Saturday, 28 June 2008

Magdalene Odundo | Kenya/UK

Magdalene Odundo

Source: Victorian Fortune City

Magdelene Odundo

Magdalene Odundo was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1950. As a child she lived in Kenya and India. From 1968 to 71 she attended the Nairobi Polytechnic in Kenya, while there she studied Graphic Art. In 1971 she left Kenya to attend Cambridge College of Art in Cambridge, England to continue her study in Graphic Design. Odundo grew restless with this medium and experimented with various mediums.

In 1973 she moved to Farnham, England to attend West Surrey College of Art and Design. At West Surrey she settled on ceramics as her medium. In that first year at West Surrey she had the opportunity to visit the Cornwall Workshop of renowned potter Bernard Leach. Leach was the father of the modern British studio ceramics movement in the 1920's. Marla Berns describes this movement, "as a tradition based on principles of simplicity and purity of form derived from Asian ceramic models."

Because Odundo grew up primarily in Nairobi she was not exposed to the traditional pottery of the rural areas of her country, it was not until she went to England that she became interested in this traditional African art forms.

In 1974 Odundo spent 3 months at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre in Abuja, Nigeria. She studied various techniques of pottery-making including hand-building from Gwari women potters like Ladi Kwali. Odundo went back to England to finish her classes at West Surrey, but returned to Africa in 1975 to do research for her thesis which was a comparative study of women's pottery techniques and of the ceremonial use of vessels. For this study she traveled to native Kenya to study her own people,the Abanyala, a subgroup of the Abaluyia living in Kenya and Uganda.

In 1976 she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree form West Surrey. After graduation she traveled to California and New Mexico where she learned about Pueblo pottery, specifically San Ildefonso blackware and Maria Martinez the most famous San Ildefonso potter.

Odundo spent three years teaching at the Commonwealth Institute in London and then entered the Royal College of Art in London, England to continue her study in ceramics. She graduated with a Masters degree in 1982. In the 1980's Odundo exhibited often in Britain in such solo shows at ICA Galleries in London in 1983, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in '86 and in group exhibitions such as two shows with Craftsmen Potter's Association of London.

Odundo had her first solo exhibition in the United States in 1991 at the Anthony Ralph Gallery in New York. The show of 12 new vessels sold-out. Seven were purchased by museums with 2 going to the Smithsonian (Ceramics Monthly 30). The prices ranged from $5600 to $7200 at that show. Since that time she has exhibited in the U.S. in shows such as Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art, organized by the Museum of African Art in New York, Contained/Uncontained: 4 Clay Artists at the African American Museum in Dallas and the solo exhibition Ceramic Gestures: New Vessels by Magdalene Odundo organized by the University Art Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara. She also has had the opportunity to exhibit in solo and group shows in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, France, India, Malaysia, Canada and Kenya.

Almost everything I have read about Magdelene Odundo has championed her work, but 1989's comments by Paul Rice, in British Studio Ceramics in the 20th Century, do give a bit of a cynical viewpoint.

He writes:

Magdelene Odundo has had no problem getting her work noticed. Long before Odundo graduated from RCA in 1982 she was being heralded by some as being the greatest potter to emerge since Elizabeth Fritsch. She has had the dubious distinction of being the most hyped ceramic artist in Britain. Prices for her work, which were very high when she was a student, have now reached a point where she is the most expensive potter of her generation in Britain. Naturally, this high-profile promotion in a craft world not used to such things has caused a great deal of discussion and not all of it favorable. If credit or blame is to be attached, then it probably more properly belongs to promoters than to Odundo. The controversy has tended to overshadow the fact that Odundo is an extremely fine potter. At her best, she has a tremendous command of form ... although Odundo has not yet lived up to her promotion, she certainly has the potential to do so. She has only been making pots (in very small quantities) for a comparatively short time. One hopes that her very early success will give her greater freedom to develop rather than putting her in a straight-jacket.

Odundo's vessels are coil-built, not thrown, on the wheel. They start with a blend of 75% red clay from Stoke-on-Trent England and 25% sandy yellow clay from southern England. The body of the piece starts with a cone of clay pulled upward while hollowing out the middle using a gourd or coconut shell scraper. The process is continued by adding coils of clay and scraping and smoothing the neck and head into shape. The leather hard vessels are burnished, slip is applied and burnished again to a luster. Burnishing is the act of rubbing the leather hard pot with items such as pebbles until the vessel is smooth and shiny. Adding slip--a thin mixture of clay and water--and burnishing again gives the pot a seamless, smooth high-gloss finish without using glaze.

IngridMwangiRobertHutter | Kenya/Germany

Body as Art | IngridMwangiRobertHutter

Source: International Museum of Women

"Static Drift," two-piece digital photography.
Image | IngridMwangiRobertHutter

*N.B. See source to watch video work.

Ingrid Mwangi Speaks from the Body

Many contemporary women artists use their body to make a political statement. Artist Ingrid Mwangi is one of them, creating work that is innovative, visually striking and often shocking. She spent the first 15 years of her life in Kenya and has been living in Germany ever since. Through photography, performance, sound, installation and video, she's created a "body of work" that questions both social and political conventions. Mwangi writes: My body is the only thing that I own... I react, interpret and question the clichés and stereotypes with which I am faced... I use art to awaken consciences.

Body Photographs

Mwangi's 2001 photo series, "Static Drift" is, literally, body art. Her stomach is her medium. In each photo, Mwangi covered her skin with a stencil, and sat in the sun to let the exposed parts tan.

In the first photo, a pale map of Africa appears onto her tan stomach, with the English words "Bright Dark Continent." In the second photo, it is the map that is dark, and the surrounding skin, pale. Within the outline of Germany we read the English words: "Burn Out Country."

Through this series, Mwangi communicates the complexities of being a bi-racial woman in exile. When living in Africa, she says, she is seen as white; but in Germany, she is black.

In her book Your Own Soul, Mwangi's work is summarized this way:

Ingrid Mwangi experiments with her own body, likening it to an open book upon which her own national and racial lineage is both written and read. ... National titles and geographic borders are displaced from their habitual contexts, causing one to contemplate what nationalism, skin color, and ethnic identity mean when physically inscribed on a body-particularly a female body. Within the dichotomy of Mwangi's personal biography the historical relationship between Germany and Africa, colonizer and colonized, oppressor and the oppressed, is also powerfully evoked.

Body Performance and Video

Many of Mwangi's video and performance pieces include hair: cutting hair, using hair as a mask, dreadlocked hair. In performance, Mwangi's voice is powerful and unsettling. She chirps, shouts and screeches in primal tones.

About Mwangi's performance work, critic Laurie Ann Farrell writes:

Working with video as an open medium of image and sound, Mwangi began to work with and alter images of her body as a means of collapsing oversimplified narratives of race, gender and sexuality....Mwangi's videos blend beautiful images with the edge of brutality embedded in racial stereotypes.
Mwangi, herself, writes:

Working in this way with new media, my main focus is to develop a body of artwork that revolves around conditions of human existence and the difficult questions of how to deal with the violence, injustice and suffering in our world. My work does not directly influence people's lives, help their economic situation or give them specific skills with which to improve their lives. Still, I feel that I am contributing to the development of society in the area of awareness.

Merging Body Identities

Recently, Mwangi has carried her explorations of identity to the next step. She has merged her artistic identity with that of her husband, Robert Hutter. They now share the same name. She says:

I'm IngridMwangiRobertHutter. And I try to develop a consciousness in which I have those two bodies. So when I make art, I put that masculine white body in relationship to this feminine "black" body. This is very exciting, because we are dealing with the materiality of the body. It expands the breadth of the whole theme: the concept for me comes from living. It's how you live it, how you work with it, how it manifests itself, rather than just projecting the idea that we want to be one person.

To learn more about Ingrid Mwangi visit

Wangechi Mutu | Kenya, USA

Source: Michael Stevenson Gallery

Wangechi Mutu
Born 1972, Nairobi, Kenya
Lives and works in New York, USA

Born in Kenya, Wangechi Mutu attended boarding school in Wales for two years before moving to the United States. She holds a BFA from the Cooper Union in New York, and an MFA from Yale. In 2003 she was an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.

Mutu’s work is included in the currently touring Africa Remix. In 2005 she held solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Miami Art Museum and at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Group exhibitions include drawing shows at MoMA, New York, and Tate Modern, London; Greater New York 2005 at PS1, New York; Figuratively (2004) and Africaine (2002) at the Studio Museum; Looking Both Ways at the Museum for African Art, New York (2003); Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti at the New Museum, New York (2003), and Kellie Jones’ Life’s Little Necessities at the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale.

Using a combination of ink drawings, collage and site-specific wall pieces, Mutu gleans images from ethnographic photo essays, magazines and wildlife journals, adopting the distended and mutated figure as a central part of her work. Creating flamboyant hybrids that reflect the pervasive obsession with physical appearance, she emphasises the violence that comes from the pursuit of affluence and power in Western society, particularly as it impacts on the female body. Mutu’s sumptuous monstrosities parody Western ideals of representation, and the manner in which they grate against the daily realities experienced by the majority of the world’s population.

Mutu refers indirectly to notions of relative distance to Africa in an interview in which Lauri Firstenberg asks for her thoughts on the conceptual framework of Afro-futurism:

"I have to admit that being transplanted changes your notions of self and survival. I’m sure the more extreme your migration story is, the more complicated do issues of personal and cultural survival become for you. Displacement anxiety and a fractured identity are implied in my drawings; there are mutilations and awkward attachments in the collage work. I think one of my most poignant moments in my teens was realizing that my father’s generation was this group of men who’d been raised to understand the true traditional value of a large herd of cattle and goats, yet they were expected to mutate and become middle-class, Mercedes-owing intellectually rigorous, three-piece-suit-wearing urbanites".(1)

Cutting, the work shown in this exhibition, marks a return to the medium of video for Mutu. The work was filmed in the US-Mexico border town of Presidio, at sunset in the desert, during a residency at Art Pace in San Antonio, Texas, in 2004. Isolde Brielmaier writes in Parkett:

Given her affinity for collage, the work seems unexpected. But it also made sense. In Cutting, Mutu uses her own body as a central site for investigating history and culture. Her figure is seen against a vast rural landscape repetitiously hacking away at a large pile of wood and debris with a machete. Exhausted after breaking down the pile into a mass of rubble, she leaves her machete stuck upright in the wooden bits, its handle forming a strong, foreboding vertical against the horizon, and turns to walk up a hill.

When asked why she had now decided to work with video, Mutu explained, “the world – and perhaps by extension people – is in a period of self-destruction. It exists in a constant state of pain that is in many ways self-inflicted. This work conveys immediacy and highlights this anxiety. I also wanted to draw on a sore connection between the idea of a rural space and the fear of elimination and infestation as well as the idea that tools used for providing and creating can so easily be transformed into weapons for murder.” Mutu created videos back in the late 1990s, so in some sense she wanted to move back to where she started. “Nothing is clear cut. Issues shift. Video allows me the capability of creating yet another world and putting myself in the middle of it because I am part of it ... the problems and the solutions. Video, for me, is a means by which to dramatize urgent issues, to invent and re-invent.” Mutu sees the medium as being very much linked to her love of assemblage, to the acts of cutting, splicing, and combining elements. It expands her repertoire. She then has more to work with as she creatively and continually re-works her bodies, builds her environments and re-imagines her art and the world.(2)

(1)‘Firstenberg, Lauri, ‘Perverse Anthropology: The photomontage of Wangechi Mutu’ in Looking Both Ways: Art of the contemporary African diaspora (New York and Gent: Museum for African Art and Snoeck, 2004), 136-143.
(2)Brielmaier, Isolde, ‘Wangechi Mutu: Re-imagining the world’ in Parkett, No 74 (2005), 13.

Owusu-Ankomah | Ghana/Germany

Source: Michael Stevenson Gallery

Born 1956, Sekondi, Ghana
Lives and works in Lilienthal, Germany

Born in Ghana shortly before the country gained its independence, Owusu-Ankomah enrolled at the Ghanatta College of Art in Accra in 1971. In his twenties he started travelling to Europe, and in 1986 he permanently relocated to Lilienthal, near Bremen, Germany.

Group exhibitions include the currently touring Africa Remix; the 2006 Dakar biennale; Journeys and Destinations at the National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC (2003); and A Fiction of Authenticity at the Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis (2003). He designed one of the official art posters published in conjunction with the soccer World Cup in Germany in 2006. His work was seen in South Africa in 1995 on the United Nations exhibition A Right to Hope which travelled to the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Over the past decade Owusu-Ankomah’s imagery has moved away from symbols and references that relate directly to Ghana and Africa, yet he has simultaneously nurtured his relationship with Ghana. In 2004 he held a solo show at the Ghana National Museum in Accra, entitled Heroes, Sages and Saints, and he visits and exhibits there regularly. His imagery in the early 1990s, soon after he moved to Europe, revolved around figures inscribed with traditional African designs and wearing masks. As his work evolved, he started decorating his figures with symbols from the 400-year-old Adinkra sign system – representing “proverbs, historical events, and attitudes as well as objects, animals, and plants”(1) – traditionally printed on textiles by the Akan people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Gradually the figures recessed into the grids of symbols, recalling textile patterns. In recent years he has introduced symbols from other cultures into his imagery. His choices range from antiquity through to contemporary culture, from African, Asian and European sources as well as graffiti and some scientific and technical symbols. In his experience, these symbols, interspersed to create a universal vocabulary, are remarkably similar to each other and illustrate the relativity of cultures.

Integral to Owusu-Ankomah’s work are ideas around rhythm and movement. He has titled many of his paintings from recent years Movement, and writes:

"We are tormented by movement. It being the genius of life, we enjoy its pleasures. There is even motion in repose. We are not motionless in death, we are in a state of transition.

To move is to strive for perfection. Music, dance and sports are an expression of the dynamics of movements.

The human has been on the move at all times. Movement of peoples, the shifting of cultures and religions. Free or forced migration of peoples is a form of movement".(2)

Male figures are set within the rhythmic grids of symbols, the partial outlines of their bodies refracting light. The figures are in motion, making gestures. His inspirations for these figures are diverse, ranging from the muscular bodies drawn by Michelangelo through to capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art which, disguised as a dance, once served the slaves of Bahia as an instrument of resistance. In his continual reworking of this imagery, he reminds us that we are literally entwined with our particular cultures and universal symbols.

(1) Mafundikwa, Safu, Afrikan Alphabets: The story of writing in Afrika (New York: Mark Batty Publisher, 2004), 33.
(2) An excerpt from a statement written for a panel discussion at the St Louis Contemporary Art Museum on the occasion of the exhibition A Fiction of Authenticity in 2003.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Dogon People of Mali

I have created a slide show incorporating the blend that makes up the Dogon People's unique aesthetic. It includes architecture, tribal art, nature, pottery and Saharan sand, all of which are closely interwoven into everyday life.

The Dogon are a group of people living in the central plateau region of Mali, south of the Niger bend near the city of Bandiagara in the Mopti region. They number just under 800,000. The Dogon are best known for their mythology, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and their architecture. The past century has seen significant changes in the social organization, material culture and beliefs of the Dogon, partly because Dogon country is one of Mali's major tourist attractions.

Dogon art is primarily sculpture. Dogon art revolves around religious values, ideals, and freedoms. Dogon sculptures are not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly hidden from the public eye within the houses of families, sanctuaries, or kept with the Hogon. The importance of secrecy is due to the symbolic meaning behind the pieces and the process by which they are made.

Themes found throughout Dogon sculpture consist of figures with raised arms, superimposed bearded figures, horsemen, stools with caryatids, women with children, figures covering their faces, women grinding pearl millet, women bearing vessels on their heads, donkeys bearing cups, musicians, dogs, quadruped-shaped troughs or benches, figures bending from the waist, mirror-images, aproned figures, and standing figures. Signs of other contacts and origins are evident in Dogon art. The Dogon people were not the first inhabitants of the cliffs of Bandiagara. Influence from Tellem art is evident in Dogon art because of its rectilinear designs.

Certain researchers investigating the Dogon have reported that they seem to possess advanced astronomical knowledge, the nature and source of which has subsequently become embroiled in controversy. From 1931 to 1956, two French anthropologists, Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, spent 25 years with the Dogon, during which time they were initiated into the tribe. Griaule and Dieterlen reported that the Dogon appeared to know that the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, has a faint companion, Sirius B, which requires a fairly large telescope to be seen. They also appeared to know of the rings of Saturn, and the Moons of Jupiter, which were not discovered by astronomers until after the invention of the telescope in the 17th century. This is a puzzle because the Dogon do not have telescopes. The controversy escalated when author Robert Temple suggested an extra-terrestrial source of the Dogon's knowledge. Griaule and Dieterlen made no claims on the source of the Dogon's knowledge.

More recently, doubts have been raised about the validity of Griaule and Dieterlein's work. The anthropologist Walter van Beek concluded after his research among the dogon that though they do speak about sigu tolo [which is what Griaule claimed the Dogon called Sirius] they disagree completely with each other as to which star is meant; for some it is an invisible star that should rise to announce the sigu [festival], for another it is Venus that, through a different position, appears as sigu tolo. All agree, however, that they learned about the star from Griaule.

Griaule's daughter, Genevieve Calame-Griaule, has retorted that criticisms of her father's findings are mostly rooted in speculation. An independent assessment is given by Andrew Apter of the University of California.

L'Appartement 22 | Rabat, Morocco

Abdellah Karroum is an independent curator and art researcher, born in Morocco in 1970.

(Published: November 2005, print version)

L'appartement 22
Interview with Abdellah Karroum
By Haupt & Binder

L'appartement 22 (Apartment 22) is an experimental space for encounters, exhibitions, and artists’ residencies in Rabat, Morocco, founded in 2002 by Abdellah Karroum. Its co-operative, project-specific work methods are based on the participation of artists as well as its private and institutional partners. The curatorial work of this undertaking supports artists in the international network of contemporary art.
Abdellah Karroum, the founder of L'appartement, was born in 1970 in Morocco and works as an independent curator and art expert. Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt of Universes in Universe conducted the following E-mail interview with him:

Universes in Universe: In which cultural context and in which art scene in Rabat and elsewhere in Morocco does L'appartement 22 operate? What made you decide to initiate such a project?

Abdellah Karroum: Morocco has experienced significant cultural change over the last few years. The rapid development of new information technologies, especially the Internet, allows for an extensive access to culture in other countries around the world. Just the same, as a result of various structural factors, Morocco is still more of a consumer than a producer of culture. There is also a great lack of exhibiting and distribution possibilities for young artists. The few non-profit galleries are state-run and their programs are not defined through serious art politics. In fact, the people in charge of the programs for these spaces are not art professionals, but rather members of the Ministry of Culture.

L'appartement 22 is the result of this situation and, ultimately, of a coincidence. Originally, the apartment was only meant as my own private home. After I finished studying in Europe, I planned to work at universities and art schools in Morocco. I had a clear idea of how cultural activities in the context of this country could be developed. I came to Rabat to assist in setting up an art department at a Moroccan university, to work with artists, and to spend the rest of my time writing books. In the end, I decided to use my own apartment as an alternative to the lack of interest shown by institutional spaces in the kinds of artistic forms that really interested me. With that, L'appartement 22 became a space of freedom for both the artists and myself.

The top priority goal is to create a presence for art works and give artists the chance to meet the public. This has a lot to do with my wanting to think through with the artists different ways of communicating and exhibiting, but also with my intention to share artistic experiences with the public in Morocco and in other parts of the world. You never need a full range of technical equipment and devices to bring about meaningful works and exhibitions. You only have to listen to the artists and pay attention to the audience. L'appartement 22 shows already well-known artists (Ahmed Essyad, Fouad Bellamine, Fabrice Hyber, Jean-Paul Thibeau, and others) as well as young artists such as Younès Rahmoun, Safaa Erruas, and students of the Drama and Cultural Entertainment School (ISADAC). But, above all, the apartment is a meeting place for artists who deal with the world’s current events. Basically, this is about giving meaning to cultural activities and providing a definition of art developed from the time and space in which one lives. It would please me to bring even more artists into the international network of contemporary art, especially from the younger generation, the artists working with the kind of material found everywhere in our daily life.

UiU: Could you describe the spaces and facilities of L’Appartment 22, and the character of the surrounding neighborhood?

A.K.: L'appartement 22 is located in the heart of Rabat – Morocco’s administrative capital also the seat of all the ministries – in a building from the 1920s, which faces the Moroccan Parliament.

The atmosphere of the neighborhood gives the impression of life in the country, like it does on Avenue Mohamed V, where young people meet and take strolls in the evening. But this is also a district where, almost every day, the enraged students and the unemployed who try to reach the parliamentary building are kept back by the police. This can sometimes be unbearable, especially when the police chase after demonstrators with rubber clubs...

L'appartement 22 plays with the paradox of being a very small and very big space at the same time. To gain access into L'appartement 22, you have to first find the entrance of an old building without a house number, and then mount the steps to the third floor. The actual surface space is only thirty square meters; but compared to all that goes on here, the physical dimensions are far greater than that. The artistic works and proposals shown here always draw reactions from outside of L'appartement 22, whether through educational initiatives, performances staged in the city, or publications offering a sensitive and intellectual continuation of the works.

UiU: Could you name a few of the exhibition projects that you presented at L’appartment 22, and explain their curatorial concept? How exactly did cooperating with the artists work?

A.K.: The first exhibition at L’appartment 22 was "JF_JH individualités" (Young Women_Young Men, Individualities). The works for this show were developed in the apartment’s spaces in the framework of the artists’ two-week-long residency. The "Brisa" installation, for example, created by Safaa Erruas for the exhibition, was later shown in Naples at the 2005 Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean. The main principle behind this collaborating of artists under the defining title of "JF_JH," namely to address the complexity of the relationship between men and women in Morocco, was continued in other exhibitions: JF_JH Cohabitation, JF_JH Agreements, and JF_JH Complicity. Over the next few months, I hope to continue this collaborative principle with a project entitled "JF_JH Freedoms," in which an unlimited number of artists participate.

There were also exhibitions with rather well-known artists such as Fouad Bellamine and Mustapha Boujeamoui. Bellamine was invited for "Une leçon de peinture" (A Painting Lesson): the artist carried out his work in front of an audience for longer than a month. This action-piece made a strong impression and incited public debates. Boujeamoui initiated the "SuperTea" exhibition, which consisted of three parts, three works, and three formal approaches. This allowed him to test his intentions and share their sense and sensibility with the audience. His manifestations extend beyond the exhibition space by incorporating cultural and political themes that address the context of artistic creativity both in Morocco and abroad.

UiU: How have audiences responded so far to these projects?

A.K.: There was a deep interest on the part of the students and artists, as well as from a public eager to encounter culture. Although L'appartement 22 is not visible from the street, a good many visitors make the effort to find the entrance in order to attend the apartment’s different manifestations. The meetings with the artists are so successful because the Moroccan public truly enjoys talking to them. That might be linked to Morocco’s culture being as much an oral as visual one. Besides that, from the very beginning, the Moroccan press frequently reported on this space and the events held here. At the end of an event, you always have people who stay a little longer to meet with friends or other artists. Then the discussions become a lot more relaxed, if still as serious as before. Several projects originated from these informal meetings.

UiU: What is the greatest challenge when managing such a space?

A.K.: One sign of success is that other people were impressed enough by L'appartement to begin showing art in their own apartments. Good examples of this are L’appart du 2e and Le 17e in Casablanca, and I hope this continues in the future. The current challenge concerns making the space finance itself. What I hope for is that, with the artists, it will be possible to further develop the cooperative aspect and nurture a greater interest among the collectors and institutions working in the area of contemporary art.

UiU: How do you organize the Residency Program?

A.K.: The basic work principle of L'appartement 22 is twofold: ambitious meetings and ambitious collaborations. Each residency consists of an investigation conducted on several levels, in the context of the apartment, the city, the country, and the world. This includes a carefully worked through experiment with different forms and media, by no means limited to this space alone. The residency space is a kind of "headquarters" or "editing room" for developing an art project that surpasses the physical space of an exhibition. The artist is not obliged to set up the exhibition, but we always organize an open public discussion with the artist.

The program of L'appartement 22 always begins with me meeting an artist or discovering the artist’s work. Then we work together on a way to express an intention through exhibitions, lectures, performances, or through other means. It makes no difference to me whether a project is realized in L'appartement, in a museum, in the lecture hall of a university, or in the public space. When we face the public, I play the role of the host, curator, moderator.

UiU: Logistically speaking, how do you organize the artists’ residency periods? How do you decide, for example, on the length of a residency? Do you only invite those artists whose works you already know? Do you also consider applications and proposals? While the artists are in Rabat, do they live in L'appartement? How is the financial aspect resolved?

A.K.: The L'appartement 22 artist residencies are always linked to specific projects. A residency can last up to five weeks. Since L'appartement 22 is a privately-run space, each project is prepared by both the artist and the host. The artists are chosen on the basis of a project presentation, following a call for submissions posted in the Internet. The residencies and events are cooperatively financed. Both the artist and the host are involved in this process, whether through the support for the production (rentals, sales) or any public or private grants. But I often have to advance the production fees, which constitute very limited investments compared to those made by galleries. The only institution currently offering friendly support to our projects is the French Embassy to Morocco. Whenever I’m in Rabat, I live in L'appartement 22 myself, and therefore, in the event of a residency, I have to find other housing for the artist, something which only happens about two or four times a year. The foreigner artists often live with local colleagues or with friends.

UiU: L'appartement 22 is organizing the project "Coprésences" (Coexistence) in Morocco, together with the Asociación para la Mediación Cultural, Vejer de la Frontera (Spain), and Synesthesie in France. Could you briefly describe what this is about and which activities are scheduled to take place in Morocco?

A.K.: "Coprésences" is a project that was developed after the meeting of three curators (Anne-Marie Morice from Synesthésie, Cécile Bourne from the AMC in Spain, and myself, representing L'appartement 22 in Morocco). The Moroccan section of the project began when Fabrice Hyber initiated his "Museum of Plastic" at the outset of a trip taken along the "oil route" from Morocco to the Middle East via Indonesia. With this project, up until the opening of the "Museum of Plastic" in the year 2011, Fabrice Hyber investigates Europe’s various relationships to Islam.

In connection with working on the concept of "Absent Capital," a project to be developed over the next few months, Mohamed El-Baz and Christophe Boulanger both stayed at L'appartement 22 in July and September.

All the projects of "Coprésences" are based on embedding the artists’ works in the specific context and on audience participation. The project’s impact can be local, regarding the concrete plan of action and immediate experiences, but also universal and function on an artistic and human level.

Haupt & Binder
Gerhard Haupt and Pat Binder, co-publishers and editors-in-chief of Nafas Art Magazine. Since 1997 they publish Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art. Based in Berlin, Germany.

(Translation from the French: Charlotte Le Sourd. Edited by Karl Johnson)

Founder, Director:
Abdellah Karroum

L'appartement 22
279 avenue Mohamed V

Mounir Troudi | Sufi Singer, Tunisia

I have recently been struggling with the issue of Zimbabwe but I want to take a break and introduce you to some interesting music from Tunisia. When I was staying with Najet Belkhodja in Tunis recently I met up with Mounir Troudi. Here is some wonderful footage of Tunisia and life lived in North Africa. Mounir Troudi the amazing Sufi singer from Tunisia teams up with Antonio Maiello the Neopolian Folk singer with the Mediterranean Orchestra. This is a video for those that just love music.

*N.B. If these links don't work please cut and paste and watch on the YouTube link:

Here is a slightly different version with images of the Mediterranean Orchestra

*N.B. If these links don't work please cut and paste and watch on the YouTube link:

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do......

Monday, 23 June 2008

Death of a Husband in Nigeria

Onwu Di | Death Of A Husband

It is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall a woman at any point in her life - to loose her husband. No matter the length of time she spent with him in matrimony, the grief and sorrow she experiences cannot be quantified. It is an eternal loss; and so, no matter how much we try to console or encourage the truth is, she has lost her soul-mate. All we can do is give her time. For it is only time, as they say, that heals all. It is vital that she finds the right support - morally and otherwise from relatives, friends and loved ones so that she can see her way through this mournful period. Unfortunately, more often than not the reverse is usually the case.

In different parts of the world, irrespective of religion, tradition and culture, widows are victims of violence and oppression at the hands of close family members and so-called friends, especially their in-laws. The story below clearly illustrates my thoughts on this matter. The characters and locations are real.

Personally, I believe that my father allowed himself to be the sacrificial lamb for my sake. It was as if he was communicating from his grave and saying, "Here my eldest daughter… Chinwe, take it… this is your breakthrough in your course to support the widows of Nigeria... For my sake your voice and desire will be heard and accepted finally by our people," and if I tire in this campaign through my poetry and writings, then I have disgraced my father's memory. This is the only way I can appease my father's soul.

So I ask this question - Do widows deserve to have their human rights stripped from them and violated when their husbands die?

Article written by Chinwe Azubuike.
August, 2006.

Photo: Wisdom and Mary Azubuike with Chinwe and her younger brother Chukwuma

Factual Story….

My father, Mr. Wisdom Azubuike died on the 8th of August 2006, aged 60yrs and was to be buried on the 24th of August 2006. He died seated while on duty at work. He was thought to be asleep on duty, but instead, he was dead…(he was a security guard at the Apapa Branch of Intercontinental Bank PLC in Lagos, Nigeria). Autopsy result stated he had suffered a sudden attack of 'Hypertension', because he did not know that his blood pressure had been rising for quite some time.

My mother, my siblings and my father's elder brother, Mr.Christian Azubuike, along with other family friends accompanied the corpse to our village on the 23rd August 2006 following the wake-keep that was held on the night of the 22nd August in Festac Town, Lagos. Before leaving for the village, my father's brothers, had collected eighty thousand naira, (the whole money) which was given to the family by the Bank, as support for any expenses incurred on the burial arrangements. His brothers said it was the fee that was to be paid to perform some burial rites for the corpse and also prepare things such as refreshments, etc for the reception of guests after the burial. My recently widowed mother was left penniless. Regardless, they heartlessly demanded for more but for the fact that she and my younger brother scolded them and argued the fact that there was no more money left to give.

On the night of the 23rd when my family arrived at the village, at our compound my Uncle, Christian suddenly and surprisingly ran into occupy the family house, (just a 2 bedroom bungalow-like house, which was owned by my late Grandparents) with his other brother, Leonard and their children, and my Aunt Mrs Rozaline - stating that my father had no house of his own therefore they would take over the bungalow. In this way my mother and her family were not even given any welcome or a place to lay their heads for the night. They actually rested in the coastal bus (donated to them by the Bank as means of transportation) and slept without food or bathing. Betrayal is an ugly word, especially in the context of family.

The next morning, the day of the burial, my father's brothers and sister, Mr.Christian Azubuike, Mr.Leo Azubuike, and Mrs Rozaline, arranged with other members of the Azubuikes of Duruigbo clan (where I come from) of Oka Village in Isiala Mbanno Local Government of Imo State to stop the burial of my father, Wisdom. My Uncle, Christian accused my mother and siblings of killing their brother,(meaning my Dad)… that they should bring out all the money my father had, because his daughter (meaning, I ) lives abroad, and seemingly has received a small fortune from me.... the accusation was that we had all, including I, planned and executed our own father's death and that it was only us, the immediate family, that would benefit from whatever came from me. Me, the pauper female poet living in London.

My Uncle Leo had hired mobs and touts who carried sticks and weapons to batter my mother and family. My Uncle Christian, and his sister, (our Aunty) Mrs Rozaline, gathered all the women of the Duruigbo clan who carried firewood and cains to beat my mother with, according to Tradition. Then, in full view of the public, including people of other tribes and some staff of the Intercontinental Bank as well, who came from Lagos to our village to witness the burial, my Uncle Mr.Christian Azubuike stripped my father's body of his funeral clothes, which had been carefully chosen and dressed by my younger brother, Chukwuma. Christian took out a large sharpened knife and to the horror of all, desecrated the body. Splitting my father's stomach open, like a gutted fish, and then started to probe inside, justifying his action by stating he was searching for some vital organs or bodyparts in the absurd thought that we, Wisdom's immediate family, would have used them for money making rituals. Eventually yet still in the eyes of the amazed public, everything was carelessly put back to the way the mortuary workers had left it but the damage had been done and witnesses had overseen this cruel barbaric act by their fellow Nigerians. Once one has witnessed such an act nothing will quite seem the same again.

My younger brother, Chukwuma Azubuike, being the first son of my Dad, insisted that he wanted to bury my father on that same day, but my Uncle refused. Three men from my village intervened and tried to make peace, demanding that the burial take place that very day yet my Uncle Christian refused. My brother again eagerly enquired when they actually intended burying his father but my Uncle told him to leave, that he had no idea about any burial anymore. They brutally chased my family away, who ran for safety, back into the coastal bus. Even while they were inside the bus, the people kept shouting and banging at the windows and doors asking them to come out of the bus. My Uncles seized my Dad's corpse along with the others, put it back in the coffin and asked the ambulance driver who had brought the coffin from Lagos to take it back to a mortuary situated near our village. Members of my mother's family, who came for the burial as well, were the ones who took my family back with them in the coastal bus to their house at Owerri where the whole family took refuge. Consequently they had won and denied us the proper Christian Mass we had wanted for our father, moreso, denied me of the speech I had written to be read at Mass for my dead Dad and (obviously) squandered the Eighty Thousand Naira they had collected from my family's benefit back in Festac. There are witnesses who can testify to the money that was given to my father's brothers.

While talking refuge at Owerri in Imo State, my family tried to see if there was a way they could get information about the burial and attend, because it is unheard of that a man be buried in the absence of his wife and children. My mother and younger brother made official reports of the case to different Police commission zones in Imo State.

On Friday 1st September 2006, my family in the company of my mother's relatives and many other people who were also armed went to what they thought was my father's funeral. They had received word that my Dad was to be buried on Friday (although none of them had actually been properly informed). On the Friday 1st September, that was thought to be the burial, my father's brothers had once again shifted the burial to the next day, Saturday in the hope that they could perform it in the absence of my family... However, this did not deter anyone because my family and all the rest of the people that accompanied them from Owerri all stayed over until the Saturday morning, which was the D-day. There was a lot of friction, initiated mainly by my father's people, but then they saw that my family too were really out for them that day. Everyone attended the funeral Mass, which to the amazement of many, had become a biased occasion, for the priest who celebrated the Mass gave a very angering and chiding speech for the benefit of my family- on hearsay from the words of my father's brothers, indirectly accused my family of being instruments of my father's death.

After Mass everyone went back to our compound for the final 'lay to rest' act. Then my father's brothers and their entourage tried to create some barriers again, by physically and morally trying to cause outright War between them and my family with her own entourage. The resistance on my mother's part was very clear to them. She vehemently refused to partake in some incongruous fetish rituals that were presented to her. It had become a matter of War if push came to shove. Lives were willing to be lost if it would eventually allow my father to have his rightful burial. Eventually my father was laid to rest, but sadly ungracefully.

Poetry by Chinwe Azubuike

Chinwe Azubuike from Nigeria.

Here is a contemporary African Poet. She is regarded as a strong female contemporary voice from Africa, born in Lagos-Nigeria. Her origins are from Imo State and she is the first born of a family of five children. Her late father, Wisdom Azubuike served in the Biafran War and married his wife Mary in the mid 1970's. Her humble beginnings were a far cry from the literary educated class of poets- born into a relatively poor family. Over the past decade she has gradually crafted her own powerful voice and found a unique style of no-nonsense writing that comes directly from the heart.

Her literary development began whilst attending secondary school. She constantly viewed herself as a spokeswoman for Nigeria's deprived underclass and recognised within herself a strong sense of social justice. This is reflected in her poetry, as her work highlights the complicated issues and beauty of the people of Africa, especially the plight of women and children. The bulk of her work focus' on female issues; of love, life and torture with specific references to ethnic family traditions within West Africa.

Presently, Chinwe is running an ongoing campaign worldwide for women, against the victimization and deprivation of human rights of "the Widow" in Nigeria. This issue is extremely personal to her as it is borne out of her own bitter experience when her father, Wisdom, sadly passed away. She has written extensively on the subject with essays and poetry and intends to create a documentary in Nigeria about "Death of a Husband".

Writers Return by Chinwe Azubuike

The town criers are resounding the new liberated message:
The writers have returned to build the true Independent Nation.
Spelling out Independence clearly to all those listening.

Finally the day has come. The glorious day is amongst us.
When gifted Nigerians with the pen,
return and shape this new Independent Nation.
This day Nigeria faces a triumphant revamp.
A revitalisation of her reprehensible fallen past pride.

Today you will see them all; they are now beginning to flock.
The hot sun burning down on their backs,
softly caressing their blackened skin.
Man and beast roar with anger and passion
welcoming this long awaiting charge of honour.

They have resumed, in a frenzied gusto,
their rightful positions in every tribe of our Nation.
Scribbling, writing and punching away,
Protests and statements- their missiles aimed high
at our jailers of our new Independent Nation.

The town criers are resounding the new liberated message:
The writers have returned to build the true Independent Nation.
Of the revolution that is secretly emerging
of the second liberation of our Fatherland
fought with the only weapons that are left to us …
our pen and our wild imaginations.

Poetry by Chinwe Azubuike | Nigeria


Onwu Di | Death of a Husband

She dies and, ….
"Oh! Take heart! "
"May God comfort you"
"It's one of those things"

He dies and it's ….
"Aahh! ! ! "
"She has done her worst! "
"Ajoo Nwanyi! "
"Amuusu! "

On sick bed,
On wheels,
Beneath the sea,
In the air,
"She was the cause! ! ! "
They always say.

The other people lament...
"What rubbish! "
"Such injustice!! "
but to deaf ears they fall.

They come in troops
Lazy bones in disguise
To reap where they sowed not
In the name of kinship.

Day by day they saunter in to cast your lot.
And at times,
battle over the remnants
like vultures to the carcass.

Di!, Stand up!!
Get up from your eternal slumber
and show us your slayer
for your home is falling apart.
Your kinsmen have ravaged your house.

Your wife has become a barbarian.
Made to drink the juice of your corpse.
Stripped of her beauty by her skinned head.
Ruffled and tossed like a culprit.

They have sentenced her to a dozen months imprisonment
in the confines of your ancestral home.
They gave her white this time, to cover her nakedness.
A change from the black that used to be the uniform.
And until she completes her days,
the light of the sun she dares not see again
nor witness the joys of the world.
And when that happens,
a second wife we fear she may become.

The other people lament again,
"What rubbish! "
"Such injustice!! "
Yet to deaf ears they still fall.

Your children, we know not their fate.
Chased away from your cocoon.
Scattered like sheep.
Destitute we fear they shall become.

If only you will arise
and prove the innocence of your wife.
Then your home we fear,
is doomed forever.

Poetry by Chinwe Azubuike | Nigeria.

Female Circumcision in West Africa

Suzanne Ouedraogo | Artist from Burkina Faso.

Here is one of my favourite artists, Suzanne Ouedraogo. Her work is quite graphically expressing the plight of young girls in West Africa. Her message is clear and shocking and warrants our attention.

Her series on Female Circumcision Commissioned in 2003

Excision I 2003

Excision II - 2003

In 2003, I commissioned two West African female artists, Suzanne Ouedraogo and Chinwe Azubuike to create a series of works on the subject of female circumcision.

Here is a poem written by the female Nigerian poet, Chinwe Azubuike, which compliments these extraordinary paintings by Suzanne Ouedraogo.

Our Dilemma by Chinwe Azubuike

You, our gods of immortals and living
Of seas and lands
Of all visible and not
We beseech, hear our cry this day
And come to our rescue.

Our sacred weapons of pleasure
Are being destroyed by the day
Rendered useless
By our overseeing Lords and Ladies
Of ancestral descent.

They perform a barbaric operation on our ‘flesh of honour’
And call it ‘Female Circumcision’
In the white man’s language.
They mutilate our pride and say it is ‘tradition’
“The initiation to womanhood”

They cut us!
Oh yes, they cut us with the blade.

In the gaze of our fellows, they cut us!
At times in the secrecy of our mother’s haven.
They do not concede to the tools,
Nor words of the physician’s for our safety
To them it has been for ages
And tradition dare not be defiled.
They just cut us.

Against our will as they are wont to
For we foresee the agony and anguish
To these we try to parry but helpless we are

Our eyes have cried,
Tears of unending pain and torment
They have run dry of water.
Our hearts, laden with loathsomeness
We fear may burst.

They cut us, with or without our consent
Left to bleed by their ignorance
Sometimes fatal to our existence.
Other times, we become plagued with illness of strange names
“Infection” the physician would call it

Again they say it delivers us from the hands of promiscuity
As we ascend the ladder of womanhood.
Such blasphemy! We think
As if we are not bound for the act of consummation
In our ‘married’ days

As we watch our counterparts this day
Buried deep in this sin,
Sisters whom we term fortunate cut at childbirth
Fortunate to have escaped the pain we feel now,
We can’t but wonder
“Who is fooling who?”

You, our ancestral Lords and Ladies
Suffer us no more we beg
What profit do you aspire
When our lives are wont to expire
In this course of tradition?

Oh! What a shame,
That you who drum to our ears
To revere the dignity between our legs,
Become the ones that destroy it.

Poem by Chinwe Azubuike | Nigeria


N.B. In 2005, the painting of the Excision I by Suzanne Ouedraogo was lost at Belgium airport by the artists when transferring to Paris. If anybody knows of the whereabouts of this painting please contact Joe Pollitt at Many thanks.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

David Adjaye | Ghana/Tanzania/England

Behind the facade

David Adjaye is an architect who makes buildings as if they were conceptual artworks. His client list reads like a Who's Who and he admits he's a bit of an operator. Now, as he enters the major league, can the 36-year-old live up to the hype?

Tom Dyckhoff
Saturday February 8, 2003
The Guardian

'You've gotta be a showman." David Adjaye fixes me with his giant grin. "You can't just do your work. You've got to put it out there. Nobody's going to give you ten million pounds if you can't demonstrate your ability." If anyone could part a person from £10m it's Adjaye. It's the marriage of velvet and steel in his eyes, the way he undercuts his handsome confidence with a generous smile and teenager giggles. I've seen him work a room, brisk, efficient, but not cold, laughing at your jokes, flamboyantly, boyishly foppish, flashing that smile here, a touch on your elbow there. I doubt you'd even notice your wallet lightening.

Series of Monoforms | David Adjaye

Showmanship and a determined charm are rare qualities in an architect. Rare, but crucial. If you don't know how to talk the talk, you won't be getting the commissions, certainly not that £10m dream of yours. Most architects learn the hard way. Adjaye has been blessed from the start.

It's already set him apart. By rights, at 36, Adjaye should have 10 more years detailing drainpipes in some corporate colossus. Instead, he became a player years ago - freakish in a profession in which 40-year-olds are deemed bright young things - with a string of photogenic villas for Britain's modern Medicis, designed with ex-business partner William Russell. The client list? Ewan McGregor, Jake Chapman, Alexander McQueen, Chris Ofili, Juergen Teller, a handful of anonymous multimillionaires, plus the odd cool bar (London's Social) and slinky boutique (Browns Focus in Mayfair). His computers are now stocked with designs for Oslo's Nobel Peace Centre, Boston's performing arts centre, New York's Museum of Contemporary Art. To win these commissions proves he has been recognised internationally. And next week his new TV series helps launch BBC3: with Charlie Luxton and Justine Frischmann, former lead singer with Elastica, he will present Dreamspaces - Wallpaper* magazine TV, set to drum 'n' bass and club graphics.
His rivals are getting snippy: "Prince Charming" they call him, not entirely joking. "They all want to kill me," he giggles. It's mostly envy. But there's honest curiosity there, too, about whether Adjaye has real architectural substance beneath the hype, the schmooze and the PR machine. And this year, as he moves from style mag photoshoots to serious international projects, is the time we will find out. Adjaye puts his success down to timing, luck. That's partly it. But he's worked at it, not just the design, but wooing clients, running with the glampack. I can't imagine he slumps in front of Heartbeat on a Sunday night with a packet of Doritos. "I don't think I'd last long. I just don't like switching off. It was actually a problem as a child. I was on the verge of being dangerous. I get really pissed off really quickly. If something doesn't arrest me, I start to flip and flit."

Dirty House | David Adjaye

Adjaye was born to Ghanaian parents in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His father was a diplomat, so he had half the world under his belt by the time his family settled in north London, when he was nine. "As much as I was enjoying all the places I was moving to, I was incredibly traumatised by it, and loathed my parents for this inability to have roots. But then I decided to embrace it. I realised that it was a strength, rather than a problem." A strength, in part, because continually adjusting to new cultures tested his charm and confidence to the limits. It also toughened his resolve. Aside from a brief ambition to be a pilot, he was always attracted by the creative world. After a year's art foundation, though, he quit for architecture. "I couldn't break through to become an artist. I need [to work in] specific contexts. I need limits, or I never stop going." Architecture, he thought, would stop him flitting. So he entered at the bottom, jobbing around British firms for four years, picking up skills, before completing a degree in the subject in one year, with a first.

Iniva | David Adjaye

Still he never felt entirely at ease. For a start, he was a young black man - albeit from a professional family - in "the most closed, middle-class, middle-aged, trust-fund profession you could ever be in", where even women remain a rarity. It was also the British attitude to architecture that disturbed him, "that design is just functionally driven, that you just solve problems, scientifically". It's true. In Britain we find it hard to think of architecture as a rich piece of culture, like a novel or music, embodying an argument or an idea. For centuries, our traditional pragmatism has driven us to judge architecture solely on its technical prowess or failings, or its picturesqueness within a romanticised landscape (I'm thinking carbuncles here), capped with a silly name ("the gherkin", etc), rather than judging it on its physical, three-dimensional presence. "And that's just wrong," Adjaye chips in. "Buildings are deeply emotive structures which form our psyche. People think they're just things they manoeuvre through. But the make-up of a person is influenced by the nature of spaces."

He found more like-minded people outside Britain after university, travelling around Europe, doing placements with his hero architects, or in Japan, where he studied 16th-century tea pavilions. And at the Royal College of Art, where he completed a master's degree and revelled in the college's singular interdisciplinary community of car designers, graphic artists, textile designers and those emerging Young British Artists who would provide him with his first precocious commissions. These were places that treated architecture as art. He admires, in particular, the freedom of thought of his artist friends, so different from the "neuroses" and pragmatism of most young British architects. He has worked with them ever since, most notably Turner Prize-winner Ofili: their latest collaboration is at Folkestone Library. "Chris is so articulate about the visual world, I stand in awe. I like being able to have access to his world. So we can rap, as we say. And see what kind of lines come out of it."

Adjaye is not a frustrated YBA; he does, though, call himself a "conceptual architect". "People usually say, 'Oh, that means bullshit'. I say it means the ability for me to use anything to express my ideas. The idea is the most important concept within the whole construction. Everything else is a means to an end."

He's talking the talk again, but he does deliver. In each project, from no-budget to glampack, he displays the thrillingly lateral, entrepreneurial approach to materials of a young conceptual artist. Like a kid given the run of a toy shop, Adjaye hunts for bright new things to try out, plucking textures from one context to another. You'll more commonly find the honeycomb aluminium panelling at the Social bar on an aeroplane; at Browns Focus, fat slabs of cheap, coarse chipboard are lacquered as deluxe decoration (squint and it's leopardskin); for a house he's building himself in Ghana, he's using traditional mud walls, "only made 21st century". Cheap becomes a million dollars, luxurious trash.

In his startling, Arctic-white office, great heaps of materials stack up on the floor - rough aggregate, slabs of slate, terracotta, every possible permutation of perforated metal sheet - ready to be tested in the hand. This is Adjaye's library, where he roots out the right look, texture, tone or smell. It becomes sensual. In one exhibition he designed, he spliced brilliant ice-cold steel with fat, cosy pads of charcoal felt. The massive corner slab of Dirty House, just completed for artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster in Shoreditch, east London, is coated in thick, rough, anti-graffiti paint the colour and texture of chocolate fudge, with its cantilevered roof seeming to float on a bleached white glow, like icing. You could gobble it up.

This is the concept. He calls it "emotive" architecture, space that prods you to respond or, as he said earlier, helps form your everyday psyche, like a two-way conversation between you and him: "Spaces should seduce. I want to demystify this shroud that architecture has, that it's mystical, some kind of mysterious old art that nobody understands." But his is not easy architecture. It might not reveal itself immediately. It demands you work, too. And it's not about showing off macho technical prowess in wild daredevil forms or phallic skyscrapers (though, rest assured, his buildings aren't all talk, no plumbing). Nor is it about what the building looks like. Adjaye's buildings aren't traditionally pretty, to be gazed at. They don't have a signature style. In fact, they can be ugly. He might design simply to unsettle the way you look at things. The perversely blank facade of the Elektra House, Whitechapel, east London, for instance, is a dark pool of calm in the visually busy street, entirely without the symbols one expects of a house - pitched roof, chimney, even windows (they're on the back). It's dark, alien, almost sinister. It broods. When people walk past, I've watched them touch the facade almost instinctively, or wrinkle their noses in disgust. They respond.

That pleases Adjaye. He wants, he says, to "make space present", make it more intense. And, like the work of his conceptual installation artist friends, his buildings work best when you're in them. They evoke a certain mood. One commentator described the airless ground-floor room at the Social bar as "a coffin ... the inside of a box". It was a compliment. He says he curates the spaces, almost from the inside out, like a game of cat and mouse, goading and tempting you, carrot and stick, through a series of twists and turns, tricks of perception, trompe l'oeils. Enter the Upper Room, the exhibition he designed for Ofili in London last year, and you're tempted with lights down a twisting dark street-like corridor of walnut wood veneer, its grain almost shaking like a mesmerising optical illusion, before you come upon a dark chapel, lit by Ofili's dazzling paintings, like stained glass.

His architecture is photogenic in a classic "minimalist" way. But he's no minimalist. If anything, he pumps things up to the max, makes them strong-tasting; he's not interested in what he calls the "boring, passive, nice stuff" he sees built in Britain today. True, there aren't many here with his curatorial approach: maybe Will Alsop, architect of Peckham's technicolour library, or Caruso St John, whose Walsall Art Gallery certainly "makes space present". Like Adjaye, these architects have reacted against British pragmatism with architecture of a more international flamboyance.

The question is whether Adjaye can maintain the intense mood-making of his early projects, many of them just small-scale interior works, at the larger scale of his new big-league, public projects. Not content with this huge task, Adjaye has thrown an even more ambitious aim into the pot, transforming what he has rather grandly called "the architecture of the post-city", that is, the public realm.

What's left of it sits outside his office in north Hoxton, where New Labour Islington crashes into old Labour Hackney with an almighty bang: threadbare 1950s estates, cracked pavements eddying with shoppers, empty Bacardi Breezers or Dixie Chicken wrappers piled in the stagnant pools of rubbish at the edge. It's just your average fractured, half-privatised, half-sinking urban landscape, the kind that just seems to happen, gradually, when nobody's looking.

In fact, it's been a while since anyone's looked at it - properly, I mean. Every few years or so, politicians and planners have a little worry, lament the loss of the civic realm, the state of the inner city, and launch big initiatives, from Thatcher's enterprise zones to Prescott's ineffectual urban summits. But, says Adjaye, the mess of our civic landscape is not solved by the grand dictatorial planning of old. "The city's not there to be solved," he says. It's that scientific bent of the British again. "It's not about grand boulevards and trees any more, sparkling and clean. The big idea. Pure utopia! I don't wish a perfect equilibrium on the city. That's frightening."

Adjaye, instead, celebrates the vibrancy of the mess. You have to work with it, be more radical. "To me, politics is about a small idea, down there, which affects individuals." It means, architecturally, something akin to his "emotive" spaces, literally curating public space and buildings as deft pieces of place-making conceptual art to which you, the public, respond.

But it's one thing to design a cool home that communicates to one or two people. It's quite another to curate space for all society, especially when nobody's entirely sure what society looks like any more. Model citizens don't exist like they used to. People don't go to town halls, or libraries. They go to Tesco. Our civic society, like its landscape, is cracked and fragmented, multirooted, something to escape from to shopping malls, cars, gated estates. So, architecturally, it can't look as it used to, monumental porticoed town halls, fat Victorian philanthropist outside. Instead, it has to make a virtue out of its diversity, be flexible, contradictory, but uplifting. "My architectural politics are the politics of inclusivity," Adjaye says. And that's the vast aim he has set himself: what is this inclusive "architecture of the post-city" like?

He's not alone in his search. Architects have been hunting for it for 50 years, ever since they started coming up with critiques of modernism's authoritarian social reform. Postmodernism, with its cheap heritage symbolism, was one attempt at making architecture friendly to you and me. So was hi-tech, such as the Pompidou Centre, which primitively tried to make flexible space that users could manipulate. So, believe it or not, was 1960s concrete brutalism: the architects of housing estates were searching for a malleable, socially just design system for an increasingly complicated society; they ended up making prisons. After such prototypes, architects were rapped on the knuckles, told to build lofts and never to play with politics again.

Adjaye is the next generation, one he thinks is ready to disobey. And one brought up with a different way of seeing - trained, through films, computer games, CGI, the media, to expect different kinds of spaces, a sci-fi world of responsive environments. "I'm telling you, films like Minority Report, you know, with those interactive environments, where billboards know your name and you can play on those glass screens. They're coming. It's just been done in a building in Tokyo." Here's that kid in the toy shop again. "A segment of glass actually has scripts running through it. You don't know where it's coming from, but it's being pumped through the circuitry." It's a future in which private and public spaces, from bars to town halls, become fluid things, controllable by you as much as imposed upon you by architects and developers, a little like interactive TV.

It's happening. Very slowly. For now Adjaye pins his faith on his materials, felt and chocolate fudge paint, and his ability to treat emotive architecture like conceptual art, embodying in stone the different interpretations and identities required for new civic design. "I don't mean that literally. It doesn't happen in this utopian, heroic sense of the architect willing the right form, shoving up icons of culture. It's like being a conductor. There are different instruments that one has to bring together."

It's quite a task to pull off and, verbally at least, Adjaye's solution sounds woolly. I can hear his critics rubbing their hands. But, with his background, his own "inability to have roots", if anyone knows how to make sense of such complexity, it's Adjaye. This, he says, was the real strength that his convoluted childhood gave him.

His first crack at it debuts later this year, a series of libraries in east London. Except they're not libraries. They're Idea Stores, "which absolutely irritated countless people," he booms, laughing. "But there is a world out there that feels disconnected from this particular brand, the library. So you have to set up a new model. Branding is the world that we live in, as much as people hate it and want to slag it off." The Idea Store will, he says, be like a "marketplace". The first, for Whitechapel, is outside Sainsbury's. The offputting, monumental "symbolic grand narrative" of civic buildings will be replaced by something more fluid and vague, for the new fluid and vague consumer-citizen. "There are several ways of getting in. There is no front and there is no back. It's like a billboard. It projects. It has electronic messaging. It has videowalls. It has an egalitarian facade. If they decide to go and read a book, then I'm really thrilled. But if they decide to go and play on a computer game, I'm thrilled, too." He doesn't mind dancing with the devil of capitalism. But he's cynical enough to acknowledge that his ideal future of manipulable Minority Report environments might be less of a two-way conversation between architect and user, and more about you, the consumer-citizen, being manipulated by something bigger, to get you to buy.

Part of Adjaye is indeed a showman, but he's also a romantic, an old-school humanist, as every architect should be - even something of a social reformer. "Style becomes style only when it has a political and social relevance," he insists. "It's like, fashion magazine style. I'm not saying it's bad. But for me it's not enough. It doesn't have substance."

Peppering his glamour work now are projects such as the Bernie Grant centre in Tottenham, or a project for retired dockers in Shadwell, east London. "We aim to be the Robin Hood practice," he recently said. "For rich people we make things grittier, for poor people we make them glossier." He laughs. "Yeah. I said that. I have a belief that humanity is above everything." It's as much a personal mission as an intellectual one. Visiting his mentally and physically disabled brother in a series of dour care homes made him acutely aware of how mean environments can be in the public realm. For once he has an earnest expression. "The pinnacle of architecture is when all society wills to create something that emblemises what they are. Architects have to be optimists." The smile comes back. "Otherwise they'd kill themselves." And the giggle

Pierre Goudiaby Atepa | Senegalese Architect

Changing Africa

We are all observing it : Africa today has begun its own renaissance. The Atepa Group has for more than 30 years striven to participate all over the continent at the rebuilding of what was once known as one of the leading civilizations of the world.

Think of Timbuktu, the Pyramids of Egypt!

Changing Africa, by participating in the making of its future, by identifying here and there partners in business, partners in progress, to use the potentials of this rich continent and work hand in hand to make them blossom.

That is the reason why we have decided to go global. Global in the choice of our partners, global in the activities we have identified as being useful for the welfare of Africans and their partners, be it financial engineering, architecture, real estate, mining, transport, agriculture, energy.

At Atepa, we want to create conditions for win-win ventures with our partners.
So come and join us in this tremendous task of building Africa together.
Well ! we have being doing it for more than 32 years and counting.


President Founder

Pierre Goudiaby ATEPA, Bâtisseur du futur - Master-builder of the future
Interview de Mathieu Ropitault
Interview by Mathieu Ropitault

The seat of the BCEAO, the Central Bank of West African States, and the Millenary Door in Dakar, the Banjul airport, the bank of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Lomé, etc. The list of architect Pierre Goudiaby Atepa’s accomplishements is a long one. As long as his projects in progress.
Since his first achievement in 1975, the man has gone far, imposing, successfuly, his African and contemporary stamp. And if his first works still evoke admiration, he continues to bustle about numerous sites, each one more ambitious than the other.
A workaholic, Pierre Goudiaby Atepa exerts himself to do his part in the construction of a great Africa. Encounter in Dakar.

After 34 years in architecture, how do you look at your career ?
Actually, it’s gone very quickly. But that’s normal, when you do things with a passion, like I do, you don’t dwell upon the time.
Time, we live it, we don’t ask any questions and we move on. And when I realize that it’s been 28 years since I started my compagny, in fact, it’s like it was yesterday...

For several years, Senegal has been a construction site, that must be very satisfying for the architect that you are ?
It is more than a satisfaction. As for me, I am happy. I regret, however, that other architects did not follow suit. It is a criticism that I have of them because President Abdoulaye Wade invited them to participate several times, but they became enmeshed in quarrels that really made no sense.
Unfortunately, we are only three or four architects that are benefiting from this inspiration, this state of cultural and architectural effervescene. They are not all benefiting from it, and I think that’s a shame.

Is it a challenge to give Senegal a new image ?
You know, let’s not pull the wool over our eyes. Africa is the cradle of art. If African architects succeed one day in making the symbiosis between African art and modern architecture, the result will be magnificent.
I am almost 60 and I have to think about taking a rest in ten years. But I am sure that the new generation will revolutionize modern African architecture, which will have nothing to reproach itself of in terms of modernity and wich will maintain, as Senghor advocated, the true values of African civilisation.

A spanish journalist wrote that we do architecture without a complex. Not only do we want to create architecture without a complex, but we want to go beyond that. Not that we want to give others a complex, just simply to represent new modern architecture.

In 1973, you presented a thesis on the ideal African city, this city is it on the agenda today ?
It could be the same one. The ideal city had three essential properties. The first, that it be profoundly African. The second, that it is turned towards an assured modernity. The third, that it is a solar city. I had, for example, designed a solar-powered bus that was invented 15 years later. So I had thought about it without having the means to create it.

This solar city, convivial and ecological, hasn’t aged a bit. At the time it was nearly visionary, no one took it up because petroleum was 5 dollars a barrel. Today, the price has gone beyond 100 dollars !

Right now I am working on solar light bulbs, because the current solar panels that you have to position to capture the sun are not nice looking. In Africa, we are not lacking in sunshine, so let’s do something so it is aesthetic, so that people can consume solar energy and that it is a pleasant commodity.

You are putting a great deal into the African continent.
I received everything from Africa, so I must give something back to reciprocate. I don’t have anything against football players and singers but I am tired of seeing on television only Africans who sing, who dance and who play football. I am not saying to the youngers that there are better things to do, but that there isn’t only that to do. They have to go into business, change the economy.

To do that Africans have to be enterprising and not have any complexes. The wealth of tomorrow is in Africa. We have to develop it ourselves in partnership with others, in a frank collaboration that is beneficial to all, African youth must be aware of its potential, to accept that it is possible.

You have also just launched the IDEE-A initiative.
Once again it is to bring together, through new technologies, intelligence and allow Africans to participate wherever they are. If before I told Africans to come back to Africa, today I tell them to stay where they are and to use modern means of communication to develop Africa. And to develop is first of all to have ideas.
We are trying to put into synergy every competence that we can have throughout the world and locally in order to create projects for the society. That is what is important to me, to participate in an intelligent way in the development of Africa.

Among your future projects, which is the one that is the most important to do ?

I would say Diamond City in Liberia because we are starting from nothing. We are going to create, completely, a city to bring wealth to a poor country that is potentially among the richest in the world. The idea is to develop the diamond industry by creating a free trade zone to boost the Liberian economy. I will say it again, wealth must be created and everyone must benefit from it. That is how Africa will get ahead. May - june 2008

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Timbuktu | Hopes Ancient Texts Spark a Revival

August 7, 2007
Timbuktu Hopes Ancient Texts Spark a Revival
Correction Appended

*N.B. See and listen to Lydia Polgreen talking about Timbuktu.

TIMBUKTU, Mali — Ismaël Diadié Haïdara held a treasure in his slender fingers that has somehow endured through 11 generations — a square of battered leather enclosing a history of the two branches of his family, one side reaching back to the Visigoths in Spain and the other to the ancient origins of the Songhai emperors who ruled this city at its zenith.

“This is our family’s story,” he said, carefully leafing through the unbound pages. “It was written in 1519.”

The musty collection of fragile, crumbling pages, written in the florid Arabic script of the sixteenth century, is also this once forgotten outpost’s future.

A surge of interest in ancient books, hidden for centuries in houses along Timbuktu’s dusty streets and in leather trunks in nomad camps, is raising hopes that Timbuktu — a city whose name has become a staccato synonym for nowhere — may once again claim a place at the intellectual heart of Africa.

“I am a historian,” Mr. Haïdara said. “I know from my research that great cities seldom get a second chance. Yet here we have a second chance because we held on to our past.”

This ancient city, a prisoner of the relentless sands of the Sahara and a changing world that prized access to the sea over the grooves worn by camel hooves across the dunes, is on the verge of a renaissance.

“We want to build an Alexandria for black Africa,” said Mohamed Dicko, director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a government-run library in Timbuktu. “This is our chance to regain our place in history.”

The South African government is building a new library for the institute, a state-of-the-art facility that will house, catalog and digitize tens of thousands of books and make their contents available, many for the first time, to researchers. Charities and governments from Europe, the United States and the Middle East have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the city’s musty family libraries, which are being expanded and transformed into research institutions, drawing scholars from around the world eager to translate and interpret the long forgotten manuscripts.

The Libyan government is planning to transform a dingy 40-room hotel into a luxurious 100-room resort, complete with Timbuktu’s only swimming pool and space to hold academic and religious conferences. Libya is also digging a new canal that will bring the Niger River to the edge of Timbuktu.

Timbuktu’s new seekers have a variety of motives. South Africa and Libya are vying for influence on the African stage, each promoting its vision of a resurgent Africa. Spain has direct links to some of the history stored here, while American charities began giving money after Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor of African studies, featured the manuscripts in a television documentary series in the late 1990s.

This new chapter in the story of Timbuktu, whose fortunes fell in the twilight of the Middle Ages, is almost as extraordinary as those that preceded it.

The geography that has doomed Timbuktu to obscurity in the popular imagination for half a millennium was once the reason for its greatness. It was founded as a trading post by nomads in the 11th century and later became part of the vast Mali Empire, then ultimately came under the control of the Songhai Empire.

For centuries it flourished because it sat between the great superhighways of the era — the Sahara, with its caravan routes carrying salt, cloth, spices and other riches from the north, and the Niger River, which carried gold and slaves from the rest of West Africa.

Traders brought books and manuscripts from across the Mediterranean and Middle East, and books were bought and sold in Timbuktu — in Arabic and local languages like Songhai and Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg people.

Timbuktu was home to the University of Sankore, which at its height had 25,000 scholars. An army of scribes, gifted in calligraphy, earned their living copying the manuscripts brought by travelers. Prominent families added those copies to their own libraries. As a result, Timbuktu became a repository of an extensive and eclectic collection of manuscripts.

“Astronomy, botany, pharmacology, geometry, geography, chemistry, biology,” said Ali Imam Ben Essayouti, the descendant of a family of imams that keeps a vast library in one of the city’s mosques. “There is Islamic law, family law, women’s rights, human rights, laws regarding livestock, children’s rights. All subjects under the sun, they are represented here.”

One 19th-century book on Islamic practices gives advice on menstruation. A medical text suggests using toad meat to treat snake bites, and droppings from panthers mixed with butter to soothe boils. There are thousands of Korans and books on Islamic law, as well as decorated biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, some dating back a millennium, complete with diagrams of his shoes.

Mr. Haïdara is a descendant of the Kati family, a prominent Muslim family in Toledo, Spain. One of his ancestors fled religious persecution in the 15th century and settled in what is now Mali, bringing his formidable library with him. The Kati family intermarried into the Songhai imperial family, and the habit Mr. Haïdara’s ancestors had of doodling notes in the margins of their manuscripts has left an abundance of historical information: births and deaths in the imperial family, the weather, drafts of imperial letters, herbal cures, records of slaves, and salt and gold traded.

Moroccan invaders deposed the Songhai empire in 1591, and the new rulers were hostile to the community of scholars, who were seen as malcontents. Facing persecution, many fled, taking many books with them.

West African sea routes overtook the importance of the old inland desert and river trade, and the city began its long decline. When the first European explorers stumbled across the once fabled city, they were stunned at its decrepitude. René Caillié, a French explorer who arrived here in 1828, said it was “a mass of ill-looking houses built of earth.”

Mr. Caillié’s description remains accurate today. For all its vaunted legend, Timbuktu remains a collection of low mud houses along narrow, trash-choked streets backed by sand dunes, difficult to reach and unimpressive on first sight. In 1990, Unesco designated it an endangered site because sand dunes threatened to swallow it.

Many tourists who come here stay for just a day, long enough to buy a T-shirt and get their passports stamped at the local tourism office as proof they have been to the end of the earth. In a recent Internet campaign to choose the new seven wonders of the world, Timbuktu failed to make the cut, much to the chagrin of the city’s tour guides and boosters.

Yet the city has been making a slow comeback for years. Its manuscripts, long hidden, began to emerge in the mid-20th century, as Mali won its independence from France and the city was declared a Unesco world heritage site.

The government created an institute named after Ahmed Baba, Timbuktu’s greatest scholar, to collect, preserve and interpret the manuscripts. Abdel Kader Haïdara, no relation of Ismaël Diadié Haïdara, an Islamic scholar whose family owned an extensive collection of manuscripts, started an organization called Savama-DCI dedicated to preserving the manuscripts. After a visit from Mr. Gates in 1997, he was able to get help from American charities to support private family libraries. With the support of the Ford and Mellon foundations, families began to catalog and preserve their collections.

But time, scorching desert heat, termites and sandstorms have taken a toll on the manuscripts. Most were locked in trunks or kept on dusty shelves for centuries, and their pages are brittle and crumbling, waterlogged and termite-eaten. In the village of Ber, two hours of dusty track east of Timbuktu, Fida Ag Mohammed tends to several trunks of manuscripts that have been in his family, a line of Tuareg imams, for centuries.

“This is a biography of the Prophet Muhammad,” he said, gingerly lifting one manuscript bound in crumbling leather. “It is from the 13th century.”

The neat lines of Arabic script were clearly legible, but the edges of many pages had crumbled away, the words trailing off into nothingness.

Savama is in the process of building a new mud-brick library for Mr. Mohammed’s books, but until it is ready he has no means to preserve his manuscripts. To rescue their contents, if not their physical substance, he was copying the most fragile texts by hand, using an ink he makes himself out of gum.

Now, when the scorching heat of the day eases, a favored sunset activity in Timbuktu is watching the Libyan earthmovers dig the new canal. Like tiny toy trucks in a giant sandbox, they push mountains of sand to coax the Niger to flow here, bringing more water and new life to the dune-surrounded city.

“To see this machine makes me more happy because it means things are changing in Timbuktu,” said Sidi Muhammad, a 40-year-old Koranic scholar, splayed on a dune with a group of friends, gossiping and fingering their prayer beads.

The Malian government has encouraged Islamic learning to flourish here once again, and there are dozens of Koranic schools where children and adults learn to read and recite the Koran. Training programs are teaching men and women how to classify, interpret and translate the documents, as well as preserve them for future study.

Abdel Kader Haïdara, who in many ways started the renaissance by wandering the desert in search of manuscripts, persuading families to allow their treasures to see the light of day, said Timbuktu’s best days lie ahead of it.

“Timbuktu is coming back,” he said. “It will rise again.”

Correction: August 9, 2007

A front-page article and picture caption on Tuesday about a surge of interest in the ancient books and texts stored in Timbuktu, Mali, misspelled the middle name of a Timbuktu resident whose family owns a 16th century Arabic text and whose ancestors ruled the city at its zenith. He is Ismaël Diadié Haïdara, not Diadé.