Newly discovered Nigerian-Ghanaian writer Taiye Selasi, Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina and Congolese filmmaker Léandre-Alain Baker are among the artists whose work is discussed in this week’s review of African blogs, compiled by Sokari Ekine.
This week I am taking a break from covering social justice and political blogs and instead introducing a different political perspective through some of the many art and literary blogs across the continent. One of the oldest of these is Wordsbody by Nigerian writer and art critic, Molara Woods who has been blogging since 2006. Molara’s focus is primarily on Nigeria’s rich and diverse art scene. In this post comments on the recently ‘discovered’ Nigerian/Ghanian writer, Taiye Selasi:
‘…one moment you’ve never heard of someone and the next, they’re all over the place and popping up every other day…’
Selasi’s short story ‘The Sex Lives of African Girls’, published by Granta, has been the subject of much of the online conversations on her work – which contain the usual hype that westerners use on ‘discovering’ anything amazing out of Africa. Having the support and awe of the likes of literary giants, Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison have helped her on her way.
‘The writer tells Granta about her short story: “I was rather surprised to discover that I’d painted such a devastating portrait. It was only months and months after I’d finished editing – focusing narrowly on rhythm, image, pacing, form – that I noticed how dark the content was, how fundamentally damning the comment.”
‘From there she’s at the BBC pleading for more fictional portrayals of the African middle class (I’d say Amen! to that – and I’d add that there should be more of the African middle class in stories singled out for recognition by international awards and prizes).
‘Then she’s over at the NPR which proclaims thus: African Writer Helps Put Her Community On Media Map. Although I seriously question whether Ms Selasi, delightful though she seems, could be credited with putting her ‘community’ on the map, as though others didn’t come before her. One of those daft declarations the Western media makes about our ‘community’ as par for the course, all the time.
‘Anyway, the writer is fashionably thin, has chiselled features, soul singer hair and speaks in a “smiling” American voice – all of which helps, I’m sure. What matters most though is that by all accounts, she’s loaded with talent, which is always welcome.
Tolu Ogunlesi Nigerian writer and features editor for the online newspaper NEXT, writes on the newly coined term ‘Africa 2.0’ to describe the role of technology in Africa. It’s unlikely that his essay ‘Some Thoughts on Africa 2.0’ will join the list of definitive narratives on Africa such as Chimanda Adichie’s ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ and Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical ‘How to Write About Africa’ and the more recent critique of the Caine Prize by Ikhide Ikheloa ‘Email from America: The Caine Prize and Unintended Consequences’. For one thing the essay lacks Ogunlesi’s usual wit but probably more to the point it is really about Nigeria. I would have expected Ogunlesi to be more mindful of conflating Africa with Nigeria and provide examples from other named countries. Nevertheless his observations on an ‘emerging Africa’ do speak to the ongoing uprisings across the continent.
‘The point is this: in the emerging Africa it is harder for the government to carry on as though the people didn’t exist, or as though they existed to be deceived, because the citizens are losing the fear that once held them down. And then again, yes, people do get sick and tired of suffering, and less and less patient with lying, thieving, murderous tyrants.
‘The term “Africa 2.0” has been used to describe this new face of Africa. In my mind I see Africa 2.0 as a giant construction site. So much is going on simultaneously: sketching, assembling, pulling down, and dredging; and arguments and debates, some threatening to turn violent. Architectural plans are emerging and disappearing and changing as construction is going on, and accidents happen every now and then.’
At the risk of falling into the same trap as Ogunlesi (using Africa as a title and then writing about Nigeria), African Literature News and Review by Nigerian writer Chielozona Eze links to a recent interview on Bombsite with Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina. Wainaina discusses writing on and as an ‘African’ as well as his new memoir ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ which took seven years –“five six years of many many collapses”. His reflection on ‘How to Write About Africa’ is a reminder to new writers who become the ‘new face’ of the grand ‘AmerEuro’ narrative on Africa, on what happens next as the hype unfolds!
‘I feel like the original Granta piece now belongs to somebody else. I have enjoyed desecrating it—I can distress the sanctimoniousness that sometimes surrounds it. I want to be contrary about “How to Write about Africa.”
‘Then there’s the whole Africa thing, which is complicated. The moment you have been published and recognized for whatever reason, and your name is bandied about around Africa and in writing circles, you end up in certain places. You end up in London a lot. This has been decided. Somehow you end up in Paris a lot too. It’s been decided. And then little other places. New York for some reason hasn’t quite done it. In these places you generally meet African writers and have some kind of relationship which is usually like “Oh fuck!” and then you get very drunk and you get to know each other—over long periods of time. For many of us, in a certain way, that’s our first discovery of Africa. Some writers met Africa early. They came to New York to study at NYU, or they were in London, in Leeds, or somewhere, and there was an African students’ association—they made friends and some kind of community thing happened. It happened to me as a student in South Africa where I met Ghanaians, Ugandans, and all these professionals. I belonged to a community around them and then developed a sensibility, because, all of a sudden, I would find myself knowing what happened in the Ghanaian election, for instance.’
Out and About Africa is written by Brandie who covers ‘fashion, design, music and photography’. Her posts are short and visual which in these days of excess in words provides sensory relief. In this post she publishes some old black and white photographs of Ethiopian Jews by Ruth Gruber’s ‘From Exodus to Ethiopia’ The photos are laden with politics of Palestine, homelands, race and class.
Poéfrika is an outstanding blog by Rethabile Masilo on ‘African-inspired writing’. His blog includes interviews with African writers and poets – including those from African Diaspora – reviews, and of course poetry. In this post he reviews ‘Marcus and the Amazons’ by Caribbean writer, Geoffrey Philps who authors another exceptional literary blog, the ‘Geoffrey Philps Blog’.
‘Marcus and the Amazons makes me feel right and (yes) triumphant in its ability to portray characters and events which, as I have said, ring true to life. Here's an example. When I went to the USA I was a young man just exiled from Lesotho and having just tasted South Africa's apartheid jails under the then Pass Law system. I was a young political mind with clear ideas and a budding desire to end injustice in the world.
‘A few years later, I was ashamed to find myself considering whether freedom fighters in Southern Africa were or were not terrorists. The media in America had worked on my subconscious and made me wonder about one of my strongest convictions: South Africans had done everything possible for peaceful change in the region, to no avail, and therefore the only channels left were sabotage and the militarisation of the population.
‘I was Clarence, then, and if the propaganda machine had been consistent, deliberate and targeted, I could have possibly folded and gone over to the "enemy". Just like Clarence. And that's why Marcus and the Amazons is important. The sort of thing Geoffrey recounts has, is, and will happen as long as man is man and greed is greed.
‘As a scientifically minded individual who did his Independent Study on insects, it was an extra treat to read of the cooperation among Marcus and his family and friends, and their societal behaviour which includes division of labour, the ability to find solutions to complex situations, and the ability to communicate (using pheromones), qualities which as a result make them the most successful family in the animal kingdom. The Formicidae family.’
African Women’s Cinemais a relatively new blog by Beti Ellison who is the director of the Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema. Here she publishes an interview with Léandre-Alain Baker on her film ‘Ramata’, which is based on a novel by Abasse Ndione. Here is a brief synopsis of the film from the Rotterdam Film Festival: ’Ramata is a striking woman in her fifties who lives in an elegant neighbourhood of Dakar, married to a Minister of Justice with whom she is preparing to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary. But she is forced to confront this unsatisfactory image of herself when she meets a mysterious hustler free of all attachments, named Ngor Ndong.
‘BE: Ramata, the wife of the Minister of Justice, lives a wealthy bourgeois life, which is seemingly happy and fulfilling. However, her encounter with Ngor takes her to another side of the social spectrum of society and awakens a deep longing and desire, unsatisfied and intangible, which smolders within her, and that ultimately Ngor is not willing nor able to satisfy. An emotionally irrational need for Ngor plunges Ramata into an emotional abyss that unravels into self-destruction. And yet, this illusive lover, Ngor, has no discernible role in this story!
‘LAB: Ramata is a deeply wounded woman, a wound that dates back to her childhood and thus is constitutive of who she is. This encounter with Ngor Ndong, her young lover, will awaken in her the grief that had been dormant. Essentially, it is the story of the metamorphosis of a woman, her relationship with the world, and the universe around her. The affair with her young lover, Ngor Ndong, takes a dramatic turn when the hidden chapter of her past comes back to haunt her. It is true that their relationship is irrational, and so is the desire for another, for love. It is this irrational aspect that reveals to us the things that are the most concrete in their lives. This is what allows us to discover who they really are.’
Kimani wa Wanjiru is a blog on contemporary arts in Africa and beyond has a series of posts on visual artists from Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Benin – an awesome collection. I love the one of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ by R Kimathi, which expresses everything I feel about religious irrationality and it’s demonisation of sexual minorities. I don’t know the artist's intention but for me this the Pentecost on its head.
Finally Dar Sketches is a visual delight aimed at producing ‘a high quality book of drawings and creative writing inspired by “street level” Dar es Salaam.’ The book is available in Tanzania. Based on the drawings which are inspiring and beautiful, I hope the book soon be available in other parts of the continent and beyond.
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