large number of immigrants in the community who are street vendors with untapped potential and skills; vendors who sell a variety of products such as handcrafted items like baskets to mud cloth, sculptures, jewelry, paintings and beadwork. Despite their valuable skills, talents and knowledge, systemic and institutional barriers continue to block these vendors from their full potential. Noticing the challenges immigrants and street vendors face, Safari Yangu, with no funding or external support, collaborated with numerous vendors in order to form a working group to help mitigate some of these challenges.
Djinaba, who is one of the founding managers of the market, and she was the main link between Safari Yangu and the street vendors. She is well known in Harlem and at Columbia University Broadway Street Market for her unique designs of jewelry and antique clothing. She said, “Our family arrived in Harlem from Guinea in 1999 and none of us could speak even a word of English but it didn’t take long before people noticed our skills in jewelry and dress making”. Most of her clients do not realize that she is a trained accountant from Baruch college. Similar stories are repeated many times among the African immigrants.
Bah, a 65-year-old father of five, started as a tour guide at the age of 13, in his native country Mali. He is now the world’s largest collector of African cup art pieces. Despite his lack of Western style education, he has taught graduate students in different parts of the world. He said, “This market gives us the opportunity and a platform to correct some of the misinformation about our art, education and our culture”. His art pieces have been exhibited in many museums and colleges however he has only ever been paid a pittance and his name has never been recognized in the provenance.
Bola, originally from Nigeria, is a 64-year-old clothes designer who recently lost her store space of 28 years on 5th Avenue in Harlem and is excited to be at this market. She said, “I learned dressmaking from my father and that is what I have been doing since I came with my husband to this country in 1977.” Even though she later went to the Fashion Institute of Technology for technical training in New York, she explained that most of her skills were acquired as a young girl in the village.