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The Tuareg and a history of the Sahara - The Royal Geographical Society

The Veil. Photo credit: Henrietta Butler.

Exhibition preview

AS THE Tuareg of Mali and Niger combat global politics and economics to hold on to their way of life, a moving photography exhibition, The Tuareg and a history of the Sahara, and series of events at The Royal Geographical Society from June 2 to June 20, 2015 will focus on this proud nomadic culture – that modernised and withstood the challenges of the 20th Century, but is now in peril.

Tuareg society and culture is little known in the UK and the exhibition and events, the first of their kind in the UK, will give the public an opportunity to learn about Tuareg history and culture at this time of difficulty for their people.

Often referred to as the “Blue Men of the Desert”, the Tuareg have lived in extreme desert conditions deep in the Sahara for over a thousand years.

Through photography, poetry, historical documents and letters, drawings and maps, debate and music the exhibition and additional events will recount Tuareg history in Algeria, Libya, Niger and Mali from the 19th Century to the present day, giving the public a fascinating opportunity to discover and learn more about these extraordinary people – from when the Tuareg ruled the Sahara to how they see themselves today.

Their language and distinctive dress – with the men heavily veiled and the women not – unite them and guides their behaviour. Their rich poems and ballads relate a colourful but poignant history and ideology.

Poetry, which is the Tuareg’s most cherished art form, is also at the core of their contemporary pop music and now gives the Tuareg a world stage. The 2012 Grammy award-winning Tinariwen (who will play at WOMAD in July 2015) are the most well-known; while Toumast, who will perform at the event, are releasing a new album in April.

Nomadson Camels. Photo credit: Henrietta Butler.

Robin Hanbury-Tenison, co-founder Survival International, said: “This event will thoroughly illuminate and explain the Tuareg’s intriguing, vibrant culture – contradictory but sincere, powerful and resilient. A timely, important show, and to my knowledge the first major exhibition on the Tuareg in the UK.”

The exhibition, on display in the Pavilion, will be curated by the photographer Henrietta Butler and will include her photographs and those of renowned Saharan photographers, and paintings by Tuareg artists.

A 105 page book, The Tuareg and a history of the Sahara, edited by Henrietta Butler will be published by Unicorn Press on May 28, 2015.

For more information, visit

Admission: Free.

Times: Weekdays from 10am – 9pm (except: closed 12pm on Friday, June 5 to Sunday, June 7). Weekends: Saturday, June 13, 10am – 7pm; Sunday, June 14, 10am – 5pm; Saturday, June 20, 10am – 5pm.

The Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR

Related Events

Panel discussion: “Where Now”? – Wednesday, June 3 from 7pm – 9.15pm in the Ondaatje Theatre.

English, French and Tuareg academics and authors, Pierre Boilley, Berny Sèbe, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Adal Rhoubëid, Mohamed Aghali-Zakara and Barnaby Rogerson discuss Tuareg society and culture and, with regard to Saharan turmoil, Tuareg life today, in the Sahara and elsewhere.

Auction in aid of Karl-G. Prasse Ecolé primaire, Amataltal.

Doors, Exhibition and Bar open at 6pm.

Tickets: £10 RGS-IBG members; £12 non-members; £7 students – available online at

The Tuareg band Toumast, and friends in The Troubadour Café, 267 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 9JA on Thursday, June 4 from 8.30pm – 2am. Doors open 8pm.

Tickets: £12.

For more information, call 020 7370 1434 or visit