Archive for June, 2010

Africa in the Picture XI
June 16, 2010

Though this art-focused series is largely celebratory, we highlight here works which illuminate some of the dark chapters in the continent’s story.  As the world shudders in horror over the Gulf Coast oil spill, we must also acknowledge the world capital of oil pollution, the Niger Delta, from whence 40% of US crude oil is imported and the division of wealth is staggeringly disproportionate.  Over a four-year period, photographer George Osodi documented life in the region in his series of digital photographs, Oil Rich Niger Delta.

Ogoni Boy, 2007 and Ogoni Oil Pollution, 2007.  George Osodi.

During a residency in Recife, Brazil, Beninese artist Meschac Gaba created a vast port city of international, iconic, architectural landmarks crafted entirely out of sugar as wry commentary on the significance of the slave trade (specifically the slave labor of cane workers on sugar-producing plantations) on the economic growth of Western nations.

Detail from Sweetness, 2006. Meschac Gaba.

In a wonderful a deux exhibition last fall at Sikkema Jenkins Gallery, 1997 MacArthur Fellow, Kara Walker shared space with fellow “Genius Grant” recipient Mark Bradford (2009.)  Yes there were her  to-be-expected, arresting cut paper silhouettes but I was particularly struck by a large untitled mixed media canvas which had a small, yellowed newspaper clipping bearing the headline Rape Victim Stoned to Death in Somalia Was 13, U.N. Says. I was sickened and outraged by the cruel, tragic fate of young Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow and reminded of the power of art to not only celebrate culture but also to condemn atrocity.

Untitled. Kara Walker.

Henry Adebonojo, whose 2004 journey to Rwanda to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for the excellent Raoul Peck-directed HBO film Sometimes in April, led him to a chilling visit to a Nytarama church, an hour south of Kigali. It is alleged that approximately 5000 people seeking sanctuary lost their lives in the small chapel. Deeply moved by his encounter with the haunting vestiges of the 1994 genocide, Henry speaks of the “great sacrilege”of the commission of murder in a house of worship and of the complicity of some of the pastors.

It didn’t happen all at once of course.  People would go there for refuge and would never be seen again.  No way to pass word of the danger, no way to ward off the terror. The skulls are arranged against two walls as you enter the church.  One directly opposite and the wall to your right.  To your left is the length of the church and what remains of the pews, more like benches, are like stepping-stones over the detritus of clothing, shoes, collarbones and a host of other personal effects.

The mass of skulls all bear witness to the manner of death.  Machetes have their particular signature.  Bullet holes, though present were the exception.  There were makeshift “mallets” some made of hardened mud, some of wood encrusted with nails that delivered a pretty distinctive mark of its own.

There are grenade holes in the walls and the ceiling is riddled with bullets.  In one of the pictures you can see a skull outlined by a ray of sunlight coming through those same holes.  The ugliness and the beauty all at once.  It is as if the one skull it highlights is saying to us all – look at me, I know I am here with all of these people, but look at me, I am a person, an individual… Yes, the picture says, See Me!

If You Knew Me, 2004. Henry Adebonojo.

Brooklyn Blend
June 1, 2010

One of the joys of attending Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn over the past few years has been hearing the glorious choral voices lifted in song.  Under the stewardship of Frank A. Haye, Jr., Pastor of the Sacred Arts Ministry for over a decade, the Total Praise choir has performed locally at Celebrate Brooklyn; with Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin at the NBC Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting just last year and as far away as South Africa.  I, like many, was sad to see Pastor Haye leave Emmanuel earlier this year but am now delighted to learn that he will helm the newly founded Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir.

The BIC is an ensemble committed to bringing this city together through artistic expression. The ensemble will encourage members of this great city to appreciate, learn and celebrate the diverse cultures which make the City of New York great. “The Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir is a group of performing ambassadors, that will spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ through song,” said Frank A. Haye. “The choir will not only perform in the tri-state area, but throughout the United States and abroad. The ensemble will record and minister to different denominations, outdoor music festivals, concert halls and private functions. All members of the ensemble will receive world-class musical training and an opportunity to fellowship with musicians from diverse ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds. Our motto is simple…One Great City, One Great Choir to the Glory of God.”

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and City Council Member Letitia James will formally announce the BIC’s formation at 11am on Thursday, June 10, 2010 at Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street (between Court and Adam Streets.) Open auditions to join the choir begin at Borough Hall just after the announcement from 11:00 am to 4:pm on Thursday.  Auditions will continue on Saturday, June 12 from 10:00am to 6:00pm at Elim International Temple at  20 Madison Avenue (between Classon and Franklin Avenues.)

As this is an adult choir all participants must be at least 18-years-old. Those interested in joining should come prepared to sing one of the following songs of their choice acapella for 30 seconds. The list of songs include “Amazing Grace,” “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” “I Won’t Complain,” “We Are The World,” “I Need You To Survive,” “Speak To My Heart,” “Even Me,” “My Soul Is Anchored In The Lord,” “Jesus Is Love, ” “Center of My Joy,” “Stand,” and “Blessed Assurance.” All participants will be notified of their involvement in the choir following the auditions. All musicians should come prepared to play a song of their choice and participate in a 15 minute interview. Musicians should bring their own instrument(s) to play with the exception of the piano.

The Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir will begin regular rehearsals twice a month for all choir members and musicians in September 2010. Further information on start date, time and rehearsal location will be forwarded at a later date. For information on the auditions, please call 718-307-7808 or email at

I look forward to hearing what promises to be a phenomenal blended choir of diverse voices under the guidance of a gifted director.