Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

The Trove: Sienna Gonzalez
July 31, 2011

Sienna photographed by family friend, Charlotte-based Mary Ebert.

Sienna Gonzalez is in many ways your typical American tween: she likes Selena Gomez, she loves to hang with her friends, she shoos her little brother out of her room for privacy and like most born in the new millennium, she knows her way around a Wii console. Yet she’s also borne some atypical burdens on her eleven-year-old shoulders.

I first laid eyes on flower girl Sienna, then a toddler, when at the April 2002 wedding of dear friend Franchell Mack Brown, her parents and I were in the bridal party.  I remember thinking what a lovely family they were. Rafael and Oi Yin were a kind, good-natured couple full of light, love and gratitude for the blessings of each other, their daughter and angel-on-the-way, Derek, born later that year.

The loving Gonzalez family.

Just three years later, the otherwise fit, non-smoking Rafael was, at 36 diagnosed with and succumbed to metastatic lung cancer which had spread to his spine and brain. Though Derek was very young, Sienna has very clear remembrances of her father and was devastated by the loss.

Admirably navigating the waters of early widowhood, Oi Yin moved forward to instill a sense of stability and strength in her children, a sense upended by shocking news. She too was diagnosed with cancer in February 2010 and given a prognosis of seven months to live. She has courageously soldiered on, hopefully and aggressively fighting the malignancy while also preparing her children for the statistical odds. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

Back in March Oi Yin and Sienna learned that PCAN (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network) was planning an Advocacy Day in Washington, DC on June 15 to seek legislative support of the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act. Understanding the power of petitioning, Sienna quietly conceived of an idea. “I asked my class to write letters to Congress to help pass the act, and they did but I didn’t tell my mom,” Sienna shared with me from her suburban Philadelphia home.

I also spoke with proud mama Oi Yin (sixteen months post-diagnosis, and tumor-stable I’m happy to add) as she shared her shy daughter’s journey to activism.

“She did it unbeknownst to me,” Oi Yin says. “And she thought if they did maybe I can convince the whole school, and if I can convince the whole school, maybe I can convince the whole school district to do it. And that’s how it became this letter campaign. At first she wanted to surprise me but then it got so big she needed my help and told me about it.”

“It was pretty amazing, I’m so proud of her,” Oi Yin says. “I think its her way of taking control of something. She’s had control over so little with her Dad’s cancer and now mine.  She’s this 11-year-old maturing faster than others because of all she’s been through. Is she angry? Is she sad? Is she scared? Major. She’s all of those things, but she’s trying to turn it into something positive and that’s the beauty of it. She’s not feeling sorry for herself, she wants to make a difference. I tell everyone it is a huge gift for me that I got to see this.  It’s just a glimpse of who she might become as an adult– a selfless, giving person. She already understands that the world is bigger than just her.”

The gravity of her circumstance has given her an empathy beyond her years. “I want to save my mom, but if I can’t save my mom maybe I’ll save somebody,” she said.

In May, Skyview Upper and Woodland Elementary Schools held a collaborative   “Purple Day” with students and faculty wearing purple, the ribbon color for pancreatic cancer awareness. Sienna spoke before her brother’s second grade class and assembled her letter campaign book. Photos: Gene Walsh/Times Herald.

“I feared that because of everything they’ve been through Sienna and Derek would have a victim’s mentality,” Oi Yin admits. They’ve worked hard to counter the possibility. “For her to do this project shows she doesn’t. I’ve always known that she’s a fighter, but it’s pretty cool to see her act on things and make things happen.”

Sienna joined her mother in Washington in June to present the over 1,000 letters she gathered to present to Congress. Some of the letters shared students experiences with cancer in their lives. Representative Patrick Meehan was moved to tears as Sienna read one of them.  Senator Bob Casey, in absentia, congratulated Sienna on her efforts and explained that he is a co-sponsor of a bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for a Pancreatic Cancer Initiative.

“It’s crazy because she’s so shy,” Oi Yin marvels, “that made it even sweeter, she pushed out of her comfort zone to do this.”  It’s been an empowering year for the girl who turned eleven on the magical date 1/11/11.

When your young life has been wrought with both great love and great loss, what do you hold dear? Sienna shares the things she cherishes.

1. Everything Disney. The brand that Mickey built is alright in her book. “Disneyland and Disney World are fun. Disney movies and shows have good characters and great plots,” she says.

She dreams of going on a Disney Cruise.

2. Talking to My Dad. Sienna knows that Rafael is with her always.

Daddy’s little girl enjoys a beach day. “He always told me to do what’s right, he was smart and brave and kind.”

3. My Mac. “I really like my laptop. I look up videos on YouTube, video chat with my friends, use it for research and make videos on it for fun.” She also uses social media to spread the word about causes important to her– fighting pancreatic cancer, rallying for aid to Japan, ending animal cruelty and saving the planet.

She loves the song “Perfect,” by Pink and finds the video very touching.

4. Hanging with My Cousin Miranda. They’ve traveled together as far as the Bahamas and the aforementioned iChat has bridged the distance between their New York and Pennsylvania homes.

“She’s like my sister,” Sienna says.

5. My Dog.  Chase, the black and white whir of fur and frenetic energy joined the family, including other Bichon Frise, Snowball just months ago.

“Bichons rule!” she exclaims.

6. Travel.  “I like to see the wonders of the world.  I’ve been to the Bahamas and Canada and a lot of places in the US, mostly the north.  When asked where else she ‘d like to travel she replies, “I just wanna see everywhere.”

“My dream in life is to travel around the world and do research to raise awareness about saving the earth and animals.”  

7. Performing. A triple threat, Sienna has shown her acting, dancing and singing skills in recent months. She sang the Miley Cyrus song “Climb” in an April talent show at her school and secured a role in a local staging of Willy Wonka. She just wrapped the July production and vows “I’m gonna keep auditioning in local theaters.” Her shyness is irrelevant in this arena she says, “It’s kind of scary to get up and talk in front of people I don’t know, but for theater it’s different. I don’t get nervous before going on stage. I guess it feels kind of natural to be on.”

The stage provides golden respite from life’s harsher realities.

8. Animals. “I love all animals. I just came back from Animal-lover sleep away camp. We played animal games, went on field trips to animal shelters and veterinary hospitals and we learned all about animal safety and what to do with strays. I was surrounded by animals:  horses, dogs, cats, fish, gerbils, hamsters, ferrets and bunnies.

In her element at Dolphin Cay at Atlantis Resort Bahamas. She wants to show à la fave TV program Animal Planet “all the majestic animals and cool locations, so that maybe it will make people interested in saving them.

9. Horseback Riding.  She loves horses and last year began volunteering with the local Werkheiser family organization, Flying High, which provides equine-assisted autism therapy. She “grooms the horses, plays games with the kids and walks them on the horses.

She’s been riding since age four.

10. Being with My Mom. She realizes just how precious time is with her mother, enjoying it from simple quotidian pleasures to fantastic trips.

“I’m glad to have my mom in my everyday life.”

For more information about Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, visit

To make your voice heard before congress in support of the initiative, visit


The Trove: djassi daCosta johnson
May 26, 2011

Mrs. Verini: djassi daCosta johnson, 2 months pregnant.

djassi daCosta johnson adores her “ridiculously amazing family.”  It is in the haven of their embrace and the freedom of their trust that she’s been able to move fearlessly through her life. Her educator parents Awolowo and Orundun, of whom she speaks reverentially, anointed their eldest daughter with the nom de guerre of revolutionary Amílcar Cabral, (Abel) Djassi. Brought together by “the Movement,” the former SNCC worker and the former Black Panther secretary instilled in their four children a sense of activism, pride of heritage, hunger for knowledge, love of movement and spiritual grounding.

When we first met, djassi was a Bantu-knotted, hoodie-rocking Essence magazine intern rapturously in love with her tween sister, Yaya. An admitted “fool for a party,” the fly Virgo moved fluidly between the worlds of academia, professional dance, media and the clubs. More than fifteen years later she feels “blessed to have found my best friend in my little sister,” is planning graduate study and enjoying a dance career that has taken her around the globe, expanded her notions of her art and paved the way for marriage and motherhood.

I spent a recent afternoon with the new mom, her husband Corrado and their delightful daughter, Mirahl in their Brooklyn home as they prepared to summer in his native Rome. Sipping wine, we marveled over the body’s tremendous capacity for healing. Awed by the “wondrous abilities of the human body,” djassi the dancer bowed to djassi the mother. “I always thought I knew my body so well. I’m so proud of what it’s done and what it can do, but then I was also humbled by its limits,” she said recalling the arduous journey of Mirahl’s birth. Her infant warrior woman is a testament to the “strength that humans have and the will to survive.”

After a “normal” pregnancy, a love-filled karaoke baby shower and the full expectation that she, a mind-bogglingly fit woman would move through a water birth with relative ease, life-threatening complications arose. For 42 drug-free hours she labored, but sensing something was “off,” she resisted the urge to push and her midwife took heed. It was discovered that pushing risked strangulation of the baby by the twice-wrapped umbilical cord around her neck as well as uterine rupture and severe hemorrhage for djassi who inexplicably presented with Placenta Increta. Mirahl arrived via emergency Caesarean. Her name hints at the miraculous and its Turkish definition, “little gazelle” befits the daughter of a dancer/choreographer. In homage to Corrado’s grandmother Vera and djassi’s grandmother Lucille, Mirahl carries two middle names, Vera Lu.

Little Mirahl was born December 28, 2010.

Besotted with their baby girl, dja and Corrado are grateful for djassi’s protective intuition and honored by Mirahl’s having chose them. “My parents were very affectionate, I felt one hundred percent unconditionally loved,” djassi muses. “I hope I can pass that on.”

The striking DaCosta Johnson family: Orundun and Awolowo; first-born Mamadou, youngest Djani and…

Camara Yaya and djassi Camara, then and now. Their shared name Camara, means “comrade.”

The Johnson children were all educated in the Montessori tradition, at St. Michael’s where their mother taught. Djassi recalls getting “mommy practice” with Yaya and Djani (eight and ten years younger) when her mom spent summers away in Ohio pursuing Master’s studies in Montessori.  Mrs. DaCosta Johnson would eventually open Central Harlem Montessori, “the only accredited Montessori School in Harlem and the least expensive one in NYC for sure,” djassi says proudly.  Now retired, her dad was a Professor of Sociology at several New York City colleges. “My parents were very clear about being cognizant of our history and the importance of education as not just a privilege but a responsibility.” At the behest of their father, who valued his upbringing in New Haven, each of the children attended high school on the wooded campus of Northfield Mount Hermon in Western Massachusetts and went on to matriculate in the Ivies: Penn (Mamadou) Barnard (djassi) Brown (Yaya) and Cornell (Djani) Djassi is grateful for her father’s vision. “Aside from the obvious academic intensity and advantage it gave me in applying for and understanding the purpose of college, I really had such a formative experience living away from home…I don’t think I would have ever run track, swam, worked on a farm, or really seen myself as a multi-faceted individual. Boarding school let me grow into my own skin at my own pace and feel free to just be. As an adolescent that was priceless.”

Developing sound minds and bodies, the Johnson siblings excelled both academically and athletically. “We were always encouraged to be physical by nature, taught how fun it was to challenge and stretch the body’s capabilities. We grew up doing gymnastics, capoeira, all of us dance — my brothers are shamefully talented despite their lack of interest in training. I had school and ballet and modern classes all week and was able to ‘study’ the house and break-dance culture on the weekends. There are still guys who call me out when I’m uptown like, Ain’t you ‘Dou’s little sister who won that battle spinning on her head way back in da day?”

A 1970’s anti-nukes rally: “I want to GROW not GLOW.” And grow she did into an awesome command of her body.

Her parents have been on the board of DanceBrazil for most of her life. “Growing up, around and backstage with a dance company was amazing,” she says. Her first stage appearance was at age six: a samba with the company in “Orfeu Negro” at Riverside Church.

Junior high was pivotal. She chose as her Phys Ed elective, the dance class of Melvin Jones. The former Alvin Ailey dancer taught the Horton and Graham techniques. Through his instruction, she was ahead of the curve when she auditioned for and was accepted into the Ailey scholarship program years later.

“After boarding school I was hungry to get back to NYC and dance.” Yet she shunned the academic pursuit of dance. A local school would allow her to both train with Ailey and study English and Anthropology.  “A women’s college seemed empowering to me. With alumnae like Zora, Katherine and Twyla, I knew Barnard would be perfect.” Her nine-page appeal to overturn a denied housing grant was successful and though her parents lived only 23 blocks away, she was awarded housing for four years.

She initially found anthropology “daunting and too focused on the other,” but eventually realized that “there is a future in Anthro for participant-observers such as myself, that the preservation of culture can be enacted by those within rather than some extraneous observer.” This will be the crux of her graduate exploration. “I see ways to give back through my art.”

Among her impressive credits (view them and her performance reel at Dancer’s Pro) is her phenomenal performance in Moses Pendleton’s Passion.  A cornerstone of the MOMIX repertoire, Passion is a highlight of djassi’s eight-year tenure touring internationally with the company.

The mind-blowing Passion ribbon solo.

When djassi joined MOMIX, she and technical director/lighting designer, Corrado Verini, “gravitated to each other during after-show dinner to discuss the world, both yearning to talk about something besides dance,” she says.  On an Amsterdam tour they sparked an intense, see-each-other-on-tour, long-for-each-other-off-tour relationship. “We had cultural, linguistic, generational, not to mention the American/Italian, Black/White dichotomies that we both had to get over somehow.  We weren’t convinced right away that we were ready to deal with all of the work that loving each other might entail.” Nevertheless, “it was undeniable for both of us that there was something that kept bringing us back together.” In a yellow silk dress of her own design, djassi wed Corrado in August 2008 in Rome.

dja love.

“Soho Moods,” Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome.  Photo © Nina Contini Melis.

Apart from dance, she’s tapped into other aspects of her creativity through acting, writing (contributing to the book Transculturalism and TRACE magazine) and fashion.  Frequently complimented on garments she’d whip up, she during a tour break in 2001, created a 32-piece collection dubbed the eponymic dja. She sold the line at fairs in Rio and New York.  Inspired by her love of adornment, she has more recently launched the easier-to-produce earring line, Flights of Fancy by dja.

As Calpurnia in an Italian production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo: A.T. Ambrosini

Optical party dress and Flights of Fancy earrings by dja.

As a brisk stroll through nearby Prospect Park rocked Mirahl to sleep, djassi spoke of “spoiling” their winter baby “with Italian summer love at the sea and countryside of Rome.”  Happy for my friends and smitten with their slumbering infant I bade the Johnson-Verini family farewell and buon viaggio.

Il tesoro trovato di djassi:

1. Fame (the 1980 movie.) “My father took me to see it when I was six and I made him sit through it twice. I was like ‘I wanna do THAT!’ I look back on the movie now and realize there were some really adult themes, it wasn’t a movie about dance and fairies. But I was pretty clear that I could be an artist at six years old, so there you go.”

The “Fame” trailer.

2. Aperitivo.  “I have always loved a good glass of wine and 9 years of bartending in New York gave me the opportunity to really understand it.  One of the things I love about Italian ‘time’ as it relates to food is the concept of aperitivo, the precursor to dinner.  In the best bars in Rome and Milan one can go, relax, pay for a glass of wine and feast on the ‘buffet’ offerings.”

“No matter where I am, I rarely have a night without an aperitivo.” Wine photo by Sara Rosso.

3. Languages.  At 28 she lived in Brazil with Yaya and learned Portuguese by immersion. On a tour in Spain, “I got my Spanish better with that guy,” she says gesturing toward Corrado, “He speaks it really well.” After having traveled and toured as an American, she knows that rudimentary English is spoken most everywhere. “So you take it for granted,” she says. “But I find that you get so much more respect by speaking the language and you can really break down so many more barriers by how you speak the language… to take on the culture and the understanding of how people speak the language because of the culture. My sister and I really assimilated into Brazilian life and took on the accent.  A similar thing happened with Italian while living in Italy. I still have a long way to go to perfecting my Português and my Italiano but the ‘way’ I speak fools people and so I learn that much more from each exchange…and the languages are actually very similar. Many words are the same, it’s just ‘sung’ a little differently.”

4. New Year’s Eve in Rio. She’s spent it there a few times with Yaya. “The most meaningful, beautiful, spiritual New Year’s Eves ever!” Once they spent it on the roof of singer Elza Soares‘ Copacabana house, looking down on the glorious sight of the white-clad Carioca multitudes making water offerings to Yemanja. 

Ano Nove: “It’s pretty special. I can’t wait ’til the next one we are able to make.”

5. Dancing With My Family. “You can’t take the six of us anywhere with good music and some space because we all love to partner dance. We are all Salsa-proficient improvisers.  My dad made sure the girls could follow and the boys could lead. Holidays are three couples on the dance floor or a few of us dancing while the others play the congas, bell and berimbau…and my mom can lead a good funga anywhere.”

The Sisters Johnson get their dance on.

6. Hats.  She often tops her look with one of the many chapeaux she’s collected in her travels.

Some faves include Trilbys from Spain, select vintage and a conical spire from Chile.

7. High Heels.  “I looove a good pair of heels, and I love to get good bargains on them. One of my favorite pairs is from El Mundo on 145th and Broadway near where I grew up. They are gorgeous.”

“Don’t they just make you want to Salsa?Carlos by Carlos Santana pumps.

8. Fearlessness. “Without that concept in my life I wouldn’t have done what I’ve done. From thinking I could make a career of dance to traveling the world–something I wanted to do, but do with a purpose to meeting Corrado through work and believing in following my heart.”

Holiday Island, the Maldives.

9. Oasi Naturista di Capocotta. She loves the freedom of the nudist oasis in Rome. “I used to be a bit prudish about my breasts and then I realized I had to shed my Western issues and embrace my origins on this European beach. They have the most amazing restaurant with people eating on silver plates with huge wine glasses in different arrays of nakedness. It’s one of my favorite places to go in the summer.”

Easy atmosphere and the freshest catch.

10. gDiapers. “I just couldn’t fathom that in 2011, I should be complacent,” knowing that conventional disposables degrade in 500 years. “How is that responsibly leaving my child a planet she can thrive on?” An Earth-friendly diaper hybrid, gDiapers feature inserts (either washable cloth or flushable, biodegradable disposables) to absorb waste.  The new gMom has become an ardent brand evangelist: “no rashes, sooo much less waste and the refills break down in 50 days!” With an in-house washer during her Roman sojourn she’ll use the cloth option exclusively.

Good for the baby, good for Gaia (and they appeal to Mommy’s fashion sensibilities.)

Africa in the Picture IX
May 29, 2010

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.

Africa in the Picture VII
May 26, 2010

Considering our ravaged earth…

Vintage travel posters make for wonderful home decor.  Salvaging discarded materials, London-based textile/jewelry designer Anita Quansah creates showstopping, earth-friendly pieces such as the “Nava” …  A fabulous trench of vintage fabric, pattern play and bold accessories from Duro Olowu for Spring. (photo from

Taking its name from the Swahili “shed light on Africa,” Angaza Afrika: African Art Now is a wonderful compendium illuminating the world of contemporary African Art on the continent and its diaspora featuring such artists as El Anatsui of Ghana, whose hammered bottle caps are woven together to create magical dripping wall sculptures.

Performance artist and textile sculptor Nick Cave is best known for his Soundsuits found materials (one of which is a recent acquisition of the Brooklyn Museum on view on the 4th floor until January 2012) Click for more on the incredible exhibition Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth at UCLA’s Fowler Museum through May 30th.

…the largest presentation of work by Chicago-based artist Nick Cave, featuring thirty-five of his Soundsuits—multi-layered, mixed-media sculptures named for the sounds made when the “suits” are worn. Reminiscent of African, Caribbean and other ceremonial ensembles as well as of haute couture, Cave’s work explores issues of transformation, ritual, myth and identity. His virtuosic constructions incorporate yarn, sequins, bottle caps, vintage toys, rusted iron sticks, hair, and more. Mad, humorous, visionary, glamorous and unexpected, the Soundsuits are created from scavenged ordinary materials that Cave re-contextualizes into extraordinary works of art. – The Fowler Museum

Brooklyn-based Mar y Sol (formerly known as Mad Imports) partners with artisans in Madagascar and Kenya to create handmade accessories handbags in renewable materials. The clutch shown here is a zebra-striped variation on the popular style “Opal” and designed exclusively for Brooklyn boutique, Epaulet … Somali Canadian hip-hop artist K’naan whose popular”Wavin’ Flag” is the anthem for this year’s World Cup created a charity version with Young Artists for Haiti to benefit to Haitian earthquake relief. (Photo: Akram.)

Visionary artist Xenobia Bailey is examining new ways to reduce waste by seeing the potential for beauty in refuse and putting her funky alchemist’s touch on those things we regularly discard.  See her zero-waste puppet theater, eco-chic wedding adornments and more on her blog (Photo: Jeffrey Machtig courtesy of John Michael Art Center 2009) … El Anatsui, mentioned above, showed early this year at Jack Shainman in his wonderful second solo exhibition at the gallery.  A hardbound catalogue is available.

Africa in the Picture IV
May 18, 2010

Niece of Nigerian highlife star Victor Olaiya, Wunmi Olaiya has music in her blood.  With her fierce style (she designs under the Wumnigirl label) and high-0ctane performances she has built a devoted following.  Her supporters rallied to assist her when in November she made a request on Kickstarter for donations to fund her sophomore solo recording in Ghana.  Goal met, she will follow through on her promise to donate all the proceeds from her next Ghana concert to Doctors Without Borders.  Expect a sizzling set when she performs Saturday, May 22 at Harlem Stage. The “wonderfull” DJ Spinna keeps the flow going through the night.

The brainchild of angel-voiced East African singer, Somi Kakoma, New Africa Live is a series of multidisciplinary events which ” challenge homogenized notions of African cultural production and whose work interrogates African identity politics with a cosmopolitan spirit and the vigor of urban hybridization” …Photojournalist Lyle Owerko traveled to Africa in 2006 and the resulting portraits of the Samburu people are stunning.  Lelesit of the Samburu was one of the works in the Phillips de Pury auction of last week.

Fashion label ZuluRose, bears the creative stamp of Butalezi and the renaissance woman Wunmi.  Their advertisments are an ode the strength, beauty and fire of African descended-women. An extension of the brand, ZuluRose Radio is a podcast of “African beats and urban grooves from around the world.”  … Ever expounding on the aesthetics of Funk, its high priestess, Xenobia Bailey creates “hand crocheted Urban Crowns for all the SuperNatural, Everyday People of the Planet.”  Pictured is her homage to the Orisha Chango.

A recipient of an Art Matters travel grant,  Los Angeles-born Marc Andre Robinson will travel to South Africa in exploration of his South African heritage.  I was introduced to his work last fall in an exhibit at Tina Kim Gallery. Here, the Continual Dissipation of Dense Black Being, 2005; ink on paper.

A detail from Movement41 (The Game), 2008, by Ghanaian painter Owusu-Ankomah, whose large canvasses feature the recurrent motif of Adinkra symbols.  Based in Bremen, Germany since 1986, he addresses themes of identity and the body …  My dear friend, photographer Frederick V. Nielsen II, shoots to capture the silken beauty of black skin.  Here he beautifully illuminates model Kayan Jewl James in the knitwear bikini of Jamaican designer, Knit Heru.

11 pm on Friday, 2010 is one of the oil portraits London-based artist, (Ghanaian descent) Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is showing at Jack Shainman Gallery in her first solo show in New York through May 22.  Featured in the Dr. Chika Okeke-Agulu/Okwui Enwezor book, Contemporary African Art Since 1980 as well as the Saatchi online gallery, she  …   I was happy to learn of the Brooklyn Museum’s recent acquisition of Heather’s Degradé 2006, by Cairo-born feminist artist Ghada Amer.  Her gallerist, Cheim & Read is currently showing her exhibtion, Color Misbehavior through June 19. Shown here, The Black Bang, 2010 acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas.

Philpotian Phlight Recorder, 2000 is Pete Goldlust’s totemic, carved crayon tribute to Chicago outsider artist and carver David Philpot, who is currently at work on a public art installation to be unveiled this fall …  Kara Walker’s scathing Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching, 2006 (painted laser cut steel) is a museum purchase of the Brooklyn Museum and on view on the fourth floor.

Brooklyn Moment #10: Neither Rain Nor Heat…
August 31, 2009

One of the highlights of summer in Brooklyn for nearly a decade has been attendance at the feel-good, Sunday afternoon-til-dark family picnic, doggie meet-and-greet, drum circle, twirl-n-skate house music fest that is Soul Summit. In the shadow of the looming monument atop Fort Greene Park’s highest point, rotating DJ’s kick it Garage-style for those old enough to remember to share just how it’s done with those who are not. Picnic spreads are as likely to feature vegan fare as hot wings and the music alone can take you higher. It’s all love.

I was only able to make one, the last in this summer’s series and I’m so glad I did. I needed to shake a tail feather and release the stuff of a hectic schedule. I mixed and mingled with friends, enjoying the family reunion vibe. We danced into a sweaty frenzy, so hard, perhaps we invoked the rain gods who pelted us with equal fervor. At first the crowd dispersed, seeking partial shelter under the leafy canopy of trees lining the perimeter of the “dance floor.” The plug was pulled, literally, on the music in deference to nature and her ability to smite by lightning. Many threw up their umbrellas, bounded out into the open and returned to rainy revelry amid the rhythms of the storm. We danced, ecstatically waterlogged and determined to outlive the monsoon. Eventually the DJs were pumping the tunes once more. Neither rain nor heat nor humid night would stay these couriers from the mass transmission of their anointed sounds.


Publicist Lea Byrd and her darling daughter


Stylist David De La Cruz and friends (including a glorious Thai Ridgeback)


Roll, bounce.



Brooklyn Moment #7: Wonder-Full XI
May 22, 2009

I remember riding in the Torino, my mom’s best friend at the wheel, the women in the front all cigarettes and Afros, the kids in the back all Afro puffs and yarn-tied pigtails. Car door locks looked like silver golf tees, asking the cat at Esso for directions was the GPS of the day and spinning the radio dial to WOL introduced some DC babies to the wonders of Stevie.

The man born Stevland Hardaway Judkins has etched beautiful memories in the hearts of generations of music fans; created an anthem for and fueled the movement toward federal acknowldegement of MLK’s birth; been lovingly parodied by Eddie Murphy and is celebrated yearly at Wonder-Full, a roving musical tribute to Mr. Stevie Wonder.   Mix masters DJ Spinna and Bobbito Garcia spin only music either recorded or written (for example Rufus’ Tell Me Something Good) by Stevie, in a hotly anticipated event with the spirit-raising intensity of a Southern tent revival.

Happily, this year’s soiree was within walking distance of my home at Clinton Hill’s BK Studios.  I went with last week my ace, writer Julia Chance as she covered the scene for WNYC.  She documented with photos, gathered stories and still managed to get her dance on.  I know I did.  By 3am I was a hot mess, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Check out Julia’s report here.


Enamored with Ailey
February 10, 2009

I was tickled to see the President and the First Lady honor their commitment to “date night” with an evening at the Kennedy Center on Friday. Along with a small coterie including daughters Malia and Sasha, the Obamas enjoyed highlights from the 50th anniversary season of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

I took in one of the remarkable programs in December during the run at New York City Center. I had the pleasure of seeing the Maurice Bejart classic ballet, Firebird; Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya’s restaging of the explosive Ulysses Dove piece, Episodes and Love Stories, the contemporary, hip hop-infused collaboration of Artistic Director Judith Jamison, Robert Battle and Puremovement’s Rennie Harris. I look forward to their return to NYC with their engagement at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this Spring.

Photo: Kevin Lamarque for Reuters.

Last year, it was my honor to style some of the promotional photography for the golden anniversary of the legendary company and was awed by the dancers’ incredible strength, grace and total mastery of their exquisite bodies. Hugo Boss and Roberto da Carrara provided menswear and I sought out Brooklyn-based Nadia Tarr’s signature wrap dress for the women. The line Butter by Nadia, is a collection of one-size convertible matte or satin jersey dresses, brilliantly conceived as they are flattering to every figure type and available in a multitude of colors.


Photo: Andrew Eccles

Awesome dancers Clifton Brown in Hugo Boss and Linda Celeste Sims in Butter by Nadia.

Free v.2
June 25, 2008

Note: the list has been updated yet again. Download the latest at the Free v.3 blog post.

Okay folks, be sure to download version two ( free08v2 ) of my summer freebie list. Some updates include the MLK concerts in Wingate Park (Erykah Badu, y’all!), Movies With a View in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Tamar-Kali at the Weeksville Historical Society’s Rebel Soul series and Films in Tompkins, the annual film fest in Tompkins Square Park (Blade Runner shows tonight).