It often takes time to dig up the real cultural differences when you cross borders in Africa but sometimes evidence leaps out at you immediately, such as in Somaliland: neighbouring Ethiopia and nearby Sudan are almost devoid of the brightly painted shop fronts that you see on many streets in Somaliland. Such art can be found elsewhere in Africa but each region has its own take: sometimes modern and stylish but often crude, or what some in the art world would call naive. Somaliland’s contributions are well worth celebrating, as they make many Western streets look decidedly dull.
Whatever it is, it’s usually colourful and almost any business can use the work to stand out from the crowd.
The quality of much of the work in Somaliland shows that professional artists undertake most of the work, elsewhere it is possible to see more designs carried out by the shop owners themselves that is notably cruder, but no less appealing, at least to my eyes. These efforts at a money changers were about as amateur as it got.
Cafes and food shops are popular for decoration.
Probably best not to mention the endangered species on offer at this sea food store. As far as I can ascertain, subag qubo means something like turtle butter and it is rumoured to have aphrodisiac properties, which is rarely a good characteristic for endangered species. In the unlikely event of any Somali readers coming across this post I welcome your comments.
Even this large factory used hand painted signs all along the front of the business. Are they peas or are they beans? No they’re peans and quite why they have not caught on elsewhere remains a mystery.
The art form has always served as an ideal means of advertising to, what in the past, were largely illiterate populations. Unfortunately for Somaliland this is still a necessity as even among the more educated, 15 to 24 age range the literacy rates are about 70% for men and 50% for women. For older people and more rural areas these figures can drop drastically.
If I am not mistaken this could be an example of where Somaliland is actually ahead of the trends, where the latest Olympics craze of cupping has been around for centuries, having been introduced by the arabs.
I had trouble digging up much info on the history of this most excellent of art forms, despite it appearing in many guises across the continent. Examples certainly exist from back in the 50s and I assume it is largely a 20th century phenomenon, at least in stylistic terms, clearly being influenced by European ideas. Given the size and complexity of many African civilisations predating the arrival of Europeans, I can only assume that businesses advertised their wares in some manner. Even relatively, realistic, artistic representations of the human form existed in precolonial times, certainly with sculpture, and wall murals are an ancient tradition, so whose to say that there isn’t a long and noble history behind these skills.
In case you are wondering, Somaliland is the unrecognised but effectively independent part of northern Somalia and is safe to visit. The chances of meeting another tourist are rather slim but I can assure you the people will be happy, if somewhat surprised to see you.