A badass case of Beyoncitis

music beyonce xo A badass case of Beyoncitis

It starts with cunnilingus. Not the “Beyoncé ” album (which starts with “Pretty Hurts”) but this review. After all, when a megastar like Beyoncé dedicates a song to oral stimulation of the clitoris in a world where the opposite is more common, an emphasis is only appropriate.
OK, “Lick my skittles, it’s the sweetest in the middle” isn’t quite as bawdy as, say, Lil Kim’s “I don’t want dick tonight/ Eat my pussy right” in “Not Tonight”, but it’s daring enough to ignite my feminist pulse.

The entire album is sexually bold for a mainstream pop album. Some examples: first of all, in the thumping and infectious “Partition”, there’s a translated to french sample of Julianne Moore (in The Big Lebowski) saying, “Do you like sex? Coitus, the physical act? Men think that feminists hate sex, but it’s a very stimulating and natural activity that women love.” Just such a thing.

In “Blow” (the “lingus” song) the male dancers appear dystopian while the women having unleashed their expression of sexuality are in total control. In fact, many of the videos conjure a badass matriarchal world where women’s sexuality has been let out of its cage. This ravenous sexuality is present even in my personal favourite, “Superpower”, which is actually a song about love rather than sex. But even here, Beyoncé and her all female posse kick off a love-riot evoking an amalgamation of FEMEN, Occupy and civil rights protest.

While Beyoncé does not, unfortunately, objectify men (and I don’t mean objectify degradingly) they are hardly the subjects either. She is. A grown woman. Doing WHATEVER she wants.

Even Jay-Z who is present in many of the videos hardly appears in full body, rather we sense him. We see his back walking down a street, his hands reading a newspaper, his lips smoking a cigar. With the exception of “Drunk in Love” where he makes a full appearance, Mr Carter is a prop for Beyoncé’s sexual fantasies. V-power!

Speaking of “Drunk in Love” much attention has been given to the offensive “Eat the cake” reference in the song, and it is indeed unfortunate, but frankly, the assertiveness in the rest of the album would make the abusive ex-husband of Tina Turner roll over in his grave. That matters.

Add to all this the sample from African Feminist superhero, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, TedXEuston talk “We should all be feminists” in “Flawless“. Out of this world. Then sprinkle a level of honesty and vulnerability quite unlike the careful public profile Beyonce’s become known for. She is especially open in the ethereal tribute to motherhood, “Blue”, and to friendship, in “Heaven”.
In “Mine” Beyoncé sings: “Been having conversations about breakups and separations / I’m not feeling like myself since the baby / Are we even gonna make it? / Cause if we are, we’re taking this a little too far…” and in “Jealous” she explores how insecurity can harm a relationship.

A final point, “Beyoncé” contains no droning on about whether you can be a wife, a mother and a sexual being at the same time. You definitely can, it seems to say, but having it all ain’t easy. By contrast, “all” is a thorny, messy but altogether beautiful bouquet of female roles to fit in one vase.

Nevertheless, as honest, sexually mature and, yes, feminist as the album is, not to mention how perfect on the ear the songs are, there comes a point when you think, “Enough already!” and start looking through your iTunes library for some reeeal feminist shit, y’know, Fiona Apple or something.

Have you listened to/watched the album? thoughts?

In praise of, Beyoncé.

 In praise of, Beyoncé.I can’t believe I fell for your schemes, I’m smarter than that/So dumb and naive to believe that with me you’re a changed man/Foolish of me to compete when you cheat with those women
/It took me some time, but now I moved on/Cause I realized I got/Me, myself and I/That’s all I got in the end/That’s what I found out/And it ain’t no need to cry/I took a vow that from now on/I’ma be my own best friend

The lyrics above once saw me through a break-up. Whenever I listened to Me, Myself and I (which was often at that point) I felt empowered and even excited to be single again after a relationship breaking me to pieces. The song spoke to my inner feminist.

Feminism is a journey rather than a destination, it is a tool that we use to unpatriarchalise our lives. And it’s a damn good one at that, the best I’d say. But more about that another time, suffice to say for now that feminism “in a way” a la Beyoncé is simply one feministic journey. It isn’t perfect nor is it my personal ideal. For one, it’s terribly class centred with its focus on how a woman can buy empowerment. (More of my Beyoncé-related analyses here, here and here.) Sometimes she gets it incredibly wrong and other times, homegirl’s on to something.

Now Beyoncé’s GQ feature photos are hot. They are also objectifying in a reductive way. But they’re a ferociously smart move within the main currency that she trades with, namely desire.

While I don’t entirely disagree with Hadley Freeman that Beyoncé being photographed in her underwear doesn’t help feminism, what is more important than how sexualised a woman is willing to be portrayed as, is to raise consciousness to a level where women understand that desire, and glamour, are not the only, let alone the most rewarding currencies to “trade with” for they are indexed in the tempestuous male-gaze-stock-exchange.

However, to the extent that we all have some femme fatale in us – and if not, this archetype is one to engage with (even if critically), for she dares to be creative, powerful, serious, troublesome, seductive and sexy at the same time and say “Fuck you” to anyone who questions her – there are few world-famous icons who embody her better than ‘Queen Bey’.




Huffington Post: Hair-Raising Conversations

 Huffington Post: Hair Raising ConversationsFollowing another week of hair-related scandals in entertainment and sports, my latest HuffPo article argues that there is more to the black hair conversation than shallowness or self loathing and that as long as black hair aesthetics are part of a complex social structure we should engage with the conversations critically rather than silence them or mock them for being superficial.

In a discussion on the MsAfropolitan FB page following the article, I wrote:

“We should be careful to trivialize the hair conversation because when we do, rather than critically engage with it, we also trivialize within its context the parallel conversation taking place, namely that which is dealing with such issues as internalized racism, the way beauty and sexism are linked, the process of healing from continued racist ideas in society, the commodification of white supremacist beauty ideals in black communities, bonding between black women over a shared hair trajectory, recreating ourselves and healing our bodies, and more. For many women, including myself, the process of quitting relaxing was one of healing and even though I’m aware that for many others it was an insignificant moment to do with finances/time, I think that the fact that the discussions are so rampant is a sign that they are needed and that we actually still do live in a society where black hair in all its many variations is a highly politicized issue [...] I think that by trivialising it we ignore the social relations that are being expressed. When black hair aesthetics are no longer part of a complex social structure, the convo will gradually fade out but in the meantime I think we should engage with it critically rather than silence it.”


What are your thoughts on talking hair politics? Can we separate the superficial from the psychological, cultural and political?

Read the original Huffington Post article here.


Read related posts

A tribute to the black hair conversation

The fashion and politics of natural hair

Beyonce, skin colour and carrots

skin color project 296x300 Beyonce, skin colour and carrots

Beyonce was crowned most beautiful woman in the world by People Magazine this week and that resurfaced the skin colour topic with many debating whether the light skinned Beyonce is an accurate representation of “Black Beauty”.

The skin colour conversation is important, crucial even, for similar reasons that I think we should upkeep the hair conversation. It’s one we absolutely must keep having until society changes and there is no more need for it. That isn’t the case right now. Colourism is a problem. What we could call “Light-skin Privilege” enables black people of lighter complexions to more easily fit into the rigid boxes that society allows us to be human within. I’m not saying easily. But more easily. Why is that? This simple question should lead the query because it exposes the intention behind these hierarchies.
If we define our human value by the parameters of society, then the darker the woman the less her capacity to self-realize. If she furthermore is queer, or living in financial poverty, then there are even bigger obstacles. Why do we allow this insanity to continue?

However, whilst refusing to stop discussing and exposing the ways in which society works against or for us, we should also actively oppose that a society which we know is skewed defines our parameters of humanness.We should love our skin whether it’s mixed race yellow-brown or Latin American rosy-bronze or African deep brown or white as milk. Or red-black. Or palmoil-brown. Or ivory-blue. And so on. Skin is skin and there are endless shades of it. Some say 3000.

That said there are two things that make the topic of women and skin colour a sensitive one. The first is our collective memory of trauma. Memories that include histories of racism, genocide, shame, humiliation, misogyny, violence and so on. Whether its Swedish politicians laughing at caricature cakes of African women or French ones raping black hotel staff or male rappers saying that they only like women with light skin, these collective memories are often triggered by media, social institutions, everyday racism etc. and they pick on a psychological wound that we have been plastering and renaming and not letting heal.

However, there is a difference between being traumatized by history and being a prisoner of history.
To stop being prisoners of history we must seek to “un”traumatize our minds. To do that requires first of all that we acknowledge that we still need to decolonize our thinking, to stop being the “other” in order to become the “self”. So what if some (white) magazine says that this is what (black) beauty looks like. That does not mean that we must measure ourselves against their choice. As long as we are having these conversations the psychololgical decolonization process that Franz Fanon and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o have written about isn’t complete. We should engage but ask if our contribution to the conversation will help to complete the process or move it backward.

We can talk skin tone politics either emotionally, coming from that place of collective hurt, or we can address it from a desire to turn it up, down and around and understand it with clarity. The two need to exist but in separate spaces. An example of an intellectual dialogue about skin colour is the (1)Drop project. And a seeming example of an emotional dialogue  is “Dark Girls”. Seeming, because I haven’t seen it yet so I’m guessing from the trailer.

In 1934 Ernest Hemingway wrote in a letter to Scott Fitzgerald that the latter needs to forget his personal tragedy to become a better writer. He said:

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.

When it comes to discussions on skin color and identity, I think those words can guide the conversation. No matter the skin-colour related personal tragedies we all have, we must use the hurt, not let it use us. I hope. Pray.

The second thing that makes skin colour a sensitive topic for women is gender. Making women believe in an idealized type of feminine beauty is a business and it’s supported by copious amount of money. But if we can see the absurdity of this, it becomes impossible to engage in that debate in a way that affects our self-image.

The absurdity is this. At some point in history some of our dear ancestors decided that uniformity was the way forward. The ideal became that we should all look the same, live the same way, marry at the same age in the same format, define success in the same terms and so on.

Take for example carrots. In their original form may take any of the following shapes

 Beyonce, skin colour and carrots



But with some help from modern day farming technology most carrots look like this.

carrots anyone  300x201 Beyonce, skin colour and carrots

Women, who are also human beings, nowadays look something like this in their thirties


WOMEN+DIVERSE+GROUP Beyonce, skin colour and carrots

Women, as commodities in this same system of endless consumerism and infinite self-improvement, at any age, of any race, strive to look like

mackie face from my collection 300x224 Beyonce, skin colour and carrots

Why? Because Barbie-girl sells. She sells music. She sells movies. She sells cars , she sells perfume and she even promotes animal rights. So every year, recession or no recession, plastic surgery stats keep increasing giving more and more clout to the singular comatose feminine ideal.

This may all sound quite obvious but to be honest most of the skin colour debates I read makes me think that we actually need to go back to basics. We need to find a way that we can neither sweep this conversation under the carpet nor attach to it even more trauma for future generations. What do you think? Is there a progressive way to discuss the topic?




Some thoughts on Ashley Judd’s definition of patriarchy

dsc0069 198x300 Some thoughts on Ashley Judd’s definition of patriarchyIn the unlikely case that you missed actress Ashley Judd’s smashing op-ed piece on media’s misogynist practices, then start by reading it here.

It’s truly a landmark piece in its bringing to the mainstream forefront both the f-word (feminism) and the p-word (patriarchy) and the ways in which the latter impacts relationships not only between the state and women but between women ourselves. Ohh yes, we are every bit as guilty according to Ashley Judd.

I don’t entirely agree with that, and I also missed from the article, a critical engagement with the very real fact that a large amount of celebs are smooth-stitched and botox-pumped up. I guess you can’t have it all!

Another angle that was missing, but which to be fair isn’t Ashley Judd’s prerogative to discuss, was how patriarchy operates outside of Euro-American spaces. So voila, here I am to the rescue with one perspective on this. I doubt it will have an equally wide appeal, mind you icon wink Some thoughts on Ashley Judd’s definition of patriarchy

First of all, Judd’s definition of patriarchy:

Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

When you think of this as a person of African heritage, what does it mean? It still applies, right? But there are more points to observe.
First of all, the mind-boggling thing about patriarchy is that it is so enduring. We don’t know of a time in modern history when women of a racial/ethnic group were not disadvantaged vis-a-vis men of the same racial/ethnic group. I make this racial/ethnic distinction because, of course, we know of times (including this current one) when women of differing race and/or class may have social advantages over men of other race and/or class.

Thing is, patriarchy is a sly and devious motha-fucka! It operates in different ways accross times and regions. But the bottom line is that it uses law, tradition, force, ritual, customs, education, language, labour (etc.) to keep women subordinate to men.

It’s telling that, feminism, the tool that women across the world have used in its many different variations to challenge patriarchy, is seen as evil and confrontational and that feminists are believed, falsely, to be women who (if heterosexual) can’t get laid. Although, of course, we are all lesbians because no sane heterosexual woman would call herself a feminist, would she? Sigh.

For the African patriarchy (okay, okay, the system BUT also the men who promote it…), women’s inequality in Africa is often seen as having nothing to do with our precolonial traditions and everything to do with the gender roles legacy of imperialism, colonialism and religion.

Indeed, when we trace the historical origins of patriarchy in Africa, it is true that racism, colonialism and judeo-christian and Islamic religion gave ammo to the gender inequality machinery but that’s not the entire picture. There was an often-symbiotic relationship between colonial officials and African leaders when it came to controlling women. Colonial governments tolerated practices such as child betrothal, dowry and polygamy so that they could uphold rural authority and chiefs and rulers tolerated the import of western values through missionary education and legislation so that they could maintain the economic benefits they gained from the colonialists. The control of women was no novelty, it all just took on a different form, for better or for worse!

Any thoughts on this, or on puffy faces? (God, forgive me!!)


photo by: Genevieve719

7 essential tips for natural hair

girl in pink with beautiful hair braids 300x223 7 essential tips for natural hairWhen I posted an article somewhat up against hair weaves some weeks ago, one of my close friends was in a salon getting a weave. In fact she was reading the post as the hair was getting sewn. Later on that night when we met up, I was expecting to see a woman feeling fly off the hairdresser’s chair but instead I met one who was disgruntled with her new do. You see what I mean, I said in my best know-it-all way, hair weaves are just too much hassle! She looked great though, I thought, but the next day she was back at the salon getting it all reworked on. Of course this was the perfect opportunity for me to impose my hair views on her!

I think the growing number of women opting for natural hair instead of relaxers and weaves is good in a political sense. But I never judge a woman by what’s on her head.

Anyway, here are some natural hair tricks that I’ve come to rely on since I stopped maltreating my hair. Do you have any you would add?

1. Moisturize more than seems sane.

What are the three words every woman with natural hair needs to hear? They aren’t ‘I love you’ (although that’s nice too), they are ‘leave-in conditioner’. It doesn’t necessarily matter which type you use, but how much you use. I suggest a very generous amount morning and night.

2. Make the investment

When it comes to the tools you use on your hair, invest in the best you can afford. Buy high quality straighteners, combs, rubber bands etc. or you might end up paying the price in restorative treatments.

3. Less is more.

In the unlikely case that your name is Rihanna, you really don’t need to surprise your co-workers with a new do every day. Find a hassle-free hairstyle that suits you and stick to it, at least for the most part. Your hair will thank you for it.

4. Wrap up.

Head wraps are not only a flattering accessory, they are also a great way to keep your hair protected from the big bad environment. Buy some gorgeous print scarves and wrap up your curls.

5. Treat your hair like silk.

You know that favourite dress of yours? The one you delicately wash by hand, iron at minimal heat and fold like it was a baby? Treat your hair like you treat that dress, it’s worth even more. Do not over pull or over heat your hair.

6. Salons are evil.

Don’t ever visit a salon that you don’t know, or that hasn’t been recommended to you by a trustworthy friend. A year’s worth of damage can happen in a few hours in the hands of an incompetent hairdresser.

7. Love your hair.

This is the most important tip. You must love your hair to keep it in good condition. If you think that your hair is unmanageable and/or unprofessional then you’re better off fixing a weave. If you’re ready to love that which is uniquely yours, it will love you back in return.

Any you’d add?

Sex, Religion and Hair Weaves

dreams Sex, Religion and Hair Weaves


Havelock Ellis, one of the most successful sexologists of the 20th century believed that sexual intercourse between men and women was based on animal courtship which he defined as “the pursuit and conquest of the male”. The female, he said, plays a game where she pretends to resist in order to be caught. He saw homosexuality, for which he coined the term, as inborn rather than immoral. However, he also labeled it a sexual inversion. Although considered a progressive of his time he supported eugenics and other odd notions such as male sexuality being naturally violent and that women (yawn) should surrender to sex in order to prevent divorce.

Not so much has changed unfortunately. The heteronormative, patriarchal and hypersexed hegemony on the sexual narrative is most obvious in porn and in its influence on human consciousness. From advertising to music videos to escort services to game consoles, women’s oppression is sexualized and conflated with desire. Sexuality is complex, as humans are, so I think people who like to watch porn should watch porn, in fact I especially think that women should watch porn. What I’m concerned with is what it tells us about the state of people’s ideas of sex when the global porn industry was estimated at $96bn in 2006, with more than 13,000 films released annually, 4.2m porn websites and 68m search engine requests for porn daily. Something ain’t right, surely?

I see sex as an exploration of intimacy not just with my partner but as Audre Lorde so eloquently spoke of, I also find the erotic is part of my capacity to experience joy in the way my body responds to art, dancing, poetry, yoga, research, food… As women we need to reeducate ourselves about sexuality, to find our “internal erotic guides” (Lorde, again). We need to find ideas that challenge the legacies of people like Ellis and his disciples.

In African Sexualities, there is a piece by Nkiru Nzegwu on Osunality (or African eroticism) where unlike the dominant ideas in 20th century sexology, the penis is not in charge. Instead the vagina is seen as the dominant organ as it swallows the penis, it pulls it and makes it disappear during heterosexual sex. Spiritual leaders like Malidoma and Sobonfu Some’ offer alternative views on queerness by explaining that for the Dagara, LGBT people are key to the balance of society and so homophobia does not take place.

In the west there is vaginal mutation like labioplasty, and African patriarchs like their western counterparts are guilty of controlling women’s sexuality through practices like labia elongation and infibulation so I’m not meaning to turn this into an Africa/west-thing. My point is simply that our sexual views in society at large are off-key and that the road(s) to intimacy will not be televized.


Um, I apologize in advance to people rebranding Africa, but it seems the majority of our countries are in crisis. Crises that are rarely put in the historical context of slavery, colonialism and imperialism in which they belong. Crises in debt, development, poverty, political instability. Crises in education. In culture. Crises, between spirituality and intellect.

Here’s a clip of me speaking about growing up in an interfaith household on Channel 4 last year. I was saying that I’m not religious but that religion has enriched my life. I’ve written about our muslim/christian/Ifa household also here. I think that everyone has an individual path to divine relationship and I do believe that such is desirable.

However, to address the critical situation we have to unravel the myth from rational thought. For example, someone might say that on a personal level they don’t think there’s anything sinful with homosexuality, but on a spiritual level they disapprove because their church does. That’s not an example of separating the intellect from myth. Neither is looking to God to tackle such problems as Boko Haram. We are crippled by an understandable but nevertheless sleep inducing religiosity. Understandable, because the crises have pushed us to live in a never ending mass or salah, praying for an end to suffering. But those of us who have been privileged with education, with access to a rich cultural archive, with a space for self-reflection, we need to look at religion as practised by Africans both intellectually and spiritually. This is an example of an intellectual discussion about religion.

We need to increasingly engage in a dialogue about shaping our societies without giving religious institutions the exclusive position to dictate morality. We need to address — point by point — that most religions place the white, heterosexual, male as superior (God) of other races, sexualities and genders and what that means for all Africans. We need to dig deep into our psyches in order to understand history and present, not a rebranded interdependency or a derogatory narrative of Africa. But to do so we need first of all to stop waiting for God’s miracles. God will not save us unless we want to save ourselves. As writer Niyi Osundare says “The kind of religion we have in Nigeria is one that puts you to sleep, and after that, puts you to death.” I’d say this applies to most of Africa.

Hair weaves

The last (and first) time I got a weave was in 2004. I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and I was going to a barbecue with friends later that day. It was a summer’s day, the mood felt elated and I remember feeling quite pleased with my new look as I stepped out of the salon on to Church Avenue in East Flatbush, the long bushy hair tickling my neck. A few days later, to everyone’s astonishment, I took the damn thing out. The discomfort was too much.

Some say that beauty is pain. And I’m sure I could have gotten used to the itching and heaviness, but a part of me felt reluctant to see it through. Some days after taking the weave out I even ended up cutting all my (relaxed) hair off. I guess I was going through an unplanned catharsis. I hadn’t had hair so short hair since I was a toddler. For the first week or so, my heart sank every time I saw myself in a mirror. I felt less feminine. Then I started to feel emboldened by not being able to hide behind my hair. I liked how my new hairdo was low maintenance. I enjoyed the way my lover’s hands were constantly ruffling my head. I was going natural although I can’t remember if that”s the term that was used then. My friends warned me that I was crazy, that they could never do the same with their hair type. They joked that I thought I had good hair and that’s why I was acting insane. But at the time I thought my hair was unmanageable. Yet I was slowly learning that it was exactly the opposite. It was much more manageable than it had ever been. Today I have the same hair that I bought and attached to my head eight years ago and it’s great that it doesn’t itch.

A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

If creativity isn’t about community in one-way or another it is dull at worst and provoking at best. Artists that manage to emphasize the spiritual, aesthetic and social elements of living are those that bring to us gifts of understanding.

Artists that exemplify this idea are musicians like K’Naan, Baaba Maal, Nneka, Blitz the Ambassador, Fela, Simphiwe Dana. Architects like David Adjaye. Fashion designers like Oumou Sy and Alphadi. Film producers like Ousmane Sembène. Writers like Wole Soyinka, Tsitsi Dangarembga and many more.

I’m not meaning that an artist’s work should mould into a box of clustered interest, rather I’m critiquing how in the absence of a social purpose of creativity, successful creative talents are treated as demigods. This individual-centered mentality is what upholds the idolatry and superstar mentality we have. Once an artist gets addicted to fame, and they often do, their art risks becoming repetitive.

I found it almost impossible to narrow down the following list of female contemporary painters of African heritage to seven, so this post may soon have a follow up. To start with, however, the work of these artists has been of recent inspiration to me and particularly for the reasons spoken about above. Their work explores spaces of womanhood, race, patriarchy, feminine deities and much more.

1. Catherine Anyango

heartofdarkness9 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Catherine Anyango – Heart of Darkness, illustration, 2006

I came accross Catherine Anyango’s work at RCA Black, an exhibition curated by the AACDD at the Royal College of Art, which for the first time brought together the work of the college’s African and African Caribbean art and design alumni, past and present. Catherine Anyango is a Swedish/Kenyan artist and film producer. The publication of her graphic novel adaptation of Heart of Darkness was met with critical acclaim and it is from this collection that this encompassing piece is taken from. I am enchanted by the figures in the background! What do you think is happening in this painting?


2. T. S. Abe

Screen shot 2011 09 10 at 22.57.04 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

T S Abe, Ray Willows Rays

At only 22, Abe’s drawings have already graced a multitude of mediums; from album covers to exhibition walls to prestigious magazines and a London bus. It’s no surprise, I find her sketches mind-bogglingly real looking. I mean this self portrait looks like a photo, right? Amazing.


3. Adelaide Damoah

and now A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art
Adelaide Damoah, And Now
Art to me is a reflection of the spirit of the times, the very definition of the term Zeitgeist. Every time I create a piece it is a reflection of something from that time, from that moment. Something personal or something which reflects society. Either way, it is a way of documenting. I strive to avoid censorship so that I may progress in my ability to express and relate through my work each time I create a new piece
These are the words of Adelaide Damoah who is currently also running “Art Success,” a series of interviews with visual artists from around the world discussing the concept of success to be read on her blog. Her Supermodels collection, that this piece belongs to, captures quite daringly the imprisonment many women face in the name of beauty.
4. Pia Cabble
pia e1315686762628 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art
Pia Cabble, Amazons Answer
Pia is a Finnish/African American artist currently based in London. Her work is based on three concepts; ancient civilizations, like those of the Mayans, Egyptians, Persians etc.; the female body and its goddess-like qualities and the meaning of ritual around the world. She works with items that are used or recycled, including her canvases. The piece pictured here is for example painted on a piece of recycled plywood where someone had written the famous words of JFK,”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Talk about character!

5. Shiri Achu

Screen shot 2011 09 10 at 22.36.52 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Shiri Achu, Prince Sokoro in the middle

Shiri Achu was born in Cameroon and now splits her time between her country of origin, the UK and the USA. Her art seeks to capture the spirit of her subjects and draws insight from her travels, from Africa to still objects, from the human form to the human in action. I find her pieces, of which some by the way are available in the MsAfropoolitan Boutique, to be enthralling because they simulataneously capture the fragile beauty of life whilst also exploring the darker, morbid side of humanness.


6. Mickalene Thomas

Thomas Mickalene WhateverYouWant A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Mickalene Thomas, Instant Gratification, 2005

I am a huge fan of Mickalene Thomas! The New Y ork-based artist’s work explores and challenges the representation and objectification of women, and black women in particular. Her work stems from her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life. She explores notions of beauty from a contemporary feminist perspective infused with the more recent influences of popular culture and urban cool edginess. This piece makes me think of hip hop, erotica, blaxploitation female heroes and artist/model Betty Davis.


7. Tamara Natalie Madden

 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Tamara Natalie Madden, Ambiguity

Last year the lovely Afri-Love blog posted an interview with Tamara Natalie Madden and since then I’ve been haunted by her work. In a good way! I think it’s the bird theme in her paintings mixed with the beautiful colours and flowery illustrations that evoke something ethereal in me. In the interview, when asked how Africa inspires her, she replied:

Africa inspires most of my art. I am from Jamaica, but I see Africa every where. The beautiful people, their amazing skin tones, their full lips and thick hair – all of that inspires me. I am inspired by the strength of the people, and I am inspired by their pride and inherent power, and I see royalty in all of them. That is why I paint the images that I paint. African people all over the world have been looked down upon, pushed aside, and their beauty hasn’t been appreciated. I want my work to show that we are decendants of royalty, and that inherently we are all kings and queens.


On that note, how do these painting inspire you? How do you define artistic success?

The fashion and politics of natural hair

5449260341 7d1ebe0be7 The fashion and politics of natural hairIt’s understandable that many of us are tired of talking about hair . There’s so much around this topic.

However, I’m not at all exhausted with the hair topic yet.
I think we should keep talking about hair because our strands are bearers of shared cultural experiences. I don’t think the hair conversation is about vanity. I believe we are explicitly and/or implicitly also talking about culture and history when we talk of hair. You know, things like the ‘good hair’ phenomenon, western and non-western beauty ideals, career hairdos and more. I reckon that when those types of concerns are no longer part of our social fabric then the conversation will end.

I think one reason people would rather kill the conversation is because they think it’s shallow. And they are right to an extent; for example there’s an abundance of natural hair blogs that simply copy and paste information and pretend to be doing something avant-garde. Then there are those that provide inspirational resources like my new blog subscriptions; Natural Belle and urban bush babes. Love them!

There are 3 reasons why I stopped relaxing my hair:

1. It occurred to me that if I dislike the hair that grows out of my head naturally then there’s some part of my identity that I need to have a reassuring conversation with.
2. After having that conversation I admitted to myself that I wanted hair that had nothing to do with my heritage because I’m neither Indian nor in any way equine.
3. I wanted healthy hair.

So the transition to natural hair was for me a step towards accepting myself inside and out. And with every little curl that grew I felt a sense of healing, I felt like I owed my hair an apology for thinking that it was unattractive and unmanageable for too long.
As Lorette, a locktician and commenter on the post ‘A tribute to the black hair conversation’ said:

I find that sometimes women come to me with the physical manifestations (damaged hair) of spiritual damage due to the years of trying to live up to false representations of women of colour. When I “fix” a womans hair it is usualy one step on a journey of self discovery and growth and affects their whole personas and life out look and supports them on their road to achieve balance. I am blessed to be part of these womens evolutions.

Many women today are again abandoning relaxers and natural hair is moving into the mainstream. With that move natural hair becomes less of a political and more of a fashion statement, which in return means that natural hair becomes commodified for advertising. And I don’t see a problem with that, in the sense that it’s preferable to be bombarded with adveritsing for products that include scrumptious ingredients like coconut, shea and cocoa butter rather than no-lye, am I right? But I’m wondering, must it be either/or? In between the fashion and marketing frenzy of natural tresses, is there space to discuss this new found love for our ‘hairitage’? Where has it come from? Does it have to do with the spirit of the times; of the Afropolitan and other Africa-centric movements? & will the relaxer eventually become an embarrassing memory, like it has for men of African heritage or is it here to stay as a staple product in African heritage hair culture?

cc The fashion and politics of natural hair photo credit: tibchris

Listed as 1 of 7 African diaspora women using fashion for change

RS1 Listed as 1 of 7 African diaspora women using fashion for change

©Rob Sheppard photography - V&A Afropolitans

Do you know of the Africa Centre in London’s Covent Garden?

If you don’t it’s a kind of home away from home for Africans in London. It hosts regular events of interest to diaspora groups, it sells books and other lovely products and it’s of historic significance. Despite this, it was revealed this year that the trustees plan to sell it. Leaders like Desmond Tutu and Ngugu Wa Thiongo spoke out against the sale and now the plans have been postponed by a year thanks to the hard work of the Save the Africa Centre campaign. Please visit their pages and sign the petition.

In conjunction with the many fashion themed events coming up at the Africa Centre this fall, Sheila Ruiz, programming and communications consultant for the centre put together a list of seven African diaspora women here in London who are using fashion for progressive change. I’m included icon smile Listed as 1 of 7 African diaspora women using fashion for change

Anna Njie is the founder of Beauty in Business and she also organised Fashion4Africa at the Africa Centre last December. The Fashion4Africa showcase is a fundraising initiative that was inspired by a cultural study into African tourism, which helped to identify the amazing potential within the modern African textiles industries, African fashion, culture music and arts from all states of the continent.

Chinelle Anichebe is one of the organisers behind Africa Rocks. This year’s Africa Rocks Expo event will take place on Sunday 23 October, as part of Black History month as well as marking Nigerian Independence day celebrations. The main three themes of the event will be connecting with the culture, being inspired and opportunities in Nigeria. The country focus of the expo will change annually. Expo attractions will include Fela tribute, seminars, inspirational Nigerian panels, fashion shows, African arts & craft exhibition, networking sessions, music, high profile guests and more.

Denise Mahmud is a professional fashion designer and runs her own clothing company called Moixa Clothing. Denise also runs a parallel project called Mosaic which is a new home and lifestyle event that offers a platform for established and emerging businesses owned by African, African-Caribbean and African Diaspora to showcase and promote their products. Mosaic 2011 will be held at the Africa Centre on 15-16 October to coincide with Black History Month and celebrate the “International Year for People of African Descent” by showcasing the creativity, diversity and entrepreneurship of these businesses. Denise’s aim is to grow Mosaic in to an annual event.

Edna Kidd is the founder of Edna Kidd PR, a fashion PR agency. On Saturday 17thSeptember, Edna will be hosting a one-day event at the Africa Centre to coincide with London Fashion Week and to give designers from black, ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to be in the fashion industry spotlight. This event is also intended to take place annually.

Jacqueline Shaw is a professional fashion designer as well as an eco-entrepreneur. Jacqueline is organising an event at the Africa Centre on September 9th to launch her website Africa Fashion Guide and the complimentary coffee table book ‘Fashion Africa’ showcasing contemporary African fashion. Jacqueline conceived of the website with the focus to promote the African fashion and textile industry to the greater global textile industry. Africa Fashion Guide is a not-for-profit social enterprise and a one-stop shop for fashion professionals, students, retailers, magazines, bloggers and all those interested in promoting African fashion and the textiles industry to bring links between African designers, crafts people, manufacturers and textile designers and UK, EU fashion design companies and consumer markets, as well as with retailers worldwide.

Finally, there’s Minna Salami! Minna is a multi-talented woman who is a writer, media consultant and a gender and cultural commentator. She put together the ‘What is an Afropolitan?’ panel discussion and the ‘Rise of Afropolitan Fashion’ fashion show at the Friday Late Afropolitans at the V&A Museum in June. Minna runs an online shop called the MsAfropolitan Boutique which aims to showcase, promote and sell a hand-picked range of products made by African Diaspora women whilst also telling the stories of all the featured brands in an interview series.

I hope you enjoy the links, I certainly did.  The fashion industry can be so damaging to African women by creating media stereotypes etc. that I feel really inspired to know about these and many other projects that are using fashion positively. What do you think of using fashion to create change?

I’d also like to point you to to two other online shopping portals for sublime African fashion, agnesandlola.com and myasho.com.

Fela in Lagos, reflections and ruminations

Picture 4 Fela in Lagos, reflections and ruminations

I don’t know what to make of the Finnish elections last weekend, where the nationalist True Finns party won 39 seats of a 200-seat parliament.

The Nigerian elections, which have led to violent clashes in Northern Nigeria where hundreds of people have now died, sadden me even more so.

To make sense of things, I tried to find similarities between the Finnish and Nigerian elections, which took place simultaneously, but I could not find a single link flowing through my Finn-Nigerian blood other than the timing.

Ultimately, the things I love about Nigeria and Finland are not affected by the elections. One’s soul has no political or ideological affiliation.

Being Finnish and Nigerian, I’ve always wanted to find links between the two apart from myself. One such association that always amused me is the story of Nigerian musical legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, forgetting one of his twenty-seven wives at the airport in Helsinki, Finland’s capital.

On Thursday at the Fela in Lagos show, the role of the wives was ever-present. Ah, the Queens!

When asked what attracted him to his wives, or his Queens as he referred to them as, Fela once said:

“Sex! I thought they were sexy and fuckable. That’s what attracts me to a woman first … It grew into something else after though. Something special…Did I sleep with all of them on the night of the marriage? No. Man, I said I married twenty-seven, not seven!”

After his longest stunt in prison Fela returned to his home, the Kalakuta Republic, to find that some of his wives had new boyfriends and some had even born children for other men.

Patriarchal and chauvinistic as he had been, Fela now refrained from any accusations of infidelity. He understood his wives, he said. Shortly after he divorced the Queens but those who wanted to were welcome to remain in his Kalakuta home. The reason he gave for the divorce was:

“People marry because they are jealous. People marry because they are possessive. People marry because they are selfish. All this comes to the very ugly fact that people want to own and control other people’s bodies. I think the mind of human beings should develop to the point where that jealous feeling should be completely eradicated.” – Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

When Fela died in 1997, he was a tormented man. Although he suffered from AIDS, the disease, which he himself never in fact acknowledged, was not the entire cause of his pain. Instead his agony arose from a life dedicated to empowering Africans through activist work and getting little in return. Despite the sacrifices he made for his countrymen – the turning down of huge amounts of ‘dirty’ money from record labels; the weekly donations of his accumulated wealth to his community; the establishment of the Shrine; the multiple and soul-destroying imprisonments; the telling the truth at all costs – in spite of all he suffered for his people, Fela felt his attempts to create any significant change were unsuccessful, the masses were too brainwashed by ‘colonial mentality’. As stories of heroes such as Fela often end, it was not until he died that his sacrifices became fully appreciated.

Sahr Ngaujah plays Fela in the critically acclaimed musical which now has also arrived in Fela’s hometown, Lagos. The false Nigerian accent takes away from the magic of Fela, but what the portrayal truly lacks is actually the poignant and intense passion for political justice that drove Fela to pursue his musical career. Fela’s music is not primarily about dance, or fashion, but about pain. If you listen carefully, almost every song is characterized by a deeply entrenched agony over Africa’s maltreatment, and of African’s blindness to this maltreatment.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Ngaujah was great, the musical is vibrant and its aim is to make the audience feel good which it does. As such, it represents one side of Fela’s life eloquently, the beautiful Queens, their energetic African dancing, the magnificent Afrobeat energy of the music. Sahr Ngaujah does a very decent service to Fela in that light. On the other end, however, the side of Fela’s life that he suffered sorrow, tears and blood for – the political and spiritual activism– that side of his, Ngaujah was unable to capture.

The question is, could anyone?

Tickets for Fela in Lagos are available here.

Fashion really is not for African women and VOGUE’s Black Allure proves it

 Fashion really is not for African women and VOGUEs Black Allure proves itI hate to be a spoilsport, but I don’t see anything fabulous about Vogue’s Black Allure shoot.

In the unlikely case that you have missed it, as marketing gimmicks like this are hard to miss, here’s the link to the photos and the video.

Unlike most of the criticism the editorial has received, my issue with it is not so much that it’s segregational to have an occasional Asian or black issue of a magazine that 99% of the time seem to forget that we exist, although that criticism also seems valid. But I can understand, that with the 2008 black issue selling so well that VOGUE went to reprint for the first time ever, they would want a repeat. Vogue’s editor, Franca Sozzani, may argue against the gimmicky nature of this issue and try to convince us that this was a politically conscious decision. Spare us Sozzani, you are a business, not a charity. That’s why I forgive you, you’re thinking about your sales. Be honest and spare us the rest.

My criticism is actually towards black and ‘minority’ women: Those who once took solace in that, although greatly excluded from the western high-market fashion industry, at least we weren’t being sold that particular look of starvation, submission and exploitation as something fashionable. Lo and behold, we get a VOGUE editorial that manages to incorporate all three and we seem to be doing cartwheels over the fact that we too can play, we too can have images of subordinated brown women shoved in our faces. Yay!

I was unable to find a single black fashion blog, and many blogged about this (as VOGUE no doubt pre-calculated), that had anything negative to say about either the exploiting or segregational nature of the Black Allure spread despite that the video looks like it could be an ad for a brothel.

I blogged about the fashion industry not being for African women before, and these trends give me a new reason to say so. There is nothing empowering about all these black models with cigarettes in their hands, acting out lesbian fantasies for the male gaze in these photos from ARISE, VOGUE and Interview magazines for example.

 Fashion really is not for African women and VOGUEs Black Allure proves it

ba4 Fashion really is not for African women and VOGUEs Black Allure proves it

It’s not all gloom however, there are also many brands, (like those in my online shop ), and these and these and these that are much better.

What do you think, can ‘ethnic’ groups participate in high fashion on their own terms, or do we have to accept that its their way or the highway and be happy to be part of the industry?

Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?

tumblr lf6udt00sR1qfa5zko1 500 Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?Returning to the race topic, not because I love talking about it but because it makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is good.

I also do think we have become too p.c. in how we tackle racial tensions. I agree we should be speaking of them delicately, but honestly. And like I already touched on in my last post, I also think that white people should talk about racism more because the discussion seems to be dominated by other races. I should clarify that I don’t mean that white people should be talking about racism from an angle of  guilt, because why should anyone take the blame for something they themselves are not guilty of, and perhaps also feel victim of. What I do mean, is that the racism conversation cannot be one-dimensional or it’s not going to go anywhere but round in circles. Where concerning race, white people should be engaging in conversations of what it means to be white, and to have white privilege and/or white guilt, the way other racial groups engage in what it means to be black/brown/Asian etc. In a sense, we cannot heal unless we do it together.

Writing this reminds me of a conversation I overheard the other day whilst in a grocery shop. I was by the till and ahead of me in the queue was a white couple.

“Grab some chewing gum also please,” the woman said to her partner who was standing nearer the gum section.

“Which one do you want?” He asked.

“The black one over there,” she replied pointing at a black chewing gum packet.

“Feeling naughty eh,” her partner teased to which she side-glanced at me and punched his ribs.

Make of that what you will, but it made me reflect over sexual and racial stereotypes. Of how just hearing the word black (or blonde or mixed race or Latin) can bring sexual images to people’s minds.

I started to wonder, what are the sexual stereotypes out there? And well, I’m just touching on this topic for now, and focusing on female stereotypes to start with but I’ll no doubt be elaborating in future as I’m curious to explore the topic further. Not through physical research so no need to send any offers, thank you icon wink Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?

 Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell? Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell? Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell? Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?There’s the mixed race femme fatale, who like the original femme fatale, Eve, is beautiful and exotic but also vulnerable, unattainable and troublesome. Or the archetype blonde bombshell, who is tempting and independent, but uses her innocent beauty to lure men of all races into her nest, only to manipulate them to cheat and lie often to their own detriment. Or the black beauty, whose ethereal symmetry and amazonian figure resembles the beauty of earth itself, and just like earth she is wild and motherly and may be abused and loved simultaneously. Not forgetting the Latina, passionate like a volcano to start with, but once you have her, as loyal as a dog.

These are my (incomplete) impressions of racial stereotypes of women, and many are missing, (list in comments if any come to mind), but when I think about the people I know in these particular categories, they might physically possess these qualities but the rest has absolutely nothing to do with reality.

When you think of sexualized racial stereotypes as described above, do similar images come to mind or is your perception different?

Fashion is not for African women

Despite the ‘trend’ for black models, racism in the fashion industry is still fashionable. Fashion is not for African women

Last week I attended the intelligence squared Fashion Maketh Woman debate. For the motion was the stylish team consisting of Madelaine Levy, Britt Lintner and Paula Reed (style director of Grazia in an Oscar de la Renta frock on the evening) and against the motion was Stephen Bayley, Susie Orbach (author of “Fat Is a Feminist Issue”) and Grayson Perry (England’s favourite transvestite and also Turner prize winner). The opposing team proposed that fashion is harmful for the modern day woman, setting ideals that enslave her, rather than free her. The fashionistas debated for fashion being fun, something every woman should enjoy without discerning looks from feminists.

In response to a question from the public – namely what the pro-fashion girls thought about the obsession with fashion in the West transporting to Africa for ex, where women traditionally have proudly worn African attire?, Paula Reed suggested that all was OK, after all there is a widened perception of fashion now, a democratization of beauty.

I didn’t hand in my voting card at the end. As a feminist and fashionista, I felt the discussion lacked the viewpoint that fashion on its own, as an artform, is worth celebrating. However, fashion integrated with beauty and body ideals, unarguably influences our perceptions of beauty, body, age and race.

So despite this ‘democratization’ of beauty, the commercial and haute couture fashion industry still resembles a parade of white, skinny teenagers. The fact is, black models still find it hard to get a job. Check out the short documentary, The Colour of Beauty, directed by Elizabeth St. Philip.

By the way, why is an African woman’s clothing referred to as ‘attire’, whilst a western woman’s clothing is referred to as fashion?
Something about labeling African styles ‘African attire’ rather than ‘African fashion’ rubs me the wrong way. It sounds like African women go through elaborate mechanisms to get dressed.Do you get this vibe too, or is it just me?

pixel Fashion is not for African women