"Being African is absolutely the most beautiful thing to me." - Amy Sall
"Being African is absolutely the most beautiful thing to me." - Amy Sall
Hopefully this is the beginning of many more great things to come for Lupita Nyong’o.
Chiwetel Ejiofor red carpet looks this awards season.
Nominated in the category of ‘Best Actor’ for the 86th Academy Awards ceremony, Chiwetel Ejiofor has received over 60 nominations for his portrayal of Solomon Northup in the Steve McQueen-directed historical drama 12 Years a Slave.
All Africa, All the time.
Weekend Fashion Inspiration.
Pieces by British-Nigerian label Soboye as featured in XXY magazine, as well as other items from its boutique from designers like Ituen Basi, ChiChia London and more.
DYNAMIC AFRICANS: Senegal with Amy Sall.
Amy Sall is not a hired travel photographer, nor is she a photojournalist on assignment. Yet, her images of her recent trip to Senegal are far more moving, far more real, far richer and possess more authenticity than any embedded journalist could ever attempt to capture. The difference between Amy Sall and other photo amateurs or professionals? Her attachment to Senegal is personal. She’s a first-generation American, born and bred, but culturally, Senegal has never been far away. Additionally, she’s unburdened with the need or pressure to tell a specific kind of story. The narrative was a story to be told along the way, along her path of self-discovery.
For these reasons, and more, I fell in love with her posts on instagram as she visually documented her emotional visit to a place that isn’t quite home, but isn’t a foreign country as well. Through the story she creates with her images, Amy’s photo-documentation illustrates the need for Africans to tell their own stories through any and whatever medium is at their disposal.
Here’s my interview with Amy Sall as we discussed the emotional journey of her multicultural upbringing:
In about five sentences or less, briefly tell us a little about yourself. Who is Amy Sall? How would you introduce and define yourself to those who don’t know you?
I am a 23-year old, first generation Senegalese-American, born and bred in New York City, trying to navigate my life with my best foot forward, while staying true to my values. I think in all aspects of my life, there’s the inherent nexus of integrity, selflessness, and grit. What I do and who I am are intrinsically linked. Currently, I’m a Masters Candidate in Human Rights at Columbia University, focusing on children’s rights and youth issues in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past, I’ve worked within a few sectors of fashion where I’ve had experience at Vogue, written for Lurve Magazine, and worked for Rick Owens to name a few.
You’re first generation Senegalese-American, born and raised in the US. What was your experience growing up being a part of two very distinct cultures?
It was interesting, but not easy, growing up between two cultures. It’s not the easiest experience to sift through because it’s quite layered and muddled with all sorts of intricacies. I can say that there were times where my “Africaness” and my “Americaness” had points of contention. I was born only a year after my parents came to the states, so I grew up in a very culturally Senegalese home. Everything in our home was inherently Senegalese, from the food, to the music, to how daily life was constructed.
However, once I stepped outside my home, I was confronted, daily, with the fact that even though I am, in the literal sense of the word, African-American, I did not fit in with the African-American kids. They saw me as other. They saw me as African. They saw me as a dark African. So, it was difficult to reconcile that tension between two cultures as a child. My being rejected by my classmates (and when you are a child, the approval of your peers means everything) led to the resentment and disavowal of my culture and dark skin.
My childhood in that regard was tricky, and it unfortunately caused some damage during my transition into adolescence. There eventually came a point when I just didn’t care about what people thought, and my parents had a heavy had in getting me to that point. Straddling the line between two cultures became easier, and eventually something I thought less about. The biggest relief was ridding the shame I felt toward my “Africanness” as a child. Being African is absolutely the most beautiful thing to me.
On your blog, you mention that you hadn’t been back to Senegal in ten years. What prompted your visit back home? What was the experience like?
What prompted me to go to Senegal was simply realizing that I no longer had the excuse not to go. The last time I was there, I was 13 or 14. The fact that I was approaching the ten-year mark of not being in Senegal was incredibly important and symbolic to me. I decided that I wouldn’t let another year pass without going to Senegal. The possibility of my grandmother’s dying without a chance to see them again started to weigh heavily on me.
Both my grandfathers died when I was younger. One of them I’ve only seen once, the other I’ve seen twice. I regret that I wasn’t able to get to know my grandfathers. The reasons for the 10- year gap vary, but I will attribute them to the unfortunate ills of migration. It wasn’t always easy for my parents to take my siblings and I to Senegal often. Those opportunities did not always present themselves. It’s a sad realization to know that you can’t go home and see your family as often as you would like to, for reasons beyond your control.
So I decided, now that I’m older, nothing was to stop me from going back home and seeing my family. I wanted to get closer to my family, especially with my grandmothers, and develop a real relationship. I wanted to deepen my sense of self and rediscover my roots. It was also important for me to make this trip so that I could see the socio-economic issues of the country with my own eyes, especially as they pertain to children and youth. Much of my graduate research is centered particularly on Senegal, so being on the ground was necessary for the work I’m doing academically, and aim to do professionally.
During your trip back to Senegal you visually documented your stay there by taking and sharing photos on instagram. Was this something you decided before travelling, or was it done on more of a whim?
I definitely knew I wanted many photos to have as keepsakes, but there were many times where I didn’t bring a camera with me because I just wanted to truly feel Senegal and be immersed in it. When I did have my camera, all I was trying to do was simply capture the country in the truest way possible. I did not want to glamorize or romanticize Senegal. It is an incredibly beautiful, rich and vibrant country, with beautiful people, however there are very real problems that I felt were not to be excluded. I wanted to share a holistic view of Senegal, from the colors of Gorée to the talibés begging in the streets.
You’ve been blogging for quite some time now so you’re no stranger to sharing bits and pieces of your life online, something I enjoy doing myself. How important was it for you to share this part of your personal life online? How has the response been?
I like the idea that with the Internet, I can carve a space for myself, curate it however I please, engage in a dialogue, and maybe even teach someone something new. I had no expectations when I posted my photos on social media. I was surprised that they garnered the response that they did. People really took a liking to them. I know absolutely nothing about photography. A country as beautiful as Senegal makes it quite easy to photograph. It made me happy that people were appreciating and enjoying my journey, and were able to take part in it. They were discovering Senegal as I was rediscovering it, so it became this shared experience.
This trip was personal, but it was one that so many can relate to. I am not the only person that has been away from their home country for so long. I am not the only person that hasn’t seen their aunts and uncles in years, or hasn’t hugged their grandmothers in a long time. As personal as this experience was, there were those who were able to connect to it on varying levels. That is what probably surprised me the most, because I didn’t think sharing my trip through these photos could have that effect. I realize that sharing them was much bigger than me, and it was much bigger than a series of Instagram posts. I am really humbled by that. I don’t care about having a large number of followers because I don’t seek validation through that kind of stuff, but I value when someone can take something positive away from what I have shared, whether on the Internet or in real life.
Would you ever consider compiling and publishing your photographs and experience into a photo-book of some sort?
Working on it!
That’s faboulous! Can’t wait ‘til it’s published. Lastly, what are three words you’d use to describe Senegal?
Vibrant, beautiful, home.
Thank you so much, Amy!
All Africa, All the time.
Prints on prints on prints at Stella Jean RTW Fall 2014.
In the world of Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean, prints never go out of fashion. Showcasing her latest collection at Milan Fashion Week, the designer stated her ‘ultra feminine’ Fall RTW range took inspiration from “the crossroads of Italy, Japan and Africa” (the entire continent, Stella?) shown in her Italian tailoring and symbols, kimono-inspired outerwear and dresses, and use of Dutch Wax print, the unofficial 20th-century adopted fabric in many parts of West and Central Africa.
Despite her ambiguity on her last-mentioned geographical source of inspiration, with heavy vintage 1950s-1970s silhouttes, Dutch Wax prints and use of men’s fabrics, Stella Jean had me coveting every single outfit that cruised down the runway. Come next fall, no wardrobe will be complete without a hint of Stella Jean.
All Africa, All the time.
Came across this interview on ‘Honest by’ with Europe-based South African stylist Pholoso Selebogo. Aside from the accompanying eye-catching photoshoot that sees her and model Ezekiel in fabulous prints and colours, she says some key things about the fashion industry and her personal life that resonated with me:
BP: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE FASHION INDUSTRY TODAY?
PS: It’s too fast…. there are the main collections, resort, pre-fall and so forth, a mother brand having multiple off-shoot brands etc…. did I miss something? I can’t keep up with such a pace, or at least have the time it takes to stop and love something long enough. I am not able to consume all that is available to me. And certainly most people’s pockets, including mine, cannot keep up. Just like any other industry, the fashion industry has to ask itself whether profit comes before fairness, lives and the environment.
BP: I REMEMBER YEARS AGO YOU ONCE TOLD ME MY CASTING FOR MY SHOW WAS TOO WHITE AND YOU THOUGHT IT WAS INSULTING. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE GIRLS ON THE CATWALK TODAY WHEN YOU GO TO FASHION SHOWS?
PS: I would not say insulting, or would I..?
Take, for example, your typical high school movie where you have a group of white kids/friends and then the complimentary funny black kid to suss and shoosh the viewer. I felt fashion had the same attitude towards race. The balance is getting better now and I am especially thankful to such platforms as Vogue Black that creates a stage for such discussion. The next step would be to coalesce the ‘usual’ Vogue with the Black version, in order to make that complimentary kid really part of the group. This applies to Asian groups, and all of the diversity within our world.
Don’t get me wrong; I understand that there is more than just the selection of models involved…there is the overall concept, artistic vision and the story that is being told through the specific collection’s presentation. The trick and challenge in life is always finding that balance.
BP: WHAT IS YOUR DREAM?
PS: Not to have to dream anymore… I dream for there not be a difference between my reality and my dreams….I dream that people would put humanity before profit… I dream at least, if not lead by higher ennobled aspirations and true intellect in our decision making as a species, that we are led by objective logic and empathy and not by our emotions filtered through our self-serving animalistic urge and survival instinct fuelled by fear…. I dream that my beautiful South Africa would get out of its dark racist cave and not just gloss over it…. I am forever marked. I dream of returning to Eden, looking fabulous!
As the United States marks Presidents’ Day, Democracy Now turns to an aspect of U.S. history that is often missed: the complicity of American presidents with slavery.
“More than one-in-four U.S. presidents were involved in human trafficking and slavery. These presidents bought, sold and bred enslaved people for profit. Of the 12 presidents who were enslavers, more than half kept people in bondage at the White House,” writes historian Clarence Lusane in his most recent article, “Missing From Presidents’ Day: The People They Enslaved.”
Art - Diaspora: “African Diva Project" by Margaret Rose Vendreyes.
If any of the above images look in any way familiar, that’s because these artworks are based on some of the most iconic album covers from some of the greatest black women artists of the 20th century.
From Betty Davis and Tina Turner, to Grace Jones and Nina Simone, this series by Jamaican-born Vendreyes includes 33 paintings modeled after a 12” LP full-figure portrait of a black woman soloist. What makes this project stand out, however, is not simply the homage to these legendary women, but the masks that each woman wears. Named after specific African ethnic groups such as Malinke, Ibibio, Kwele and Yoruba, Vendreyes combines the beauty and power of these women with the same characteristics in these masks, “replacing their psychological mask with a literal one”.
This symbolic gesture also plays on the fact that in many African societies, although these masks may be of female ancestors and deities, they are only worn and performed by men during masquerades.
What are your thoughts on this series?
All Africa, All the time.
If you want to know what’s going on concerning the latest news headlines of the racism against Africans happening in India, this op-ed from the NYTimes will put a lot of it into perspective.
NEW DELHI — The Africans — Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ugandans — began leaving my neighborhood in New Delhi around December. Each week, more and more families exited. Some went to parts of Delhi considered more accepting of Africans; others to areas where the residents were thought to be less interfering in general. I have heard that some of the Ghanaian families had gone back to Africa, but I don’t know that for sure.
For years, they had been a part of the swirl of cultures, languages and races that makes up this part of the capital. The Nigerian women in their bright dresses out for evening strolls and the Cameroonian family with the curious-eyed baby at the ice-cream van had made a life for themselves alongside the Afghans, Tamils and Iranians.
On Oct. 31, about a month before the departures started, a Nigerian national, rumored to have been in the drug trade, was found dead in Goa. Nigerians in the coastal state protested his murder as an act of racism, while posters read: “We want peace in Goa. Say no to Nigerians. Say no to drugs.” One state minister threatened to throw out Nigerians living illegally. Another equated them with a cancer. He later apologized, adding that he hadn’t imagined there would be a “problem” with his statement.
The controversy has reverberated across the country, including in Delhi, 1,200 miles away, where the tolerance of African neighbors has turned into suspicion and even hostility.
One night, a police constable rang my doorbell. “Have you seen any man from the Congo entering and leaving the building?” he asked. “African man,” he clarified. He said he had received a report that a local resident was friendly with Africans, and he wanted to know, was this true? The question surprised me; neighborhood battles here are waged over water and parking spaces, not over ethnicity. Now neighbors had become nervous of neighbors.
Once the African communities had been singled out, complaints against them bubbled up like filthy water, in Jangpura, in Khirki Extension, in the alleyways off Paharganj, anywhere in Delhi they lived.
The fragile hospitality gave way to a familiar litany of intolerance: They were too loud, exuberant and dirty; the women were loose, the men looked you directly in the eye, they were drug takers and traffickers, and worse.
Residents of Khirki Extension, whose rambling lanes had seen an influx of artists, journalists and migrants, conducted their own investigation of their African neighbors, which they called the “black beauty” sting.
Coinciding with the city’s darkening mood, the newly elected Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi started a wave of cleanups as part of its mission to control “lawlessness.” The city’s law minister, Somnath Bharti, led a raid into Khirki Extension, claiming to be acting on residents’ complaints that Nigerians and Ugandans were involved in prostitution and drug trafficking. Media reports suggest that on the night of Jan. 15, he entered Africans’ homes with a group of vigilantes, without a warrant. In the fracas, a Ugandan woman was allegedly forced to give a urine sample, on the street, in the middle of the crowd. After she filed a complaint, Delhi’s court ordered the Police Department to pursue her case against Mr. Bharti.
These recent events have awakened dormant prejudices against Africans in India, aggravated by our tendency to prize fair skin over dark. “Habshi,” derived from the word “Abyssinian,” has become a common epithet for people of African descent.
So, on one hand, the racist turn in Delhi and Goa is unsurprising. On the other hand, we have a long, and neglected, history of cross-migration with Africa. While Indians have been settling on that continent since at least the 15th century, African roots in India run even deeper. Africans were brought over in numbers around the 13th century as slaves, but also as generals, guards, merchants, bodyguards and craftsmen. Many never went back. Now tens of thousands are here to study, and others work as chefs and in the garment and textile businesses, among other industries.
Despite our close ties and the shared history of colonialism, Africa doesn’t figure on the Indian map of curiosity and desire. Our admiration of China’s economic prowess is commonplace and unabashed; we are obsessed with the West, in terms of education, ideals of beauty and economic might. But Africa is invisible. Racist views can be spouted without consequence. Africa simply doesn’t matter.
There will be few repercussions for the Aam Aadmi Party if it continues with blanket policies against Africans. The party won on the promise of change, yet here it is, proving that it shares the same blindness as other, older parties.
These days, the Afghans and Indians stroll in my neighborhood park, enjoying the winter breeze. The Ghanaian and Cameroonian families moved away when their landlords doubled the rent only for them; the young Nigerian women left after one police visit too many.
Delhi’s residents say that the city belongs to everybody, because it belongs to nobody. As Bangalore and Mumbai became insular possessions, with political parties often driving out anyone who was from elsewhere, the capital claimed that it had room for all kinds of migrants, expats and outsiders. If the Aam Aadmi Party continues the divisiveness that older parties have excelled at, we’ll soon find reasons to go after all the people who live differently from “us,” who don’t belong here, who should go back to the places they came from.
Nilanjana S. Roy is an essayist and critic, and author of the novel “The Wildings.”
Ferrari Sheppard of Stop Being Famous interviews Kenyan-born British-Somali award-winning poet Warsan Shire.
Shire talks about the the importance of memory and its connecting factor to human experiences, writing and seeking inspiration in the cinema, the writers and books that inspire her, and discusses her poetic career versus her personal life.
One of my favourite parts of the interview is when she beautifully and boldly declares that “everyone is deserving of love…” as one of the things that she is most sure of in this world.
On a farm deep in the countryside 100 miles (160km) west from Sao Paulo, a football team has lined up for a commemorative photograph. What makes the image extraordinary is the symbol on the team’s flag - a swastika.
The picture probably dates from some time in the 1930s, after the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany - but this was on the other side of the world.
"Nothing explained the presence of a swastika here," says Jose Ricardo Rosa Maciel, former rancher at the remote Cruzeiro do Sul farm near Campina do Monte Alegre, who stumbled across the photograph one day.
But this was actually his second puzzling discovery. The first occurred in the pigsty.
"One day the pigs broke a wall and escaped into the field," he says. "I noticed the bricks that had fallen. I thought I was hallucinating."
The underside of each brick was stamped with the swastika.
It’s well known that pre-war Brazil had strong links with Nazi Germany - the two were economic partners and Brazil had the biggest fascist party outside Europe, with more than 40,000 members.
But it was years before Maciel - thanks to detective work by history professor Sidney Aguilar Filho - learned the grim story of his farm’s links to Brazil’s fascists.
Filho established that the farm had once been owned by the Rocha Mirandas, a family of wealthy industrialists from Rio de Janeiro. Three of them - father Renato and two of his sons, Otavio and Osvaldo - were members of the Acao Integralista Brasileira, an extreme right-wing organisation, sympathetic to the Nazis.
The family sometimes held rallies on the farm, hosting thousands of the organisation’s members. But it was also a brutal work-camp for abandoned - and non-white - children.
"I found a story of 50 boys aged around 10 years old who had been taken from an orphanage in Rio," says Filho. "They were taken in three waves. The first was a group of 10 in 1933."
Osvaldo Rocha Miranda applied to be a guardian of the orphans, according to documents discovered by Filho, and a legal decree was granted.
"He sent his driver, who put us in a corner," says 90-year-old Aloysio da Silva, one of the first orphans conscripted to work on the farm.
"Osvaldo was pointing with a cane - ‘Put that one over there, this one here’ - and from 20 boys, he took 10.
"He promised the world - that we would play football, go horse-riding. But there wasn’t any of this. The 10 of us were given hoes to clear the weeds and clean up the farm. I was tricked."
The children were subject to regular beatings with a palmatoria, a wooden paddle with holes designed to reduce air resistance and increase pain. They were addressed not by their name, but by a number - Silva’s was number 23. Guard dogs ensured they stayed in line.
"One was called Poison, the male, and the female was called Trust," says Silva, who still lives in the area. "I try to avoid talking about it."
Argemiro dos Santos is another survivor. As a boy, he had been found on the streets and taken to an orphanage. Then Rocha Miranda came for him.
"They didn’t like black people at all," says Santos, now 89.
"There was punishment, from not giving us food to the palmatoria. It hurt a lot. Two hits sometimes. The most would be five because a person couldn’t stand it.
"There were photographs of Hitler and you were compelled to salute. I didn’t understand any of it."
Some of the surviving Rocha Miranda family say their forebears stopped supporting Nazism well before World War Two.
Maurice Rocha Miranda, great-nephew of Otavio and Osvaldo, also denies that the children on the farm were kept as “slaves”.
He told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaperthat the orphans on the farm “had to be controlled, but were never punished or enslaved”.
But Filho believes the survivors’ stories. And despite it being a long time ago, both Silva and Santos - who have never met since - tell very similar, harrowing tales.
The orphans’ only respite came in football matches against teams of local farm workers such as the one pictured in the photograph with the swastika flag. Football was key to the ideology of the integralistas. Military parades took place at the Vasco da Gama football ground and the game was regularly used for propaganda purposes under Brazil’s dictator, Getulio Vargas.
"We’d have a kick around and it evolved," he says. "We had a championship - we were good at football. There was no problem."
But after several years, Santos had had enough.
"There was a gate and I left it ajar," he says. "Later that night, I was out of there. No-one saw."
Santos returned to Rio where, aged 14, he slept rough and worked as a newspaper seller. Then in 1942, after Brazil declared war on Germany, he joined the navy as a taifeiro, waiting on tables and washing up.
He had gone from working for Nazis, to fighting them.
"I was just fulfilling what Brazil needed to do," says Santos. "I couldn’t have hate for Hitler - I didn’t know the guy! I didn’t know who he was."
Santos went on patrol in Europe and then spent much of World War Two working on ships hunting submarines off the Brazilian coast.
Today Santos is known locally by his nickname Marujo - “sailor” - and proudly shows off a certificate and medal that recognises his war service. But he is also famous for another reason - as one of Brazil’s top footballers of the 1940s, becoming a midfielder for some of the biggest teams in Brazil.
"At that time professional players didn’t exist, it was all amateur," says Santos. "I played for Fluminense, Botafogo, Vasco da Gama. The players were all newspaper sellers and shoeshine boys."
Nowadays Santos lives a quiet life in south-western Brazil with Guilhermina, his wife of 61 years.
"I like to play my trumpet, I like to sit on the veranda, I like to have a cold beer. I have a lot of friends and they pass by and chat," he says.
Memories of the farm, though, are impossible to escape.
"Anyone who says they have had a good life since they were born is lying," he says. "Everyone has something bad that has happened in their life."
Currently reading: Ghubar Magazine’s Super5th Anniversary issue.
Celebrating the magazine’s fifth birthday, editor-in-chief and founder Sarah Diouf reflects on the past half-decade of Ghubar’s existence, starting with the pivotal life-altering moment that changed everything for her and birthed the magazine. In it, she also features other inspiring women: Mexican-born Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o whose been leaving us all in tears with her award acceptance speeches, Nigerian best-selling writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who made it on to Beyonce’s latest album without singing a single note, and pieces from up-and-coming award-winning South African designer Sindiso Khumalo'sAW13 collection.
Another highlight for me in this issue is the fashion editorial shot in Dakar, Senegal, Diouf’s country of origin, and the empowering sports-meets-women-in-dresses-and-heels photoshoot.
Supermodel Iman Abdulmajid’s eponymous make up label IMAN Cosmetics has launched a free app to support its range of products.
Dedicated to helping women of colour find products for their skin tone, this app includes a feature that allows you to take a photograph of your face to find your perfect foundation.
Here, beauty blogger CharisseChristine23 demonstrates how to use the app for this purpose and the results seem pretty awesome.