Saturday, August 30, 2014

2014 Vilcek Foundation Design Awards - A Togolese industrial designer honored

This is variation on my blog post on, with a focus on Mansour Ourasanah, an industrial designer based in Chicago, originally from Togo.
The Vilcek Foundation was created to highlight the achievements of the many talented immigrants who made their life in the United States.

Marica and Jan Vilcek are originally from Slovakia. Jan Vilcek, a microbiologist, has 45 patents in his name and was the co-inventor of the blockbuster drug, Remicade. Marica is an art historian. They fled Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia for the United States 50 years ago, and created the Vilcek Foundation in 2000. Every year, they give out rewards in different categories. This year’s focus was excellence and innovation in design.
On June 19, 3 of the award recipients came together for a panel discussion at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. The designers spoke about their creations, and topics covered were material ecology, and how can industrial design improve society? The discussion was moderated by Glenn Adamson, Director at the Museum of Arts and Design. Mansour Ourasanah, originally from Togo, was one of the featured designers, along with Neri Oxman and Quilian Neria. 
Mansour, a recipient of the 2014 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Design, had intended to study mechanical engineering, but was lured by the creative aspect of industrial design.
His inventions concentrate on either personal well-being, or that of the planet. 

One of the pressing issues nowadays is how will we feed an expanding world population? In "Lepsis: The Art of Growing Grasshoppers," Mansour designed a miniature countertop "farm" that can be kept in your kitchen, to breed grasshoppers for protein. Around the world, and more specifically in Africa, people do already eat grasshoppers and other insects. Grasshoppers provide low-cost protein that uses far less energy resources than beef or even chicken, and Western chefs are starting to catch on, as in the WSJ article, "Celebrity Chefs Tout Bug Cuisine." Others are producing flours and cookies made with ground mealworms.
A more personal invention is a kit for pregnant women to monitor their health and their nutrition. 
A tech gadget is a power strip with pedals, the Eject Powerstrip, so you don't have to bend down to unplug an electrical device, or yank on the cable. 
Since 2012, Mansour works for Whirlpool Advanced Studio as Senior Designer. We can look forward to many improvements in our households! 
(Photos provided courtesy of Mansour Ourasanah)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Africa in Montreal

In Montréal, Canada, for a few days, we were pleased to note how many Francophone Africans are living in this French-speaking city, and how active they are in its cultural life. Montreal is a calm but also a very international city, boasting denizens from all over the globe, including many from France, the Middle East and Africa.

The soul of African cultural life lives in the Maison de l'Afrique Montréal. This African cultural center, in a house located in a quiet neighborhood, was founded in 2004 by Mariam Sy Diawara, originally from the Ivory Coast. The Center's doors opened in 2009. The center's mission is to act as a link from the Americas to Africa, to promote African culture and history, from all over the continent. There is also a tourism component and assists African immigrants in their integration in Canada.
Gisèle Ndong
When we visited in July, Ms. Diawara was in the Ivory Coast, but we met several team members: Cheick Cissé, Administrator, Moussa Xlim Diawara, communications and events manager, and Marcelline Ouedraogo,  store manager.
On a Saturday evening, the event featured was an "Iftar" potluck dinner (breaking the fast for those who were in the middle of Ramadan) and a modern traditional-style tale told by Gisèle Ndong Biyoko, a Canadian of Gabonese origin, married to a Cameroonian (we met her spouse in another setting, without knowing that they were a couple!).
There is an exhibit of African sculpture, a café area downstairs, a banquet space, and an outside yard.
The Maison de l'Afrique boutique
In the summer, outdoor festivals abound in Montreal, as people are indoors for much of the long and cold winter months. One of the festivals, in its last days during our stay, is the Nuits d'Afrique music festival. Not only are there several (free) concerts every day, in the Quartier des Spectacles, but also other concerts throughout the city, and a marketplace for clothing and gift items from Africa. One can purchase CDs from each of the past years of the festival.
We attended the last concert, of Tabou Combo - the African diaspora in Haiti, in action since 40 years!

Media and specifically online media is not left behind. We met Cyril Ekwalla who is the founder of Njangui Press, an online media outlet.
Cameroon Voice covers Cameroonian news and culture, as well as news from other African nations, and includes a radio station.

August 8 marks the 100th anniversary of Rudolf Duala Manga Bell's execution by the German colonizers in 1914. There will be a commemoration in Montreal. Rudolf Duala Bell rebelled against the German land grab and harsh reign in Cameroon, which was a German colony before the end of World War I. As it so happens, in our increasingly globalized world, one of his descendants, Florence Doualla-Bell, Ph.D, lives in Montreal, and will be present at the event. Cyrille Ekwalla is one of the organizers.
Cyrille Ekwalla

And I should not leave out food: on Chemin Queen Mary, a block away from the Snowdon subway station, there is a restaurant that resembles a Chinese fast food restaurant, named Hot Africa. The service appears tepid, but the food is great: a slightly garlicky n'dolé (typical Cameroonian dish) and grilled fish, both served with excellent fried plantain slices. Across the street is a store selling fufu, red palm oil, dried shrimp and more, called Marché Mokolo (the name of a market in Yaounde).

Below are more photos of the Maison de l'Afrique.

Left and below: Football shirts from the African teams who competed in the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The ever changing Harlem, NYC

Today I went to Harlem, to the Harlem Book Fair, to see Atim Oton at the Calabar Imports booth.
Atim and her friend Cassandra in Harlem
For those decrying the "whitification" of Harlem, I didn't see much of it. Maybe they stayed home.
On the other hand, there were many Africans, in all kinds of traditional dress, speaking different languages, including French.
I saw no books at the Book Fair, but there were booths selling clothing, jewelry, hair products, African art... There seems to be no need to travel to the African continent anymore to buy anything: I saw Ghanaian-made dresses, bags and clutches, necklaces made of fabric at Calabar; traditional glass and amber bead necklaces; children's clothes; statues and masks, fabric and more (but no books). Maybe the books were elsewhere.
Adana Collins (above) creates hand-painted earrings and braid ornaments for very reasonable prices. Her company's name is Lovable Treasures, and she also sells at Calabar Imports.
On the way back to the Harlem MetroNorth station, I passed food stalls, and more African booths.

Getting closer to 125th, on Lenox Avenue, the gentrification was more apparent, in the form of a mini-Restaurant Row: Astor Row Cafe, Red Rooster, Chez Lucienne (and those are just the ones following each other!).

On 125th Street, to the west of 5th Avenue, on the north side, a pastry shop featuring red velvet cakes is to open soon; samples were being handed out on the sidewalk.
A painted gate on Lenox Avenue

On 135th Street, this statue is said to have been created by a Nigerian artist.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Please join us for the New York book launch of De La Case A La Villa,  June 26, 2014 from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Epee Ellong will present the book in French and in English. There will be wine... and free bookmarks!Skoto Gallery
529 West 20th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10011
Tel. : (212) 352-8058,-74.006785,17z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xb881f9d37b3cdff1

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Musée Dapper in Paris

The Musée Dapper in Paris, located in the Embassy neighborhood in the 16th arrondissement, at 35 rue Paul Valery, is a wonderful hidden gem, mainly known to specialists of art from Africa and its diaspora, including the Caribbean.

The difference between the Musée Dapper and many other French museums is that the Musée Dapper is a nonprofit organization, whereas many French museums are run by the French government. In the United States, it is the opposite: most museums are nonprofits/public-private partnerships, including the Smithsonian Institution, which I thought was a Federal institution. Samir Bitar, Director of the Office of Visitor Services, provided explanations on this subject. (however, Smithsonian museums are housed in GSA buildings.)

The museum opened in 1986, after the Olfert Dapper Foundation was created in 1983 in Amsterdam by Michel Leveau (1930-2012). Why Olfert Dapper? He had written a “Description of Africa” in 1668, an encyclopedia-style book, whereas he had never left Holland!
Permanent collections include mostly objects from Gabon: Kota, Mahongue and some Fang. The Museum holds one major exhibition every year, and has also started initiatives in Senegal. The current exhibitions, on view through July 6, 2014, are:
- a small contemporary exhibit: Masques by Romuald Hazoumé, who is an artist from Benin, of Yoruba ethnicity, and who lives in Dahomey. He repurposed petroleum-industry related items, such as jerrycans, to create superficially traditional-African style masks, and the results are rather whimsical, even though the premise is a protest against the oil industry's negative consequences on Sub-Saharan Africa.
Gabin Bonny, the Musee Dapper Cultural Attaché, told us that Mr. Hazoumé makes a point of never leaving Benin for too long, no matter his work overseas.
- the main current exhibition is Initiés, Bassin du Congo (Initiates, Congo Basin). The Dapper Museum received, on loan, a large trove of objects from the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. The Royal Museum is undergoing renovations, and the objects were in need of a temporary home; the Musée Dapper was happy to oblige.
The exhibit's theme is initiation. Initiation was an important stage in the life of young Sub-Saharan Africans; pain and even the danger of death made this period very difficult, and thus ritual was important in order to sustain the initiates' willpower and even provide them with a sentiment of being superior to the non-initiates.
Additional photos are shown below. (All photos except first one courtesy Gabin Bonny/Dapper Museum.)

Statuette, Initiés du Bassin du Congo
Masks, Initiés du Bassin du Congo
 Initiés du Bassin du Congo

 Initiés du Bassin du Congo
Hazoumé mask
 Hazoumé mask
Hazoumé mask

Saturday, March 15, 2014

First World Music: Akenataa Hammagaadji

Akenataa Hammagaadji, the person behind the online African music radio program, First World Music, was born in Monrovia, Liberia.
His mother had immigrated to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and sent for her children when Akenataa was 12 years old. Later they moved to the continental United States.
After attending college, he hosted an African music program for 12 years on Columbia University's WKCR station. Nine years ago he started working on his current show on WVKR, showcasing musicians from the entire African continent, known and unknown.
What keeps him going? There is much negative news out of Africa, and much of it is nor untrue; but his goal is to highlight the positive & beautiful: "Something from our heritage. Melodies, lyrics & instruments that are our own intellectual property."
As per his website, among the goals of the radio program is: "to promote African artists to that they cab be rewarded for the music (...) they invited. We hope that by airing music music of African artists, some royalties will accrue to them which will help them live in dignity, care for their families and build their community." First World Music plays music from the entire African diaspora, including musicians from Brasil, Haiti, Perou...
Hugh Masekela, South Africa

Thione Seck, Senegal

Akenataa's personal goal is to own his own online radio station in the future. In the meantime, he also works in the hospitality industry as a waiter, party planner, and DJ, in the Hudson Valley (New York State).His influences? "My mother and maternal grandmother & maternal aunts are big influences on my life. I hear my grandmother's voice whenever I am thinking of doing something that degrades my humanity or brings harm to another person. She stops me from the grave."
Miliki Music, Nigeria
By the way--if you miss the show on Sunday at 9pm, you can listen to it the next day: visit

Julius Essoka, Cameroon

Saturday, February 15, 2014

De La Case A La Villa - it's published!

The book "De La Case A La Villa" is a reality... and will be presented at the Paris Salon du Livre on March 22, 2014, at 6pm, along with Samuel Mbajum's book:  “Les combattants africains, dits « Tirailleurs Sénégalais » au secours de la France. 1857-1945” about African soldiers pulled into not always voluntary service in European wars.
Our publishing house is Riveneuve Editions.
Samuel Mbajum is also originally from Cameroon, like Epee Ellong, and we look forward to meeting him!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Post by Wendy Lee: Impressions of Ethiopia

By Wendy Lee
Since I left Cameroon at the end of my Peace Corps service in 2010, I return to the continent for the first time. At the end of 2010, I did 
take a trip to Tunisia, which is technically in Africa. Though this time, nearly 4 years later, I feel like I’ve returned home.
Impression of EthiopiaI took Qatar Airways & Emirates from Shanghai via Doha, Dubai, and finally to Addis Ababa, Ethiopian’s capital city. If anyone has a chance to fly Qatar or Emirates, do it! These airlines put US operated airlines to total shame. There is a meal for even a 90 min flight. Flight attendants greet you with warm towelettes as you situate into your seat. With the right airline, flying can be luxurious!A good friend of mine from grad school is living and working in Addis, and I took the opportunity to visit. I always prefer to visit a new place that has friends who can play your guide. If for nothing else, that very expensive graduate degree from Columbia/LSE has resulted in a global network of places to vacation! I continue to marvel at the places that people end up, and the interesting career paths that they take. The chance to know such unique individuals is priceless.

Shanghai-Doha-Dubai-Addis. I go far for a good cup of coffee!

Shanghai-Doha-Dubai-Addis. I go far for a good cup of coffee!
My friend Jenn has taken her consulting and private sector background to Ethiopia to work with its Ministry of Agriculture. Conversations with her and her friends in Addis Ababa inspire me to consider a future back on the continent. Oh, and in our conversation, we realized one of the girls from Peace Corps Cameroon is now also working in Addis, on public health related work. Small world!
My first impression of Ethiopians is how calm they are compare to Cameroonians. The catcall is nowhere as bad, and the service is a million times better! Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was not colonized, and the pride for this culture shows through the people. Although one can (sort of) get by with English, Ethiopia’s official language is Amharic, which is fascinating. The individuals have a very unique feature; given the geographic locale, their skin color is lighter, and features are a cross between Africans and Middle Easterners. The women here are gorgeous!
Ethiopia Church
Communities are similar in all corners of the world.
On my second day in Addis, I went to church with Jenn and taught a Sunday School class with her to a bunch of 4-year-olds. Ethiopia as a country is very religious, and predominately Christian. Attending church is a great way to observe the local culture. Beyond Ethiopians, the church was also attended by quite a few West Africans. I met a lady name Grace from Kumbo, Cameroon. I had visited her town a few times, so we chatted about the progress in Cameroon. She informed me that there is a new road between Bafouasam and Douala, so the road that used to go through my village (Batié) is used less frequently now. She also said the government has finally begun to pave the ring road in the Northwest province! When I visited her town back in 2010, most of the roads were unpaved. The updates made me terribly nostalgic, and wish I were also visiting Cameroon.
Ethiopia Sunday School
4-year-old Sunday School
Church, Ethiopia
Jacob’s Sheep!
This encounter put me in a delightful mood, and the group of 4-year-olds took it to the next level. Children at this age are adorable, and the universal good nature make me smile. We did some craft together where they had to color and make a paper sheep. Their creativity never seize to amaze.
Even through the culture is quite different, so much is similar. I love the clear skies and the smell of firewood in the morning. Even the dust of dry season and the exhaust in taxi cars make me nostalgic. It’s good to be reminded of a simpler life, to be back in time when they isn’t hyper connectivity, and individuals in a restaurant are fully in the presence of their company, and no one is looking at their smart phones.
Finally, I miss conversations like this one with Million. Million is a taxi driver used frequently by Jenn and her friends. He told us that he’s been busy because his sister just had a baby.
Million: “I need to go to the market and buy her a sheep.”
Me: “Do you buy a sheep for everyone who has a baby?”
Million: “No, only people who are close.”
Jenn: “How will you bring home the sheep? And do you take it to a butcher?”
Million: “In my trunk. No, we take the sheep home and slaughter at home and eat it. That’s how it’s done.”
Addis Ababa
Good morning, Addis!

Reblogged from Life of Wendy: Impression of Ethiopia

More posts (and photos) about Wendy's trip to Ethiopia:
Oasis in Debre Zeyit
Journey through Ethiopia