Relatedly: Interview with Ivorian fashion designer Emeka Alams here.
WEBSITES: Another Africa: Unravelling a Hidden Continent. Founder Missla Libsekal’s beautiful site serves as a “contemporary vision of Africans, Africa and those related to the continent and its peoples in the areas of culture, art, fashion, architecture, design, music, photography and more ….”
Screenshot from home page of Another Africa web site.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Delphine Diallo: The Great Vision Franco-Senegalese graphic artist/photographer’s portfolio site. Still love “Magic Photo Studio” series after first seeing it in Clam magazine a while ago.
Per the South African Journal of Photography Ernest Cole, South Africa’s first black photojournalist was born as Ernest Levi Tsoloane Kole. He started out his photography career as a studio assistant to a Chinese photographer; it took off when he asked Jurgen Schadeberg for a job at Drum magazine. It was while taking a correspondence course with the New York Institute of Photography that the staff there encouraged/helped him to start taking pictures of life under apartheid in South Africa. By tricking the government to reclassify him as a colored (enabled by the name change to “Cole”) he was able to get access to places other blacks would not have had. As a colored he was also able to sneak his images out of South Africa, that were made into the book “House of Bondage”. He never returned to South Africa, dying in exile and isolation in New York in 1990 a week after Nelson Mandela’s release.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Greg Constantine: Slum Warriors: Kenya’s Nubians. Kibera’s 100,000 strong Nubian community has lived there for over 100 years on land give them as compensation for fighting in the Kings African Rifles. “Nubian” is not officially recognized as a Kenyan tribe, so unless they are “vetted” at age of 18 to get Kenyan ID cards they become essentially stateless.
PHOTOGRAPHY:: Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Visions. Studio Museum in (the sweet village of) Harlem brings together a number of Mthethwa’s large scale images. Go see.
Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views brings together three series by South African photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa (b. 1960). “Interiors” and “Empty Beds” document the domestic lives of migrant workers around Johannesburg, South Africa, while “Common Ground” focuses on the shared experience of natural disasters in urban areas, featuring houses in New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, after wildfires.
See Also: Talk between Mthethwa and Okuwi Enwezor last year at Aperture gallery at the launch of Mthethwa’s monograph.
The Bicycle Portraits project was initiated by Stan Engelbrecht (Cape Town, South Africa) and Nic Grobler (Johannesburg, South Africa) early in 2010. Whenever they can, together or separately, they’re on the lookout for fellow commuters, and people who use bicycles as part of their everyday work, to meet and photograph. They’re finding out who rides bicycles, why they ride bicycles, if and why they love their bicycles, and of course why so few South Africans choose bicycles as a transport option.
The two photographers (bike enthusiasts from Cape Town) are using the startup Kickstarter (creative project funding platform) to raise funds to make their project into a hardcover book.
The swenkas are a small group of Zulu working men which formed in South Africa following the abolishment of Apartheid.
These well-dressed men are proud and considered to serve as an inspiration to others. On Saturday nights, these men leave their work clothes behind and don highly fashionable quality suits to impress a judge, who is a randomly picked. Traditionally, the prize for the most stylish suit is cash, but on special occasions such as Christmas, the winner may receive a goat or a cow. This traditional fashion show still happens today, but it is unclear as to precisely when it was instigated. The men follow certain set values of Swanking, such as physical cleanliness, sobriety and above all self-respect.
It is not clear what the precise roots of the swenka culture are. There is the acapella Iscathamiya music, where the performers, inspired by African-American ragtime/jazz fashions took a sense of formality and elegance. Also like migrants everywhere else the workers needed to buy swanky outfits for their return home to show those they had left behind that they had made it in the big city, regardless of what the daily reality was (is) of life in the mines, the construction sites, and white homes where they worked. Regular competition seems to have raised it all into an art form and a subculture.
The three video clips below highlight the various threads that make up Swenka.
Mini-feature on the Zulu ISICATHAMIYA choir competitions in Johannesburg
“artsworld” feature on Iscathamiya choral and Swenka fashion competitions in Johannesburg
Trailer for 2004 documentary “The Swenkas” by Danish director Jeppe Ronde. Synopsis here
See also: Vice magazine: Swanky Swenkas Snip from article from Adolphus Mbuyisa on swenking:
I am one of the organizers of the Joburg swenkas. I don’t know how many suits I own, maybe 20 or 30. If I see a suit I like, I simply must have it. I also have lots of shoes, ties, and shirts. It is important for everything to match if you want to win a competition.
I live in a room in Soweto. My family is very supportive of me and my clothes. They don’t mind that I spend so much money on suits—they are proud of me and they like it when I look smart.
Screen shot from designer Paul Smith’s web site
Speaking of Swankiness, See Also: Underscoring the power of the imagination in subcultures like the Swenkas and sapeurs, fashion designer Paul Smith has a new fashion line for spring/summer 2010 called “Mainline” influenced by Congo Brazzaville’s sapeurs:
See Also: Through all this I can’t help but think of Hugh Masekela’s song “Coal Train” (aka “Stimela”) about a train carrying men from the hinterlands of southern Africa (all of Africa these days?) who uproot themselves from their homes, lands and loves in the pursuit of dreams of wealth and comfort. The dreams that crash into the reality of migrant life and that are rekindled in Swenka fashion and Iscathamiya music/performance.
Screen shot from BBC News photo essay on Congolese migrants in South Africa
PHOTO ESSAY: Congolese migrants in South Africa staged a La Sape fashion show as a way to increase understanding between their community and their Johannesburg hosts in the wake of the deadly violence against immigrants there in 2008.
While America is preoccupied with the war in Iraq (cost: half a trillion dollars and counting), and while think-tank economists continue to spit out papers debating whether vital resources are running out at all, China’s leadership isn’t taking any chances. In just a few years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has become the most aggressive investor-nation in Africa. This commercial invasion is without question the most important development in the sub-Sahara since the end of the Cold War — an epic, almost primal propulsion that is redrawing the global economic map. One former U.S. assistant secretary of state has called it a “tsunami.” Some are even calling the region “ChinAfrica.”
There are already more Chinese living in Nigeria than there were Britons during the height of the empire. From state-owned and state-linked corporations to small entrepreneurs, the Chinese are cutting a swath across the continent. As many as 1 million Chinese citizens are circulating here. Each megaproject announced by China’s government creates collateral economies and population monuments, like the ripples of a stone skimmed across a lake.
Beijing declared 2006 the “Year of Africa,” and China’s leaders have made one Bono-like tour after another. No other major power has shown the same interest or muscle, or the sheer ability to cozy up to African leaders. And unlike America’s faltering effort in Iraq, the Chinese ain’t spreading democracy, folks. They’re there to get what they need to feed the machine. The phenomenon even has a name on the ground in the sub-Sahara: the Great Chinese Takeout.
Herewith, a randomly ordered year end list of stuff of note from 2008 here at casa forota.
1. MUSIC: Post everything music: BLK JKS, Esau Mwamwaya, Santogold, Vampire Weekend, Radioclit, Diplo, et al found new ways to mash up musical, cultural, epochal influences to create music influenced by everywhere, but of nowhere. Brilliant soundtracks for our rootless time.
2. PHOTOGRAPHY: Most Favorite Image: “Blue Print, Rio” at Sartorialist. Not sure why but I kept coming back to this image.
3. PHOTOGRAPHY: Second Most Favorite Image: “Kwaito in the streets of Alexandra” by Krisanne Johnson from FADER 52. Another image I cannot get enough of.
4. POLITICS: Obama vs Palin. A vote for the open, interconnected, inclusive future vs the insular, backward looking, divisive past. Choice was pretty clear.
5. MAGAZINES: Vogue Italia: A Black Issue. Proved it is still an issue to be black in the beauty business if one needs an issue for black people. Intriguing step forward, though.
6. BOOKS: Chemise by Malick Sidibe. Hipsters, on perusing Sidibe’s images: “Oh look, African hipsters from long ago!”
7. RACE: Black but not Black: Rising Black American middle class, emergence of “Afropolitans” or second generation African immigrants, growing awareness among Afro-latinos is rendering the label “Black” and its connotations pretty obsolete. See also: The End of the Black American Narrative by Charles Johnson.
Kenyatta, Mboya and Kibaki are overwhelmed with joy on hearing that K.A.N.U. had won the election. From the book “Kenyatta: A Photographic Biography” by Anthony Howarth.
This is the image that has been floating around in my head since Obama’s election victory and the resulting celebrations. It is one of those iconic images I remember from my childhood that condenses the import of a certain moment in history. Something in the image speaks to the start of a new era, to overwhelming joy that what seemed impossible to visualize at some point has come to pass.
If I was more eloquent, I would be able to describe why a historic image from independence-era Kenya can stand in for a just completed election in the United States. I would be able to discuss the complex relationship between Kenya and the United States, about how Kenya saw fit to declare a national holiday to celebrate the results of an American election. But, for now, I will just let that picture stand in for all those words and for how I feel.