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Tucson’s African Art Village returns after pandemic hiatus

Akua Fenn shows off the handmade bags that she designed to a customer.
Posted at 9:54 PM, Jan 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-30 01:16:03-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Saturday marked opening day and a long-awaited reunion for a community that brings African cultures to Tucson.

The African Art Village returned to the Menlo Park area of the city, where it will run through Feb. 13. It offers authentic African food, clothing, artwork, gifts and more.

The village never opened last winter due to uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

“I didn’t want to take a chance and I didn’t want to bring all my vendors out, and I didn’t know what to expect,” said co-founder Charlotte Mack, who has been bringing those vendors together in Tucson for more than two decades.

The event has grown over the years with now about 60 vendors taking part. Most are from West Africa, though they represent several different countries.

“It’s education, it’s to see how other people in other countries live,” Mack said. “I have learned so much from everybody here. And I make sure I learn something about everybody’s culture and everybody’s village and everybody’s family.”

Akua Fenn is originally from Ghana and now lives in the Phoenix area. She designs and sells bags that are handmade in Madagascar.

The African Art Village is her biggest show of the year. She says the other vendors feel like family.

“I miss everyone here. Even though if you don’t know their name, we’re all the same group. And it’s like all brothers and sisters. And you miss that,” she said of the time away last year.

Ninth-generation, Nigerian drum-maker Akeem Ayanniyi agrees.

“The other vendors that we haven’t seen each other for a long time, so it’s like ‘The Village.’ You get to see your customer, vendor, people, your friend. Everybody come for the show,” he said.

Mack is thankful for an outpouring of interest online from previous visitors who are planning a trip back now that the Village is returning this year, including some from as far as Florida.

She says the items for sale are new every year, and that’s part of what makes the Village special.

“It’s unique, it’s unique. And you don’t see any of the stuff that they have around here, you don’t see it anywhere else,” Mack said. “And you never know what to expect… like Christmas. You know, you just are surprised to see what’s gonna be new.”