Africa in the Picture IX

The Memorial Day weekend in Brooklyn becomes a family reunion of sorts with BAM’s longest-running program, DanceAfrica, “a vibrant celebration of Africa and the diaspora through dance, art, film, and an outdoor bazaar.” Check the calendar for the various goings-on, but if you can squeeze it in today, grab the kids and go to see Azur and Asmar, from Michel Ocelot, the director of the delightful Kirikou and the Sorceress (a personal favorite). Set in North Africa, it tells the tale of two boys, white and black, raised side-by-side and their subsequent rivalry as young adults.

This is the Tree, a poetic story about the baobab tree and the wildlife of the African savannah is one of many multicultural books offered at Nairobi’s Knapsack, a delightful Toy and Play Gallery in Crown Heights … On exhibit through July 9 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is the wonderful Artful Animals, displaying animals both real and mythic as represented in the arts of Africa. With an emphasis on interactivity, the exhibition is decidedly child-friendly.  Even the online exhibition is designed to engage the kids. Here the gomtogo of the Dogon people begs the question, “what is it?”

A representation of three animals, the antelope, the aardvark and the pangolin, the mythic Chi Wara of the Bamana people of Mali has become one the most identifiably African silhouettes.  When commissioned to create a sculpture to commemorate the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, artist and educator Dr. Lorenzo Pace drew inspiration from the Chi Wara, the Malian “champion of agriculture.”  Soaring 6 feet above Foley Square, the resulting 300 ton black granite monument, the largest outdoor sculpture dedicated to Africans and the African-American community bears noble tribute to those stolen from their African homelands whose unpaid labor was instrumental in creating the United States as a superpower.  Poignantly entombed at the base of the sculpture is a replica of the lock which shackled his great, great-grandfather, Steve Pace.  The original lock –seen here —  remains in the family after having been passed down through the generations and is the inspiration for Dr. Pace’s acclaimed children’s book, Jalani and the Lock.  The book has been “performed” around the world, most recently in France and will be presented in Lima, Peru in conjunction with an explanation of Dr. Pace’s work.

Standing sentry before the Nigeria House, Zuma, by sculptor and designer Billy Omabegho is another treat of African-inspired public sculpture in Manhattan to share with the family this Spring …  Though I missed it during its series run on HBO, I snapped up The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency on DVD and was enchanted by the world of the optimistic Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott) her good-hearted but tightly wound secretary, Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose) her endearingly shy gentleman caller, JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati) and her fellow entrepreneur, the flamboyant BK (Desmond Dube.)  Based on the highly successful series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith, the series is a refreshingly charming look at the sweetly comic adventures of this Kgale community.  Though grave subjects are interspersed (the AIDS crisis, for one) the episodes are devoid of the heaviness depicted in most Western tales of African life.  I am sorry that the series, the first shot entirely on location in Botswana, wasn’t picked up for subsequent seasons.

The Kenyan coastline was once tragically littered with garbage and untold discarded rubber flip-flops.  By gathering these cast-offs and repurposing them as works of art, toys and accessories, UniquEco, is clearing the waste while creating jobs and practical merchandise.  The website offers a veritable menagerie of colorful indigenous African animal toys from rhinos to hippos, graceful gazelles to the giraffe seen here.

In Powder Necklace, the debut young adult novel by the lovely Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Londoner Lila is sent away to boarding school in Ghana in an honestly crafted tale of identity and belonging.  Author Eisa Ulen provides a spot-on review in the Defenders Online.


One Response

  1. thanks so much for including my review of powder necklace in your evocative celebration of african art and culture.



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