Several years ago Tunisian artisan, Atf Somalia experienced a great tragedy. One of her twin sons was killed by a drunk driver. Devastated by the loss, Atf sank into a deep depression, retreating from her life. But, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, Atf, after a period of mourning, rose from the ashes of despair and transformed her life through creativity.
Despite Atf’s Islamic faith which discourages divorce, she courageously left her unhappy marriage and moved from the city of Tunis, Tunisia to the family’s summer home in Hammamet, Tunis, a seaside resort on the Mediterranean. And there, finding solace and inspiration in her environment, she began pursuing her long dormant love of painting and jewelry making.
Located at the tip of northern Africa, Tunisia has a rich and varied artistic history influenced by many of the surrounding countries.
At a young age Atf’s grandmother taught her to how to make and scent amber, an element prevalent in Atf’s current work. Recognizing she had a penchant for jewelry making, Aft aspired to change the look of Tunisian jewelry. Inspired by the craftsmen in the Medina of Tunis and realizing that she needed to partner her creative aspirations with solid technique, she studied at Hammaouda Pacha School of Jewelry in Tunis.
The hammered link, found in the jewelry of the ancient Berber women, is the basis for much of Atf’s jewelry as well. Her high end collection of exquisite necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets are primarily made with sterling silver. She then adds natural elements such as turquoise, coral and handmade scented amber, forming them into beads of varying shapes and sizes.
Using antique pieces as elements or molds for her jewelry, Atf strives to combine the old with the new. Her impulse, she says, is to create from objects that have crossed the centuries to symbolize a tradition or a custom or express a social or ethnic wish.
The Hand of Fatima, commemorating Fatima Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, an iconic symbol which is thought to protect against ‘the evil eye’ is consistently found in Atf’s work. Fish, which represent good luck in her culture, are engraved on rings or hang as charms from bracelets and necklaces.
“These objects [in my jewelry] are similar in [traditional] form but in my creations, [the objects] themselves become the subject of an idea, that once finished perpetuates a heritage,” she says.
Five years after the accident that changed her life, Atf has exhibited her work in Tunisia and abroad. Her jewelry collections are sold in hotels and boutiques throughout Tunis. And she participated in a show co-sponsored by the Tunisian American Chamber of Commerce (TACC) in New York City that brought her unique designs to an American audience.
Aft credits rediscovering her creativity in assisting her journey of re-emergence, and in a very short time, she has managed to channel grief into a creative passion that has turned into a productive and thriving business.