Design Matters: Twiga

Jewelry maker, artist, galleriest and activist: Twiga is the very definition of inspiration. The trained engineer who began her life in a Tanzanian village, eventually found herself in San Francisco, where she began sharing her culture through custom jewelry and imported art at her own shop on Sacramento Street. Her work goes far beyond women’s accessories and gallery walls. It touches many young souls in Africa who dream of a similar voyage. Her gallery has allowed her not only to educate San Franciscans on the depth of African art but also to raise money and awareness for the Mbinga Children’s Organization, a U.S-certified nonprofit tax-deductible organization.

The school in Tanzania, Twiga provides for

Why did you choose African art to tell your story and help others? I chose it because I am African and most of African life is art. From the moment you are born, your life is documented through art. No one can translate African art unless you have a feel for it. Besides music, art is the best and most unique medium to communicate, connect, and touch in a deeper sense. With my work I wanted to bridge Western society to African society. The way we as African people view our art is very different from Western society.

Can you explain how your work and gallery benefit the community in Tanzania? The gallery has provided seed money, which bought the land where the school is built. My clients have graciously donated money to help build classrooms. And many people have gone to Tanzania and Africa because of my gallery since they wanted to learn the importance of African art to the people. They were touched enough to want to meet African people in their native communities. We have created jobs for teachers and artists and provided free education for more than 200 children. This has saved some of the children from child labor and from being abused by strangers and has given them a good foundation since childhood.
How did you choose education as the beneficiary of your work? Education is the key to opportunity and success. It is something you will always have and carry with you wherever you go. My father was a teacher who educated many children since Tanzania became independent. The students he taught are the ones who have made big differences in our nation. They are now living in different cities and different countries and continue to open up their horizons and share with those who are less advanced.

Tribal art from Twiga’s gallery

What is the meaning and tradition of trade beads? As is the case with most tribal art in Western cultures, trade beads are a complicated subject. I have been a jewelry designer and tribal art dealer for almost 30 years it is still confusing to me. Most were made for currency in Europe and Asia in secrecy to protect their value so that other countries would not copy them.
The beads bought oil, gold, diamonds, ivory, and sometimes lace, and today they are more valuable than gold or diamonds due to their rareness. According to a January New York Times article, old beads are now more expensive than ever before. Thank goodness now they are documented.
You have such an inspiring personal journey. How do you hope to inspire others? My inspiring journey came as an accident. I love and enjoy what I do. It is good to have strength, commitment, spirituality, and a purpose and I have a purpose: my family, my school for orphans, my culture as an African, as a minority woman, and as a Tanzanian. I do have a duty,
a responsibility, and a goal. As an ambassador to many of my African fellows, besides offering education and money I also hope to open a door for someone. I want people to understand that every human being wants the same opportunies. If I can stand up, even if it’s painful or challenging, I am sure I will have touched and motivated a few. That is my message and my advice. It’s not easy. You need a strong will and you must be ready to sacrifice. I am already successful just by being here, and want to share this moment of my life through African art and my jewelry design. 

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