Luba Art Featured at LACMA

I love museums. Of course, it’s a pleasure to see the renowned paintings such as the Mona Lisa or famous works like those of Renoir, Picasso or van Gogh. And, who wouldn’t enjoy seeing the sculptures created by artists like Bernini, Dalí or Michaelangelo?

But, I have an equally strong desire to see what the hands of artists from other parts of the world created. Despite my sincere appreciation for Western art forms; I would be leaving out most of the planet if I stopped there… what a sad thought!

One of the things I like most about art is its uncanny ability to tell the story of the culture it comes from and the era it was created in. Much more attractive than volumes of books on anthropology and often as informative. I can afford neither the time nor the money to travel every corner of the world. But, I can afford to spend a few hours touring a museum and learning about people from Papua New Guinea (home to our coffee of the month for January 2014!) or the Tonga islands (141 islands which make up the only Pacific kingdom never to fall to foreign rule) . I might not have the resources to jet off to Niger or India whenever the mood hits me; but I can pack a picnic, hop in the car and head to see a concert, hear a speaker or see a limited exhibit at a local museum.

So, recently, I did just that: packed a light lunch and headed off to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see some art done by the Luba people of the Congo. Due to the presence of art from the Luba in both museum and private collections in the West; many of you might recognize art of the Luba without knowing its origin. Its style is appreciated by African art collectors and if you’ve visited a large collection of African art in one of the museums of major cities like New York, London or Rome; you have certainly seen a Luba piece among the art.

The reason I went to LACMA specifically though was two-part: 1- to support their new initiative to showcase more African art in Los Angeles and to see a few pieces which rarely leave Brussels. I was not disappointed!

Here is a video which highlights the exhibit. It does an excellent job; so I’ll leave you with the video and these words… If you are in the Los Angeles area, go see the exhibit (exhibit open now through May 4, 2014)! It is definitely worth your time. Also, if you have children age 17 and under, LACMA has an incredible program called “Nexgen” which allows kids in FREE, yes free! They also have the ability to take an adult with them free of charge. The program costs nothing, just ask about it at the ticket counter, or sign up by using this link.

Pack a lunch if you are short on cash and eat at the park between LACMA and the la Brea Tar Pits, or treat yourself to lunch at the museum’s café. Either way, I can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours… or all day if you have it.

Other African art worth seeing can be found throughout the museum’s permanent collection.

Please feel free to share information about your favorite African art museums or upcoming exhibitions that include African art.

Love,
Mama

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Wordless Wednesday: Ghana Helps Me Carry My Bounty

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Mama Visits the deYoung Museum in San Francisco

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I have been a huge fan of museums for as long as I can remember.  From big, busy classic favorites like the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to smaller and lesser known museums like the Dapper Museum in Paris.  I love seeing the creativity, history and culture that is displayed in all its forms.

If you’ve been following my blog for any time at all, you probably know already that the Dapper Museum in Paris is my all-time favorite.  This is not because its collection is the largest in the world or because there are rare treasures there.  They do have a beautiful collection of pieces from across the African continent, they do have a charming little bookstore and café; but what they have that impresses me most is information!  For me, it is a great pleasure to see people walk through and learn more about the people and cultures that created the art on display.

Although it’s true that I studied African history, politics and language from some great professors while in university; I must be honest in saying that I have learned so much more since leaving the beautiful campus behind.

I have read stacks and stacks of books, magazines and periodicals over the years; but I must admit that there are two ways that I most love learning about Africa: museums and dialog.

Frankly, dialog is my favorite.  Each person who has shared their personal story with me, each interview I’ve conducted, well, they’ve all taught me so very much about African culture and history.  It is during conversations with Romuald’s beautiful mother from Cameroon, through a question and answer session with Dominic in Ghana or from one of the elders in my own family that I learn the real history and culture of my beloved continent.

But, in the absence of smiling faces and lively discussion, museums are a close runner-up.

I remember going to a museum in Paris which will remain unnamed.  It is hailed as being one of the best in Europe; yet I couldn’t stomach remaining there for over 20 minutes.  There was a lot of art from Africa.  Yet, the vast majority of the pieces had little tags near each piece that read something like this: “Woman with basket. Wood. 19th C.” My very young daughter kept asking me, “Mom, why don’t they know that is from Ghana?”  I was insulted, and deeply so. 

I looked around that museum and counted dozens of families walking through the rooms one by one, interested and ready to learn.  These families though, would instead get an experience that taught them very little.

I guess I’m a teacher at heart.  As much teacher as I am student… lifelong student.  After all, life is about learning, right?  I was so saddened to think of these people planning a day out with their children and of all of the things they could have done, they wanted to come and experience Africa through our beautiful and varied art forms.  Only to walk through a host of rooms which failed to do much except put art on a shelf behind glass.

Now that you know my world view where art and museums are concerned let me tell you this: If you are ever in San Francisco, go visit the deYoung Museum!!  I so thoroughly enjoyed my visit last week.

As an added bonus right now, you’ll get the extra treat of seeing a portion of the Vatican Museum’s religious art on display.  Most of that section contains pieces from a host of islands from the Pacific.  But, there are a few African pieces in the mix.  And, no matter what your views are on the Vatican; you must know one thing when it comes to their art collection: it is incredibly well labeled!  I have never been anywhere and seen such consistent, detailed and thorough informational cards.  The priests, monks and others who collected them clearly knew much about the pieces and the peoples who made them. 

I really enjoyed making comparisons between some of the masks from Polynesian islands and various regions of Africa.  And of course, seeing the African pieces was a treat.

But, even if the Vatican pieces are no longer on loan to the deYoung, you really should visit.  Their collection is large, informative and beautifully displayed.  When you are done, or if you need a break, they have a lovely area to sit and enjoy a meal at the café.  Located in the Golden Gate Park, it is a great environment to take your kids for a stroll or sit alone and read a book that you’ve gotten at the museum gift shop.

Who knows, maybe you’ll run into me there?  I definitely plan on returning!

When you get there, if you see a kind Caribbean gentleman at the front checking tickets, tell him that Mama said hello!

When Ideas Collide, Good People Keep Level Heads

In the spirit of Mama’s Round Table, I’ve decided to invite a few guest writers to add their thoughts to the discussions. In a world where people seem more and more polarized on the issues, I’d like to offer a space which shows that we aren’t so different after all. Most times, we just want to approach the same problem from different angles. Sure, sometimes there are people of ill will who really don’t care about having clean oceans or who aren’t the least bit concerned if African children starve to death. But let’s face it; most people don’t fit in that category. Most people, I believe, really do want to do what’s right. They simply disagree on what that means to use to get to that goal.

Let me propose this example: If you had to make just one purchase at the store tomorrow, which would it be: a fair trade product, an organic product or a locally produced/grown product? Each clearly has its advantages. But which means more to you? If you opt for a fair trade basket, made in Uganda, do you consider it “green” because it was made by renewable plant fibers and dyes? Or, do you say “No, I’m not buying a product which was transported half-way across the planet using fossil fuels! I’ll buy local and get a product which supports the local economy, and protects the planet because it cuts down on the need for long-distance transport of goods. Or, are you instead passionate about organic and remain focused on the importance of not using pesticides to grow the cotton in your t-shirt. After all, it also protects farmers and those living around them because there is no dangerous run-off polluting local water supplies, etc.

I sincerely believe that regardless of which view you hold, your end goal is the same: healthy people, healthy planet and sustainable living. You might not be able to understand why a local farmer says it is better not to buy organic if it is farmed in Peru and shipped to London. But, it is important to ask questions, listen attentively and yes… to believe that the farmer is as sincere in his beliefs as you are in yours. You do NOT have to agree in the end; but the dialog is paramount!

This is just one example of why I think it is so important to start this discussion arena. I have many things that I am passionate about; but I am also a woman who loves learning. As my sage father used to say “I know enough to know I don’t know everything”.

So, if you have expertise in an issue which is facing Africa, please feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to feature your point of view here. Anything goes really: economics, development, technology, ethics, fair trade, sustainable development, local solutions versus foreign aid, and yes, even those tough to talk about issues like: “Can whites really be African?” or “Should we respect tradition or the western idea of human rights where female genital mutilation is concerned?”

I have a few people in mind for our first few subjects and I’ll have their posts up here as soon as they agree to participate. So keep an eye on this space! I encourage everyone to contribute their opinions and views; but the discussions here will be moderated. Take this to mean exactly what it does: moderated for vulgar, openly disrespectful or hateful speech. NOT selected in or out based on opinion or viewpoint. I sincerely believe in free speech. I believe it is important to hear even what is difficult or uncomfortable to hear. I think that even when the opinion is tough to tolerate, we learn from it. On the other hand, there are respectful ways to make any point. I want this to be a place that any member of the Mama Afrika family can come to learn and talk; thus, no vulgarities will be tolerated in any form… period.

OK, now its your turn: tell me what you’d like to hear more about by emailing me at: Mama@MamaAfrika.com and be sure to tell me if you have anyone in mind that I should interview or invite to lead a discussion here. I love learning about new subjects and meeting new people who are interested in topics facing Africa!

Sharing one of my favorites

I have owned this book for a couple of years now. It has become one of those favorites that I love to look through while sipping a cup of Zimbabwean fair trade coffee (my piece of heaven on Earth). I’ve read it through a few times now; but I also love peeking into the world of Black women, many of them African. I enjoy meeting them where they live, so to speak. I have always enjoyed the sheer style that so many Black women put into their coifs. The guts and glory that are involved with an extremely ornate hairstyle. You know, one of those styles that is right out of the runway’s highest fashion shows… yet it is just an “average” girl wearing it; because she is determined to be noticed, appreciated… understood.

This book is one of my favorite reads. I’ve offered it to some of my closest friends and I’d like to do the same for some of you.

I happen to have a few copies to share with friends, old and new. I’ll be selecting one new reader a week and mailing out a new copy of the book. Why? Because I love the book and because I appreciate my new followers. So, starting today (Wednesday, March 10, 2010) just  Follow Mama on Twitter, or subscribe to my blog here and you’ll be entered automatically in the weekly drawing. Each week, I’ll randomly select someone from our new follower’s list and send you a free copy of the book to enjoy.*  Its that simple.

One book per week, for 4 weeks.  Life is about sharing joy with others when we can. I can, so I will 🙂

OK, now let’s get back to discussing issues that are facing those African women…

*Winners will be notified through the method they entered (Twitter, Facebook or this blog) on the Tuesday of the drawing. They will have 48 hours to contact me with their mailing address and contact information. Anyone who doesn’t provide their mailing address within the 48 hour deadline will forfeit their copy and I’ll draw another name. If you are already following Mama, just refer a friend and have them tell Mama (via message, tweet or a comment here on the blog) who sent them; and you’ll both be entered!

Mama Afrika’s first ever Black Friday (After Thanksgiving) Sale!

Mama’s THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SALE
Those of you who have been clients for a while know that Mama Afrika doesn’t really believe in “sale prices”, “deep discounts” and “drastic reductions”… “Why not?” You ask yourself.

Well, the idea is simple: Mama Afrika doesn’t have sky high mark ups on products. She believes that the reason for selling fair trade African products is to feed African families; not become a billionaire and drive a fancy sports car.

So, we only mark our products up as much as is necessary to help the business branch out to include new cooperatives in new countries. As you’ve probably noticed: offering the best price possible is part of our plan. We know that if our prices are great; then so are sales. If we were able to discount items to 50% off a few times a year; then you would know that the rest of the year… we were charging you 50% too much! Easy to understand right?

Well, Mama’s making an exception this year. And she’d like you to know why: This economic crisis is tough for everyone. Its probably affected your family in some way too, directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, African families are having a really tough time too. The crisis has meant fewer sales locally and globally for them; thus less income for many who were making it day to day as it is.

So, this Friday through Monday only, Mama Afrika is discounting prices in the hope that it will encourage you to reach out and help these families make it. Many items will be sold at almost no mark-up. But, if that allows us to re-order products from our cooperatives, that is enough for now.

God has blessed us many times over the past 9 years and we are hoping that this gesture shows you how dedicated Mama is to the women she has grown so fond of.

And, this year Mama will be sending the 10% donation to help our cooperative members children celebrate Christmas this year. We will be donating toys, art supplies and sending donations to help those most in need make it through the holiday season.

Come by Mama’s Open Market this weekend after you have eaten your turkey, and given thanks for all that you have… and help us give our cooperative members reasons to be thankful too.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving. May it offer you the opportunity to be surrounded by your family and friends.

Blessings, from our family to yours,

Mama

Why Should Schools Teach African Art?

“Why should students learn about African art? After all, isn’t it primarily primative art which is made for rituals and stuff? I mean, it isn’t like its Monet or Van Gogh or something.”

A couple of weeks ago, while waiting in line and chatting with a friend; I was discussing the fact that I knew a young man (of African heritage), who had recently attended one of the most prestigious art schools that the United States has to offer. I was talking to this young man, whom I know very well and asking him how his studies had gone and how his new school had impressed him thus far. He gave me a rather interesting reply: “I was in class the other day and we were discussing art history. The professor very rapidly skimmed over African art history and proclaimed that we would, in essence, not be studying it as it offered little. It was her view that since African objects such as baskets, statues, masks, etc were produced primarily for practical use; they weren’t really art. They had not been well thought out in their design as far as asthetics go; but were instead strictly utilitarian.”

The young man, who comes from a family which is both European and African in heritage; was shocked. But that isn’t the real story. It would in fact have ended there…

But some months later, (a few weeks ago now); I was in line talking to a friend about African fabrics. She has had a love of African fabrics for a great many years and was discussing a book she recently acquired which had beautiful photographs of cloth woven by the Asante peoples. The discussion soon turned to Adinkra symbols and their use in cloth as well as other art pieces.

Someone in the line overheard our discussion just as I had recounted what the young man had said to me about his “top of the line” art school and my surprise that there wasn’t more taught about the richness of African art there. Her reply was the topic of this post.

Before I had the chance to answer her, the woman I was talking to replied. This is not a quote of her reply; but it is a fair expression of the overall ideas she conveyed:

“Have you never heard of Picasso, Matisse or the Cubist period?” African art played a HEAVY influence on many of Europe’s finest artists. This is without even mentioning its current influence on modern painters, sculpters and other artists. And it goes without saying that African art strongly influenced past and more recent African-American, Cuban, Carribean and other artists who are part of the African diaspora. It is called “primative art” by some more because of their lack of understanding than due to its perceived lack of sophistication. Learn more about the continent and the diversity of the people who created those fabrics, masks and yes, even baskets and you’ll grow to understand that their art is as valuable asthetically as anyone else’s.

To the woman who replied in my stead, I simply say “Thank you for doing such a great job at speaking for Africa’s artists.”