AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

The stuff rich white people say sometimes. The New York Times’ Style section is more often than not full of arse-kissing puff pieces that do little besides illustrating the genealogies of privilege stretching between New York, Hollywood, Paris, London, and Caribbean island tax havens. Lots of these people also claim to love everything “Africa” (read: going on safari with a bona fide beaded Masai Moran) or “Asia” (read: staying at the Taj in Bombay whilst spending a fortune on silk saris that will be cut up for wrap-around skirts).Take this product-placement advert by Marisa Meltzer (her previous piece for the Times was on pubic hair), masquerading as interview, with designers Nicole Hanley Mellon and Matthew Mellon. Africa is framed as the location of choice for creating interest in an interview with a dull, moneyed pair who are so buffered by their privileged inanity that they don’t know how stupid they sound. Ms. Mellon tells us:

I’ve never been to Africa, but I feel like I have this deep affinity for it… I’ve read every Hemingway, we collect Peter Beard, I’ve watched ‘Out of Africa.’ It touches your soul to visit and smell the smells, and you can’t recreate the experience without immersing yourself.

(Someone on AIAC’s Facebook site had the best response: “But have they listened to Toto?”).

Is she for real? Ok, Nicole: the importance of being somewhere other than one’s own comfortable space is exactly why semester-abroad programs are pushed on college sophomores. So it’s not like you suddenly tripped, fell, and invented Cultural Immersion 101. And trust me, it’s no good you sticking to ‘Out of Africa’ for an accurate depiction of anything but a failed love life–I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it might actually be better if you watched Nollywood films to understand Nigeria. But why are you talking about “smelling the smells” of Africa? I mean, what’s going on with you and this need to be all up in our smells? I don’t know … I mean, for me, my memory banks of the mysterious Africa are the smell of my mother’s yellow roses in Kitwe, Zambia, the sulphuric acid rising from the copper refineries of Nkana Consolidated Copper Mines, and Mrs. Chanda’s roasted groundnut and pumpkin leaf relish, wafting out during our lunchtime walk home from school. Smell and memory are intrinsically connected in our brains, and therefore, create very personal catalogues. Not sure if my memory of smells will touch anyone’s else’s soul. Anyway, I suspect Mr. Mellon is conjuring up naked red-clay smeared warrior sweat and foot-of-the-Ngong-Hills sorta smell–borne not of memory, but of Hem’s drink-addled hallucination and Peter Beard fantasy.

Just in case we thought he was sired by some ordinary Mellon, we are told that Mr Mellon comes from the Mellon and Drexel families of Bank of New York Mellon and Drexel Burnham Lambert. Nicole Hanley, who, after working in boutique after boutique, and failing at running two businesses–”a clothing line and boutique”–landed in the Mellon butter. The closest these two have come to the Africa of their dreams is through Peter Beard’s photographs, one of which they pose with (photo of a cheetah). In the NYT image of the pair, they are arranged on a sofa–sitting on its back, with their feet on the cushions (I suppose this is to give them some sort of youthful jouissance?). Ms. Mellon wears artfully torn jeans, grey cashmere sweater, and two sets of trying-too-hard silver necklaces. Mr. Mellon is wearing some ill-advised, very tight print pants that would look really good on singer Miguel.

Matthew Mellon complains that these days, people don’t travel for design inspiration, and bemoans that  “technology has made us lazy”: “In the old days you’d have to travel to India or China for inspiration, and these days you’ve just got Pinterest boards and you can create looks from home.” Sad. He has all the money in the world, and plenty of free time. At 50 years old, shouldn’t he have visited at least 30 of Africa’s countries, had some “experiences”, smelled some nice smells, and collaborated with some people who really had creative edge and proper business acumen? Those things are in Africa, too, Mr. Mellon.

Peter Clarke--In Memoriam
The last space of cultural dynamism in Luanda's baixa is no more
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11 thoughts on “The #BullshitFiles: This rich New York designer couple have never been to Africa, but can smell it

  1. My mother would whup both their asses for putting their feet on the couch and that’s all I have to say about these fuckwits. Now tell us more about Mrs. Chanda’s roasted groundnut and pumpkin leaf relish…

    • Yeah, Mrs. Chanda would have none of that feet-on-settee business, either. Shoes are meant to be left at the doorway.
      Pumpkin leaves have to be young shoots (before they get hairy!). Leaves are sauteed in peanut oil, with optional additions of green chillies (my mother’s suggestion), garlic, shallot/red onion. Fresh groundnuts (peanuts) are dry roasted or fried in a little oil, ground to a rough paste with salt (heavenly smell). Add to sauteed leaves. Turn off heat. Make this w young hibiscus leaves, too. Totally delicious with sorghum nshima (more nutritious than maize flour nshima), rice, and bean stew on the side.
      Here’s a variation of the recipe: https://suite.io/melody-mundawarara/z5r28f

  2. news flash: the vapidity of people like these–and of the media that wallow in and further encourage them–is as old as, well, the media. exposing them as ridiculous is a waste of your valuable space.

  3. it’s the wife that says she has never been to Africa, not the husband (not that this detail detracts from the overall point you are making!)

  4. OK, they are parochial in that way New Yorkers often are – but really, criticising this pair is shooting fish in a barrel

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