Hair politics and other Weekend Specials

With this, I am bringing back Weekend Special for all those things we don't have the time to blog about or say more than the required 140 characters on Twitter.

The writer, Chimamanda Adichie (Photo: Chris Boland, Via Flickr CC Licensed).

Charismatic Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie has a new novel which is about love, race and … “hair politics.” She is a natural hair fundamentalist of sorts. The media wants to talk to her about hair. It’s also a good strategy to promote the novel. Watch or read here, here and here. So there’s also a “hair debate” now, especially among Nigerian bloggers like YNaija and Linda Ikeji, the latter whose hundreds of commenters prefer weaves.

Since we’re talking about standards of beauty, Al Jazeera English went to Nigeria — where “more than 70 percent of Nigerian women admit they use such products“; the highest levels on the continent — to do a story on skin lighteners. Reporter Mohammed Adow: “In many parts of Africa, lighter skinned women are considered more beautiful” and considered more successful.” Musician Femi Kuti gets asked for his opinion.

Still on Nigeria. Remember when Kim Kardasian 419’d some Nigerian entertainers and media elites in February 2013? Now, a month later, a fake Kim Kardasian tweet about that ill-fated visit has Nigerians all mad.

Nigeria’s relentless pop machine debuted the music videos for a ton of derivative pop in the last few weeks. These include Waje’s lover’s rock-reggae hybrid, former actress Tonto Dikeh’s sampling “Guantanamera” and Kefee’s gospel pop.

GQ has a long profile on Nigerian-American artist Kehinde Wiley; he of the enormous canvases of black and African men overlaid with patterns from fabrics Wiley finds in a market and imitating the natural style of “Old Masters” paintings. Wiley is traveling “over the next month in five different African countries—Morocco, Tunisia, Gabon, Congo, and Cameroon—in search of representative men.” He, or an assistant, photographs hundreds of men, then he (or assistants) go paint the images in his studio in Beijing for a new show of 15 paintings–part of his “World Stage” series–planned for October in Paris. The GQ piece, by Wyatt Mason (a professor at Bard College) also includes some snippets of racism by Moroccans (e.g. in a restaurant, where Wiley wanted to play down the racism as not to create waves) and in the Democratic Republic of Congo “where shit got crazy” (Mason didn’t accompany Wiley and his group to Congo, but the story was relayed by Wiley):

There they were again, in a tiny village in the Congolese jungle, shooting there as they do. And the Congolese secret police swooped down, seized them and their things, took them to several black sites. And held them for days. “They thought that we were tampering with the democratic elections,” Wiley tells me later. “They thought we might be buying votes. It was our fault. We should have known better.” In the documentary about their travels, Wiley does not say that [one member of traveling party] was able to call his parents, that they may have known some people with the clout to get them out. I tell him it’s curious that these things don’t get mentioned. He says he doesn’t want to go into that stuff much because “it’s a negative way of talking about Africa” … eventually, a few days in, he and his entourage were released and told to leave the country, immediately.

Mason concludes that “negativity has no place in Wiley’s art, to date. Its message, a positive one, a repetitive one, is as tireless as its maker.”

Not everyone’s happy with everything Wiley paints:

“I don’t think that they’re terrible paintings,” art critic Ben Davis, a vocal Wiley detractor, told me, “but they don’t benefit from close scrutiny. I find them cartoonish and the painting itself flat. It seems very formulaic. If you think of really good portraiture, you get a sense of emotion, paintings that have a spark of individuality where something of the sitter is captured. Wiley’s formula smothers that. He’s releasing product lines. ‘Here I am releasing my Ethiopia line, my Israel line.’ He’s not producing a new critical image of black identity. He’s an art director selling a formula, a style, that can be translated into a lot of different mediums.”

We also get to see how a Wiley painting gets made.

April 10th, 2013 was the 20th anniversary of the murder of South African leader Chris Hani by a white, rightwing conspiracy, including a member of the Apartheid parliament (who is still sitting in prison for the murder). Hani is still one of my personal heroes. With struggles over memory now commonplace in South Africa and subject to expedient projects, it’s worth recalling Hani’s impact. There’s still not a decent book about Hani out there. (I wanted to write about him, but that’s a story for another day.) For now, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach’s “Freedom Day” suffices.

8. Emmanuel Eboue, now playing for Galatasaray in Turkey, scored a Messi-like goal (in the words of Elliot Ross) against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League this week. Unfortunately Eboue’s goal, and two others by Didier Drogba (of course) and Wesley Sneijder, were not enough to stop Madrid in its quest for a 10th European Cup. But we can enjoy the goal again.

“Investigate” magazine National Enquirer and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh (stop here if you don’t need to take a shower afterwards) “report” that Chelsea Clinton will adopt an African baby. Here’s the Enquirer:

‘Chelsea has a heart of gold, and recently everything – from her parents’ health crises, to her and Marc’s inability to conceive and her family’s special devo­tion to the black community – came together in her mind,’ said the source.

Finally, American dancer Chris Brown learned one thing on his recent Ghanaian and Nigerian travels: how to Azonto (some YouTube commenters don’t think he gets the moves right). Nice try. Now here’s some real Azonto.


Further Reading

On Safari

We are on our annual publishing break until August 28th. Please check our Twitter and Facebook pages for posts and updates until then.

A private city

Eko Atlantic in Lagos, like Tatu City in Nairobi, Kenya; Hope City in Accra, Ghana; and Cité le Fleuve in Kinshasa, DRC, point to the rise of private cities. What does it mean for the rest of us?

What she wore

The exhibition, ‘Men Lebsa Neber,’ features a staggering collection of the clothes and stories of rape survivors across Ethiopia.