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www.afropean.com: A new Afro European Culture Magazine!

Afropean.com: A New Afro-European Resource

The Afropean is a new online multimedia, multidisciplinary journal exploring the social, cultural and aesthetic interplay of black and European cultures, and the synergy of styles and ideas brought about because of this union.

After winning an ENAR Award for a contribution toward a racism-free Europe with our Afropean Culture Facebook page, we hope to build on the work of Erik Kamble’s important Afro-Europe blog, which closed in 2013, and will continue to shed light on art, music, literature, news and events from the Afro-European diaspora, as well as produce and commission original essays and projects.

The Afropean team: Johny Pitts, Nat Illumine and Alice Gbelia

What’s in store for March…

From the forthcoming photo essay/travel narrative 'An Afropean in Marrakech' coming soon on www.afropean.com

From the forthcoming photo essay/travel narrative ‘An Afropean in Marrakech’ coming soon on http://www.afropean.com

In the coming weeks we’ll have interviews with legendary Belgo-Congolese singer Marie Daulne of Zap Mama, get the lowdown on why French Hip-Hop is still a political force to be reckoned with from UK MC turned-Paris native Apocraphe, and revisit a digital journey down the river Thames, exploring themes of immigration with Caryl Phillips. We’ll look at Arabic Neo-Soul, with an accompanying travel guide and photo essay about Marrakech, get three unique perspectives on what the term ‘Afropean’ means as a cultural identifier, and speak to world record holder and British Nigerian TV Host Andy Akinwolere about Afro-European style. You can also expect news, reviews, and a calender packed with Afro-Europe related talks, calls for papers, exhibitions, events and gigs in our ‘Agenda’ section.

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Global

Happy New Year from North Africa!

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I would like to explain why I haven’t updated the blog for a little while. I’ve been in the lab scheming away on developing the website www.afropean.com into an online magazine, and building a team around the magazine to take off from where the brilliant Erik Kamble left us with his Afro-Europe Blog which sadly closed down last year.

I can’t say too much more, but I will keep this blog running as a place to post all my own essays and photographs from the website, which should launch mid- late February.

Another reason I’ve been digitally absent recently is because for New Years’ I visited what may well be the Afropean capital of the world, Marrakech. I wandered dusty souks, trekked through the scorching desert and climbed the Atlas mountains to bring you a unique Afropean guide to a city where European, African and Arabic culture blends seamlessly. A full article complete with photo-essay is coming soon!

Speak soon, and Carpe Annum- seize the year!

Johny Pitts 2014

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© Johny Pitts Photography

© Johny Pitts Photography

As you enter the Sacre Coeur from place St Pierre, you pass Ghanaians selling West African bracelets, Romany gypsies begging, French musicians strumming…various communities all trying to get hold of your Euros. But when you reach the top of Paris’ ‘sacred heart’ you are treated to the incredible skill of Guinean footballer Iya Traore, doing kick ups whilst climbing a lamp! No need to guess where my Euros went!

Paris

Street Photo: Iya Traore

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Paris, Sheffield

Art Deco & Africa

Art Deco & Africa, 1925

This weekend, after picking up an ENAR Foundation Award in Paris for the Facebook page Afropean Culture (Woo Hoo!), I spent some time with my good friend Chris and his lovely (& expecting!) lady Naj at their home near the 13th Arrondissement. In between hours of musical indulgence (Chris is a dope Emcee who also goes by the name of Apocraphe and is now deep in the French Hip-Hop scene) and some incredible home-cooked meals inspired by the Ottolenghi cookbook Jerusalem (the stuffed aubergines are incroyable!) I managed to peel myself away for a brilliant exhibition about one of my favourite styles of design at the Cite de l’architecture.

© Johny Pitts Photography

© Johny Pitts Photography

Before I talk about the exhibition itself, let’s go back…waaaay back…back in time…

Art Deco first came to my attention in that strange quiet of a weekday afternoon. In those rare, peaceful hours when all the noise makers (children, teenagers and young adults) are at school or work.

I would have been 11 or 12, experiencing the difficult transition into secondary school playground politics (School yard politics, sorry- ‘playground’ is SO primary school), hence grades 7 and 8 were the years I enjoyed least and probably pulled the most sickies. Then, with my Mother and Father at work, I’d be sent to my Grandma’s house where I’d enter the glorious world of Bourbon Creams, cheap dandelion and burdock ‘pop’ and daytime television.

I’m not sure why so many women of a certain age love watching murder so much, but the enduring memory of my Nan is sitting on her settee, half-heartedly pretending I was sick and letting her spoil me rotten (with treats my Mum and Dad would have forbid), then settling down to watch the likes of Columbo, Jessica Fletcher and our favourite detective of all…Agatha Christie’s arrogant Belgian genius Hercule Poirot. For me it was a relaxing respite from the pressures of school in the warm embrace of my lovely Nan, who didn’t care what brand my trainers were, and for my Nan a break from the mid-week boredom and some quality time with her youngest Grandson.

Poirot was set when my Grandmother, born in 1920, would have been a little girl, and I didn’t know then that the aesthetic and mood of the roaring 20’s that I loved so much was called Art Deco. From the haunting whirl of Christopher Gunning’s saxophone in the opening theme, to the bold lines and elegant geometry depicting billowing black steam engines and shadowy criminals on the hoof, I was immediately spellbound by the stylized landscape in which Poirot operated.

Whilst my Nan existed in the same time and space depicted in the Agatha Christie drama, Poirot’s world of Art-Deco decadence was light years away from her lower-working class experience in the industrial English city of Sheffield. But it seems the word ‘Industry’ is key to understanding Art Deco, and why it came to fruition around the time my Grandmother was born. In fact it was the ‘Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes‘ or ‘International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts’ of 1925 that gave Art Deco its name, and is widely credited as the birth of the style in global consciousness.

Art Deco painting by Tamara De Lempicka

The shapes, textures and colours were a direct response from artists and engineers, to the brand new technologies (many of which born from the advancements in World War 1) re-appropriated for the zeitgeist of the times…the automobile was now affordable to the general public, Albert Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Peace Prize for his ‘discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect’ leading us another step closer to the use of electricity commercially, and motion pictures were captured with sound for the first time. The 20’s were indeed ‘roaring’ and a new visual language needed to reflect this great age of travel and technology. Put simply: in the 1920’s, you had to be modern.

Despite it being years before people like my Nan would enjoy the new inventions that inspired Art Deco, they nevertheless played their part in the development of them, and in many ways industrial cities such as the one my Nan grew up in (Sheffield) were the foot soldiers of Art Deco… casting its steel, smelting its iron, and cultivating its taste for bold edges that lead the movement away from the frilly realism of Art Nouveau.

Whenever I visit home I walk amongst the old industrial quarters of Attercliffe and Darnall, where you can still hear the dim clanking of mysterious machinery, holding on to the old trades. Here I see a kind of Art Deco-carcass: the sans-serif fonts of old signs on abandoned factories, the circular iron pumps, valves and engines preserved as trophies of a golden age or left to rot as evidence of its demise- but in its day, this was the kind of industrial functionality the form of Art Deco followed.

An old factory in Sheffield.  Photo by Tim Dennell

An old factory in Sheffield. Photo by Tim Dennell

Perhaps it’s because I’m from a post-industrial city then, that Art Deco resonates so much. Sheffield may not come with the glamour or luxury usually associated with the style, but the sharp angles, perfect circles and solid materials are shapes and textures I recognise from the years of industry that still lurk in the collective consciousness of the city I grew up in.

So onto what I found out at the exhibition…

I knew Art Deco was influenced somewhat by Cubism, but what I didn’t know about before was its strong connection to African Art. I own a book of work by the legendary Deco poster artist Paul Colin, and I was struck by how the form of his work depicted black people. Some images bordered on the offensive…black characters, all big lips and simplified features, but in many of his posters I felt he’d captured a certain elegance of form missing from previous depictions of the exoticised ‘black other’.

Art Deco Poster advertising the 'Bal Negre' by Paul Colin

Many of his classic posters were produced shortly before the likes of Aime Cesaire initiated the Negritude movement in Paris, whose ideologies would help to unravel pseudo-anthropological ideas at the time about black people being less than human. Before Negritude though, artists had begun to set the stage for multiculturalism through their music, sculptures and paintings.

Josephine Baker Poster by Paul Colin

Colin’s posters, after all, were advertising clubs like the Bal Negre, where black musicians entertained a fashionable Parisian in-crowd, and where black men and white women (and visa versa) would dance together unashamedly. It was the era of Josephine Baker and an appreciation for African aesthetics as being at the height of elegance, so it was no surprise that the modern stylings of Art Deco came to fruition around the same time as this new wave of multicultural meetings, and would be used to describe them in the arts.

But the connection to black culture runs deeper. The art dealer Paul Guillaume, who traded African masks in the early 20th century said, in 1926:

“At the Great Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris, the predominance of the negro motif was obvious among the really new and distinctive notes in interior decoration. The trends in the design of modern furnishings, posters and newspaper advertising show that this motif was introduced in every area of delicate and applied art…The most important lines of influence were a clearer understanding of the nature of design in every discipline, and in particular the possibility of applying negro sculpture principles to a resurrection of artistic traditions that had been considered dead. We could almost say that there is a form of feeling in it, an architecture of thought, a subtle expression of the deepest life forces that have been extracted from negro civilisation and introduced into the modern artistic world”

West African Style Mask

So here’s to Art Deco, movement and multiculturalism…to Paris and Poirot, to my Yorkshire Grandmother Ruth Stewart, to Africa and, above all, to the coming together of people and ideas across races, cultures and generations.

Nan

For more Information about the 1925: The Year Art Deco Dazzled the World at the Cite de l’architecture, Paris, visit here.

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Marseille

Le Panier, Marseilles

Marseille Wandering around the ‘old town’ of Le Panier in Marseilles. Le Panier is an area of the city that was once known for its large immigrant population, but is slowly becoming gentrified by young middle class families attracted to its beautiful old crumbling terraces and multicultural atmosphere…

Le Panier has a starring role in the beautiful 2004 film adaptation of Lila Says/ Lila Dit Ca all about a relationship between a Moroccan-French boy and a white- French girl:

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Clichy Sous Bois, Paris

At the end of a difficult few days in the Parisian ‘Banlieue’ of Clichy Sous Bois, I saw a snapshot of hope… © J A Pitts

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Clichy Sous Bois, Paris

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Paris Metro

My time spent travelling through Europe was often in the caverns of the Metro system, where I searched for an interplay between cultures. I was interested in the mixed-race girl listening to her iPod whilst the musician played the dramatic theme from the movie ‘The GodFather’ on his accordion. But as a street photographer you can sometimes get caught out, and the angry man pointing at me thought I was taking a photograph of him. I suppose in the end, I was! © J A Pitts

Paris

Paris Metro

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