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Entries in Africa (35)

Friday
Apr152016

Malick Sidibé: Mali, 1936-2016 

Malick Sidibé, Bamako, 2001

Have thought often of Sidibé since the start of the conflict in Northern Mali in 2012, Touareg liberation movements meeting Al Qaida in the Maghreb and inching south towards Bamako. I wrote about Sidibé in 2010, here, on the occasion of his 'discovery' by Europe and an exhibition and documentary film about his work. 

Modernity, liberation movements, post-coloniality, secularism and photography: all collided in Sidibé's seemingly open and joyful Bamako.  I wonder now if the joy had anything to do with such social movements, and if it is still there just in different, more constrictive clothing and religious edicts. This is just one of the many things we do not know about Africa.

Monday
Jun092014

Soccket balls

Soccket, an energy-generating football, generates and stores enough electricity after half an hour of use to power a small lamp

In honour of FIFA feel compelled to say something about soccer this week.  Shall start with the electricity generating football, SOCCKET, put into production in 2013 with kickstarter funds.  It was developed in 2012 by Jessica Matthew, an Edo from Nigeria, a very clever girl who went off to Harvard and allegedly taught herself mechanical engineering.  Her psychology and economics degree shows: the project is sophisticated way beyond its energy-generating possibilities.  

The football has a pendulum inside which turns a generator attached to a battery.  This adds a bit of weight, but just an ounce.  The ball is airless, don't understand that bit.  It has a 6W output: for the undeveloped world, this means a lamp can be plugged into it for three hours after half an hour of kicking the ball around.  For the developed world which is actually purchasing the balls for quite a lot of money, it can recharge your phone. You buy this soccer ball really as a charitable act: you buy one and one will be given to someone far away.
Pulse II, a skipping rope that generates electricity from the spinning of the rope in the handles.
Uncharted Play, Inc, Matthew's design firm, also makes a skipping rope, PULSE, where the generating mechanism is in the handles.  This sells for $295 in New York.  Says Matthew, 'Right now, we  are selling them in New York and in New York, we charge people a lot because it is New York'.  As I said, clever.

In an interview, Nicole Brown of Uncharted Play explains the marketing of PULSE: 'Because charging a cell phone is more of a developed world issue, we’re going to give a SOCCKET, which powers a lamp, to the developing world for each PULSE sold.'  Images show little children in otherwise un-illuminated huts doing homework by the light of a tiny led lamp and, where living off the grid is not an option, iPhones in bright white rooms are plugged into it. I understand that the developing world far exceeds cell phone use compared to the developed world which has so many more options, but one's First World charitable impulses are triggered by the combination of technology (which we have) and poverty (which 'they' have).

It's good, this project, but the marketing of it is a bit patronising.  I found a hysterically funny collection of comments on SOCCKET on Seun Osewa's ₦airaland Forum covering every possible aspect of the project, such as, from Willskid:
Seun and Mum
Mum: Seun, where u dey go?
Seun: I wan go play ball
Mum: Ori e da... U no go go read ur books
Seun: Mama u forget say u and papa fone don flat...If i nor play ball, u no go charge ur fone today oo...


or from Virgo:
So while developed countries produce electricity with Coal, Liquid Petroleum, Petroleum Gases, Nuclear, and others, Africa must resort to kicking a ball around in order to enjoy electricity?

Let's just say ₦airaland remains skeptical.

Tuesday
May202014

keepods

When I started to write these posts, in 2009, the second posting was about the Jiko stove, which I'd seen on the Shell/BBC World Challenge, an annual competition of solutions to problems in parts of the world without services, especially electricity and clean water.  There were rafts of efficient and safe braziers designed that would minimise the amount of fuel used and the smoke emitted; there were ingenious water purification solutions such as the Jompy where a water pipe ran through the stove and purified the water in the process.  There was the Sudeepa, a beautiful little glass jar with a screw on lid and flattened sides used as an oil lamp that if knocked over would not roll.  2009, the invention of devices was in full throttle.   

Gradually the Shell/BBC World Challenge changed from solutions, such as prosthetic limbs made from melted down pop cans, to something more entrepreneurial, so that now there were cooperatives that made things, such as baskets out of telephone wire, or ottomans from crochetted plastic bags, or honey from collective bee hives, that needed the competition money to get such things to market, especially foreign markets.   Projects such as these are the staple of the Thousand Villages stores, and recently, Holt Renfrew's oddly disjunctive charity-based product cabines full of interesting small things, bangles and satchels from places like India or Ghana.  

There was a shift from products to solve local problems to the marketting of local products calibrated for conscientious westerners.  World Challenge stopped running.

Now, in 2014, five years later, the most revolutionary products are technological: how to get the still developing world hooked into global systems and this is happening with lightning speed: the underbanked, 50% of the world, increasingly use mobile payment networks such as M-Pesa, a mobile network moving quickly through Africa, Afghanistan and India. The fellow living in a street market selling stuff to tourists isn't paid in cash, but through his mobile phone.  Would I know how to do this?  uh. no.  

Keepod is an IT project, developed by Nissan Bahar and Franky Imbesi in Tel Aviv.  It loads a USB flash drive with an Android 4.4 operating system that then uses any kind of discarded computer whose hard drive has been removed as a temporary facilitator.  They have separated the hardware (simple mechanics and can be shared with many people) from the software (individual and portable). This is, so far, running in Kenya – pictures of lots of children with their keepods on a cord around their necks.  In an interview, Bahar and Imbesi said that within minutes children were posting images to facebook – it isn't that the knowledge of the rest of the world is lacking, even children know what they can't do, it is the equipment that is lacking.  This is quite different from one laptop per child which requires literally millions of computers.  This requires millions of USB drives which Bahar and Imbesi feel can be sold at $7 each: $5 for the drive, $2 for the program, loaded and upgraded locally at a keepod point in a market – a new small business.   

The keepod is the latest solution to what is ultimately an equalisation of access, and is actually more nimble and sustainable than anything I see around me. 

Thursday
Feb202014

Argentina's Playlist for Freedom

Part of BBC's Freedom 2014 programming: Natalio Cosoy's passionate explanation of the music of Argentina's often coded popular and folk songs during both military rule and after.  A wonderful half-hour of 'anthems to perseverance', as he says, 'what music can actually do, in terms of instilling freedom into society.'

Manifestación de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo en 1983, //diarioinedito.com/Nota/7932. Click on image to take you to the BBC page. Not ever sure how long these things are available for, but this image gives you all the tracking information.

This is an exciting series.  Here is a link to hip-hop in Africa.  For someone, me, who came to African music in the pre-African Rap late-80s, this program explains much that I had seen as neo-colonialism.  Again, it and the words were and are coded, flying under the radar of convention, tradition and military regimes. 

Thursday
Jan302014

Gerhard Marx: Johannesburg, 2012

Gerhard Marx, Garden Carpet: Johannesburg [1], 2013. Plant material, tissue paper with acrylic ground on canvas board, 120 x 180cm Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Gerhard Marx, a South African artist, seems interested in the underpinnings of the commonplace, in this case the map of Johannesburg which becomes reinscribed with the surface materials of Johannesburg.  Not quite geology, more dirt, as if the gleaming towers and freeways of the modern city are just this: dirt, roots and grass, the map itself scratches on the ground.

Gerhard Marx, Garden Carpet: Johannesburg, detail. Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Tuesday
Jan282014

Rodney Place: art and revolution, 2012

Brett Murray The Struggle, 2010 Silkscreen 100 x 70cm Edition of 22. Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Something to think about: the artist, after the revolution.  We are so distant here in this snow-muffled northern country, the end of apartheid so abstracted, that Mandela's gracious processes of reconciliation have effectively buried the bodies.  

However, on the ground in South Africa the revolution continues to play itself out.  It was announced today that Mamphela Ramphele has become the head of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition to Jacob Zuma's ANC, which is perhaps a different animal than the ANC of the struggle.  Ramphele was Steve Biko's partner, her cred is enormous, as an activist and as a now wealthy mining executive, doctor and World Bank director.  

Rodney Place in a 2012 essay about the place of the artist in post-revolutionary times, speaks about the relativism of the word 'freedom'.  In the balance between control, as seen in the limits of how and how much the artist can speak, and actual freedom historically charted in other revolutionary times, control has all the weight: the more weighty the control, the more rapier-like the tiny artist must be.  But only if the artists are up to it, and for this, they must be uncorruptable, immune to such things as  fame, market, comfort and the refuge of apoliticism.  Ha.  

The occasion of this essay was Brett Murray's 2012 exhibition in Cape Town, Hail to the Thief II, a collection of vicious satirical pieces that rant on the venality of current South African political culture.  The exhibition evidently was the site of public protests against such a critique, and it was to this that Place's essay responds.  

Revolutions betrayed are tragic, no less so in South Africa than in North Africa and the Middle East.  The Arab Spring has turned into a geography of proxy war on a dozen fronts.  Rodney Place excoriates artists who, as he says,  'want revolutions but we usually prefer being left alone to make art.'  Can art be the gun?  A romantic idea; when it happens it reveals polarities covered by other more pervasive mythologies. 

Friday
Jan032014

a jewel in Ethiop's ear

Amharic music of Ambassel, by Bahiru Kegne. 

The comments on the YouTube placement tell of a lonely Ethiopian diaspora who hear this music directly in their hearts.  Another video of terrible audio quality, low resolution, moves one to tears in some sort of empathy.

More at www.ethiofekade.net/Ambassel

Thursday
Dec192013

christmas cakes

Puza Mandla fruit cake

It is a curious struggle to be on the right side of history.  Someone once mentioned that if everyone in France who said after the war they were in the Resistance actually had been, the war would have been much shorter.  
Something like this is happening in South Africa: evidently almost everyone was a Mandela supporter, for decades, even during apartheid.  Had that actually been true, he wouldn't have been on Robben Island for 27 years.  

The Robben Island Christmas Cake Story: depending on the source, either Mrs Brand, the wife of a warden on the political prisoner's wing, made a cake for the political prisoners each Christmas from 1985, continuing even when they all were in parliament, or Laloo Chiba, a fellow detainee, made the cake from 1978 on.  

Now, this recipe is structurally unlike anything I've ever encountered, ever.  I need a chemist to tell me how it works: a bread pudding (bread torn up, sprinkled with currants and cocoa powder) made in a round biscuit tin, but instead of eggs and milk to make it all stick together, you use puzamandla.  Puzamandla is drink made of sorghum, corn meal and yeast, so it is fermented, like sourdough starter or injera.  It was part of the Robben Island food rations, but in a very weak version.  Anyway, you pour puzamandla over the bread and raisins, let it sit 6 hours then put a plate on the top and a brick on the plate to press it all down for another 6 hours.  It isn't cooked.  It was a terrific treat.  

And for those of you who watch cooking programs, make sense of this, the new South Africa: 

Anel Poltgieter has messed around with the recipe a bit, baking a bread pudding.  But the real recipe is Laloo Chiba's from Anna Trapido's 2009 gastro-political biography, Hunger for Freedom.

Wednesday
Dec182013

on food and survival

Apartheid-era prison diets on Robben Island

Watching the archival photos of the sharecroppers and tenant farmers of Gee's Bend during the 1930s it is obvious how thin they were.  And when Mandela was released, he too was terribly thin, and stayed so.  What did they all eat?
There are many images available of this typed-up sheet of the specifications for 'Coloured/Asiatic' and 'Bantu' food allowances posted in the museum that is now the Robben Island Gaol. Clearly everyone takes a photo of it in shock. None of these racialised words exist anymore, but the intent is clear.  

I calculate that Mandela existed on 700 calories a day and Ahmed Kathrada on perhaps 750 calories a day for 27 years.  These are generous calculations, not taking into account the quality of the food.  Neville Alexander was released in 1974 after ten years on Robben Island and wrote a dossier on conditions there, Robben Island Prison Dossier 1964-1974 published in 1994.  The food conditions are in Addendum Seven, p137.  How did they survive on a diet so nutritionally bereft of value?  Evidently the metabolism slows, organs shrink, many die.  

For Alabama, I quote Harvey Levenstein writing about Depression conditions in Paradox of Plenty, part 12, 2003:   'In Alabama sharecroppers scrape by on their historic diet of the three M's: meat (fat salt pork), corn meal, and molasses.  Shrivelled gardens stop producing green vegetables and fruit is but a memory.  When rations run out before Saturday payday, people simply go without eating.'

Those shrivelled gardens had been root crops and greens: the slave tradition had been leftover plant material – turnip and beet tops, dandelions and collards, discarded cuts of meat, plus, if allowed, foraged food, none of which was available to the South African prisoners. 

The monotony of the food on Robben Island must have been appalling, as were the three M's.  Would this mean one never cared much about food again, or would it mean that with prosperity one ate all that one could?  It could go both ways.

Sunday
Dec082013

Johnny Clegg and Savuka: Asimbonanga, 1987

This video was made before Mandela was released from prison.  From 1964 to 1990, the only image in circulation was from before the Rivonia trials — this is the one used in the Clegg video.  When he was released and appeared on the tv walking through the crowds, I couldn't even recognise the young face in the 72 year old man.  The suppression of his appearance had been utter and complete.

And then, later, in 1999 in France:

Asimbonanga
Asimbonang' uMandela thina
Laph'ekhona Laph'ehlikhona
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang' uMandela thina
Laph'ekhona Laph'ehlikhona
Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang' uMandela thina
Laph'ekhona Laph'ehlikhona
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang' uMandela thina
Laph'ekhona Laph'ehlikhona
A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang' uMandela thina
Laph'ekhona Laph'ehlikhona
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang' uMandela thina
Laph'ekhona Laph'ehlikhona
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang' uMandela thina
Laph'ekhona Laph'ehlikhona

Saturday
Dec072013

Youssou N'Dour: Xale

from Set, Virgin Records, 1990

Xale : Freedom

Thursday
Dec052013

Nelson Mandela

18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013: a twentieth century life, in all its cruel outlines, and where this turned out to be training for political grace.  

1966: Mandela sits and sews inmates' clothes in the yard of Robben Island prison

Monday
Jul232012

Mohatella Queens and South Africa in 1974

Umculo Kawupheli.  from the description on youtube, 'Original song with self-made video, featuring clips of the Queens back in the 1970s with their backing, Makhona Tsohle Band.'  

1974: just two years to the Soweto Uprising, 14 years since Sharpeville, 10 years since the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

Steve Bloom's photographs of this era were in this years London Festival of Photography in June. A BBC news documentary was made of Bloom describing some of the work:

Steve Bloom. Beneath the surface. Guardian Gallery, London, June 2012. All images copyright Steve Bloom/stevebloomphoto.com. Music by KPM Music. Slideshow production by Paul Kerley. Publication date 31 May 2012

Friday
Jul132012

Ayub Ogada: Nairobi April 2012

Not the perfectly recorded version that was in The Constant Gardener (below), but a live version (above) full of noise, heat and four beautiful dancers.

Wednesday
May232012

the abolition of slavery

Krzysztof Wodiczko and Julian Bonder. Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery, Nantes. 2012

Pays                 Expéditions négrières
Angleterre           41 %
Portugal              39 %
France                19 %
Hollande               5.7 %
Danemark             1.2 %

Principaux ports          Nombre d’expéditions
Nantes                          1714
Le Havre                         451
La Rochelle                     448
Bordeaux                        419
Saint-Malo                      218
Lorient                           137
Honfleur                         134
Marseille                          88
Dunkerque                       41

Wodiczko and Bonder's memorial is on the Quai de la Fosse in Nantes, the wharf where the slave ships moored before they left for Africa. The most extensive description, including drawings, is on the arcprospect site.

Monday
Mar122012

reading fashion

Arjen van der Merwe. Malawi 2010 is a series about modern and traditional culture. From van der Merwe's website: 'The fashionable models, in dresses by Cathy Kamthunzi, and shoes of Pec Fashion symbolize modern Malawian culture. They are placed in a traditional setting.'

Barthes' seminal essay on the writing of fashion talked about it as a system of signifiers coded and intelligible only to readers already in the system.  It was written when fashion magazines showed images in black and white, low resolution.  Captions and text carried colour, texture, narratives of elegance, aspiration, possibility.  
We don't have such writing anymore, captions to fashion images are simply lists of the clothes.  The images carry everything – all the narratives of impossibility and unattainability.  As we are continually told, couture is for selling perfume, the only thing from Dior we can all afford.  

In the next issue of On Site, which is on the dialectic between the periphery and the laws of urbanism dictated from the core, Jason Price has written an essay on Arjen van der Merwe,  a photographer in Malawi whose fashion portfolio uses Malawian models and garments posed in village settings.  Price, living in Malawi, takes a rapier to this work, pointing out the coded signifiers that would perhaps pass us by.  

For me, living here, i.e. not in Malawi, the narrative lodged in these images is a return to the village, surely an act of despair for anyone who has managed to escape their small town for a life of infinite possibility in the city.  Despite being dressed in wonderful urban fashion and great shoes, beautiful sulky girls are shown lugging buckets from the pump, or making bricks, or sweeping dirt floors.  

As a foil to these images, Tim Walker's portfolio of photos for Vogue with Agyness Deyn in Namibia are just as provocative.  A particularly pale girl, beautifully dressed, appears to be stranded in a sand-filled abandoned house with a highly decorative, almost-dressed young Namibian man and a docile cheetah.  It is a set of signifiers that rings all the bells of colonial privilege that allowed Europeans to live in Africa, to act badly, and yet be protected from the violence they attributed to all the peoples in the periphery.  Walker's Namibia portfolio is on a very thin line between an ironic ode to that kind of wilful innocence and the casual belief that such relationships have an aesthetic, apolitical beauty.

Tim Walker. Agyness Deyn, Simon & Kiki the cheetah in sand storm, Kolmanskop, Namibia, Africa, 2011. for British Vogue.

Friday
Oct142011

DJ Mehdi, Tonton du Bled

from Chloé Roubert's site: chloecollects.blogspot.com

DJ Mehdi and core-periphery relations

 

Wednesday
Jun082011

Giulio Petrocco

 

Giulio Petrocco, photographer. Juba, 2011Giulio Petrocco  took the photographs for Joshua Craze's article on Juba, South Sudan in On Site 25: identity.  Petrocco is an Italian photojournalist who places himself in dire and dangerous circumstances: see for example, his work from Sana'a, the Yemeni spring which becomes progressively more violent, or a curious site: a neighbourhood in Queen's which was built on a swamp and was a mafia dump.

 Through Petrocco's lens the third world seems to exist anywhere there is struggle.  One wonders if the first world is a definition of sleep walking with plenty of rights and lots of food.  

He keeps a running commentary on his blog What I Learnt Today.

Joshua Craze is an essayist based in Juba, Southern Sudan. With Meg Stalcup, he investigated counterterrorism training in America, which was published by the Washington Monthly.  Now maybe I am a naïve first world sleepwalker, but I found this study really upsetting – not that there is terrorism and counter-terrorism, but the massive distortions of identity and affiliation that can get one so easily killed.  His piece for On Site wasn't quite so dismaying. It was about South Sudan, new country, no identity other than tribal groups which have animals as totemic markers.  There was a perhaps spurious plan to rebuild Juba, the capital, according to a plan the shape of a rhinoceros, the totem of the current power group, the eye being the seat of government (and no doubt a great site for future protests – a Tahrir Square in the making).  Frankly, I thought it looked reasonable as a plan.  As reasonable as any other kind of abstract diagram upon which to base a city. 

The distance between this idea and Juba's reality as shown in Petrocco's images is indeed vast, but the plan is so hopeful, so clean, so deceptively simple.  For something of the complexity of this area see Craze's piece on Abyei in The Guardian.

Proposal for the rebuilding of Juba, South Sudan, 2010.

 

Thursday
May122011

telling stories

Women at the Ndebele Cultural Village, Loopspruit, Gauteng, South Africa 1999

I was looking for a picture of handprints used as decoration around the doorway of a mud brick house somewhere in Africa, stuccoed and painted by women.  Clear in my mind, can't find the image anywhere.  

On the way, found plenty of information on Ndebele house painting. This is a case of cultural coding that describes family values and histories passed down matrilineally (as the women did the house painting) that was completely opaque to the colonists.  It is like having great billboards for resistance movements in a covert language that is, in the meantime, very decorative and so considered harmless.   Also probably considered benign as it was smiling women doing it.

So many forms of cultural expression were banned in the colonial era if there was a hint of subversion to them or if they simply were not understood: the outlawing of the Salish potlach – something threatening about power and property there, the outlawing of sati – undue sacrifice of Hindu women to their husbands, outlawing of Blackfoot initiation dances – violent and frightening.  Many of these things go underground and reappear as entertainments, living on often as performances for tourists but still speaking, under the radar, to those who understand what they really mean.

Monday
Apr252011

redemption

Bob Marley, live in Dortmund, 1980.