Monday, September 3, 2012

The Rural Modern Library

The new generation of local Washington, DC public libraries coming on line have been referred to as "striking ... buildings that sit like aliens in their neighborhoods, thoroughly unlike their surroundings—and intentionally so." Two of the libraries--Hillcrest and Washington Highlands library/Bellevue--were designed by British architect David Adjaye -- who's of Ghanaian descent and was born in Tanzania.

In the video clip below Adjaye walks a young resident of Bellevue, a community that has seen decline since the the mass exodus of the middle class in the 1980s, through his design of the library. He talks about the power a library--one of the only public funded spaces dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge, hope and possibility--has in affecting its local community.

 

Already there are signs of a "library effect" in the spate of new development projects coming to the area. Lydia DePillis writes in Washington City Paper:
... local ANC commissioner and Friends of the Bellevue Library president Dionne Brown says she's fielded calls from developers excited about the new building, which is totally unlike anything the neighborhood has ever seen. "It created a signal," Brown says. "It created a ripple in the local economy."
She argues:
...the kind of architecture that reinvests neighborhoods with a sense of pride and erases the mistakes of the past is important, even if that means not every neighborhood gets something new. If you start looking at statistics already being collected on the new buildings—the rate of new card registrations in the old libraries vs. the new ones, or overall number of items checked out—you get much better bang for your buck.
Burkinabe architect Francis Kere has shown that rural African communities can also make use of other kinds of scale modern architecture can bring to, for example, a rural school building - as in his now famous design of a primary school building at Gando. Below, Hunter College's Kate Parry reaffirms how the library allows the notions of public space, community wellbeing, community pride and empowerment to all overlap. Using the example of a small village library she's been working with in Southern Uganda, she notes that libraries in rural African communities are not only centers for disseminating literacy but they also double as a hub for other community building activity.

 


FAVL's thoughts on building rural libraries in Africa - here.




Friday, August 31, 2012

South Africa's Great Advertising [Creative] Divide

Over @ the Daily Maverick, Mandy de Waal has a much discussed piece about South Africa’s extremely white advertising industry, and why she thinks it continues as "a colonial enclave where racial polarisation is rife and the best profits are being creamed by a handful of foreign-owned advertising companies." But it is the quote from the Association of Black Communications Practitioners' spokesperson, Taelo Immanuel, that sets up the video clip below:
 For the most part, Immanuel explained, black creatives have to deal with white creative directors who just can’t get where they’re coming from. “I’ve been a creative director at a big agency. I was at TBWA,” said Immanuel, adding that most of his peers echo his sentiments about this “creative divide”. “There’s a white creative director and a black team, and when they try and talk to each other there’s that chasm because of their respective upbringing. The references are vastly different. As a result there’s a cult of viewing life in an American way through hip hop, movies and music videos,” said Immanuel, who maintained that because of this the advertising mirror that reflects black culture back to South Africans is warped. What we’re seeing isn’t a true reflection of real South African life, but a perversion of its peoples and culture. “In terms of advertising work that speaks to your everyday black South African—say, for instance, my own parents—it is very difficult to find creative work like that. You just don’t get work that has real insight into the South African condition. Instead agencies and brands go to film, and there are black people singing and dancing and they slap in whatever product they want to sell,” said Immanuel. 
One of those American references for white South Africans Immanuel was referring to above was the Cosby Show. Watch the first 3 mins of the 2009 interview with South African director Gavin Hood to get an idea of how huge, for white South Africans, the Huxtables were and the gratitude owed to Bill Cosby.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More on How a Single Spot in the Sahara Desert Creates the Amazon Jungle

In case you missed it, a 2006 paper titled "The Bodélé depression: a single spot in the Sahara that provides most of the mineral dust to the Amazon forest" was recently dug up by science writer Colin Schultz. Listen below to Schultz's talk with Niagara Falls' News Talk 610 CKTB about the paper's findings:
 

As the title of the paper suggests, and as Boing Boing's Maggie Koerth-Baker helps us visualize, what "we're talking about is a patch of desert only a third the size of Florida supplying the nutrient needs of a jungle that is roughly the same size as all 48 contiguous United States." Maggie Koerth-Baker pulled this quote from the paper:
A total of 140 (± 40) Tg is deposited in the Atlantic ocean and 50 (± 15) Tg
[1 Tg = 1 million tons] reach and fertilize the Amazon basin. This is four times an older estimate, explaining a paradox regarding the source of nutrients to the Amazon forest. Swap et al suggested that while the source for minerals and nutrients in the Amazon is the dust from Africa, it was estimated that only 13 Tg of dust per year actually arrive in the Amazon. However, they pointed out that 50 Tg are needed to balance the Amazon nutrient budget. Here we show a remarkable arrangement in nature in which the mineral dust arriving at the Amazon basin from the Sahara actually originates from a single source of only ~ 0.5% of the size of the Amazon: the Bodélé depression. Located northeast of Lake Chad (17°N, 18°E) near the northern border of the Sahel, it is known to be the most vigorous source for dust over the entire globe.
   

Monday, August 27, 2012

Africans in the '60s - Liberation and Neil Armstrong's Moon Landing

The sad news of Neil Armstrong's passing offers a chance to revisit how much the idea of space travel and race to land a man on the moon also had a powerful hold over the popular imagination of many Africans in the 1960s. One example, of course, is grade-school science teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso's Zambian space program and its proposed mission to Mars on the eve of Zambian independence in 1964.

Hinted in Alexis Madrigal's blog post about Nkoloso is a sense of the end of liberation struggle, Zambia's independence day celebrations and, perhaps, the same kind of naiveté, optimism and euphoria we've seen frozen and capsuled by photographers like Philippe Koudjina and Malick Sidebe in the black and white pictures they took of Malian youth in that hopeful time.

The same optimism is captured in a different way in the two 5 mins excerpts below from Congolese auteur  Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda's 2009 short film, We Too Walked on the Moon (Nous aussi avons marché sur la lune), which uses the 1969 American Apollo 11 mission that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon as the year and the backdrop for an interesting glimpse at middle class Congolese lives -- a teacher, a doctor and an artist.



In the film we get to see each person experience the radio broadcast of the moon landing differently, with the artist (you can see that in the 2nd excerpt) eventually deciding that he must also walk on the moon.



With the news and discussion of a moon landing as a reminder of the technological chasm between Africa and the West, Olivier Barlet's  review over at Africultures, I think, touches the core of Bakupa-Kanyinda's film (Google auto translation + mine):
The film revolves between poems by Aime Cesaire and the Congolese poet Tshiakatumba Mukadi, recited by students under the direction of their teacher.... A slow tracking shot shows various portraits tacked above the blackboard, revealing many major African figures, including Obama, confirming them as sources of inspiration.... For an Africa that suffers from an inferiority complex inherited from the mental integration of its alleged backwardness, the message is simple: be the image of those of you who believed in themselves.
This post is a reworked version of a previous post from July 2nd 2010.  


Monday, July 30, 2012

"How Modern Jazz Figured in the Formation of a Modern African Identity" and Other Recent Jazz Writing



Robin D.G Kelly in Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) (published February 2012), gives us a meditation on Africa, jazz and modernity: we see innovation not as an imposition from the West but rather as indigenous, multilingual, and messy, the result of innumerable exchanges across a breadth of cultures. From the prelude:
By exploring the work, conversations, collaborations, and tensions between both African and African American musicians during the era of decolonization, I examine how modern Africa figured in reshaping jazz during the 1950s and early 1960s, how modern jazz figured in the formation of a modern African identity, and how various musical convergences and crossings shaped and the political and cultural landscape on both continents. This book is not about the African roots of jazz, nor does it ask how American jazz musicians supported African liberation or "imagined" Africa. Rather, it is about the transnational encounters between musicians.
Other recent writings:
                                                     
Musical Echoes: South African Women Thinking in Jazz (Refiguring American Music) by Carol Ann Muller and Sathima Bea Benjamin.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"So Many Africans in Greece" and Other Flattering Images

 
"with so many Africans in Greece, at least the West Nile mosquitoes will be eating food from their own home" - Translation of the tweet that got Voula Papachristou, Greece’s triple-jump champion, barred by the Hellenic Olympic Committee from competing in the London Olympic Games. But when you consider the tweet against the backdrop of the European financial crisis, a TechCrunch commenter had the perfect rejoinder:


No matter how much Edward Said or Stuart Hall you throw at perceptions of Africa impressed on people by the overrepresentation of the sorriest aspects of the continent, you still have to contend with how the amount of economic power a nation wields determines how its image gets treated. For example, a recent LA Times article about the changing tide in Hollywood's portrayal of China attests to images and representations being reframed in order to flatter China's new found economic wealth - and muscle. In a similar way, will we start seeing subtle changes in the Portuguese when it comes to images and perceptions of Angola and Angolans?  Too soon to tell. Old speculations -- here and here-- on how television and advertising will flatter and glamor up blackness--in turn affecting how we think of it--in selling to an emerging black upper class with plenty of disposable income to burn. 

Nigerian Princess

From the archives of Israeli cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Graphic Novels and the Rwandan Genocide


Rwanda 1994 by Pat Masioni 
Deogratias by Stassen
Dogma by stéphane betbeder and bonetti

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why the Web Divides Us


The Internet has changed many things. But it has not changed the insular habits of mind that make us replicate in our online social networks the physical networks we already have; in other words, connecting with only those who share our interests, laying waste to the utopia of a truly connected world. Ethan Zuckerman's older TED talk on this topic - here . Author Eli Pariser 2011 TED talk on the dangers of a  "personalized web" above.

Both Zukerman and Pariser arrive at the same point: the need for algorithms that let us discover what we want to know as well as what we need to know. But that conclusion still sounds vague. The question is: can developers come up with curatoral algorithms that can look into a mish mash of  unfamilairity and spot in a culture alien to us, and in a context completly different from what we know, the sameness of things we value and cherish? Such curation is a tall order even for humans.

In the 2012 spring issue of the Wilson Quarterly, Ethan Zuckerman argues :
A central paradox of this connected age is that while it’s easier than ever to share information and perspectives from different parts of the world, we may be encountering a narrower picture of the world than we did in less connected days... Despite these lowered barriers, today’s American television news features less than half as many international stories as were broadcast in the 1970s... Search engines tell us what we want to know, but they can’t tell us what we might need to know. Social media such as Facebook or Twitter might tell you to pay attention to cassette recordings in Iran, but only if your friends include Iranians. Social media are a powerful discovery engine, but what you’re discovering is what your friends know. If you’re lucky enough to have a diverse, knowledgeable set of friends online, they may lead you in unexpected directions. But birds of a feather flock together, both online and offline, and your friends are more likely to help you discover the unexpected in your hometown than in another land.
The most powerful discovery engines online may be curated publications such as The New York Times or The Guardian. Editors of these publications are driven by a mission to provide their audiences with the broad picture of the world they need in order to be effective citizens, consumers, and businesspeople. But professional curators have their inevitable biases and blind spots. Much as we know to search for the news we think will affect our lives, editors deploy reporting resources toward parts of the world with strategic and economic significance. When mysteries unfold in corners of the world we’re used to ignoring, such as Tunisia, curators are often left struggling to catch up. The limits of online information sources are a challenge both for us and for the people building the next generation of online tools. 
If we rigorously examine the media we’re encountering online, looking for topics and places we hear little about, we may be able to change our behavior, adding different and dissenting views to our social networks, seeking out new sources of news. But this task would be vastly easier if the architects of Internet tools took up the cause of helping to broaden worldviews. Facebook already notices that you’ve failed to “friend” a high school classmate and tries to connect you. It could look for strangers in Africa or India who share your interests and broker an introduction. Google tracks every search you undertake so it can more effectively target ads to you. It could also use that information to help you discover compelling content about topics you’ve never explored, adding a serendipity engine to its formidable search function. Why aren’t engineers racing to build the new tools that will help unravel the mysteries of a connected world? They may be waiting for indicators that we want them and are ready to use them.

Friday, July 20, 2012

To Albert, Mukhtar and African Bus Drivers Everywhere...


That story of Albert from South Africa's First National Bank TV ad (above) feels inspired by the birthday story of a real African bus driver in Copenhagen called Mukhtar,  who was the very surprised subject of a flash mob back in 2009.

   

 Mukhtar's flash mobbed birthday was also an ad - more here

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