Snapshots on Africa: food, customs, styles, business and more.
Bibi Seck, Industrial Designer in New York City
Ayse, Bibi, and daughters
Bibi Seck is an industrial and product designer of Senegalese and Martiniquais descent, introduced from afar by Fatimata Ly, a Senegalese ceramics designer I wrote about last year.
As a matter of fact, I had been hearing about him and his spouse, Ayse Birsel, for a while already: the New York African design community is not that large, and especially an African married to a fellow Middle Easterner (Turks are Middle Easterners as well as Europeans, with literally a foot in both worlds; and of course we had the Ottoman Empire for six centuries!).
I interviewed him last week to find out what his path had been to this point. Bibi was raised between Europe and Senegal.He had planned on studying architecture at first, but then found his true vocation in Industrial Design at the Ecole Supérieure de Design Industriel. After graduating, he spent many years as automobile designer for Renault, in France. During a trip to New York, he met Ayse, and after a few years he moved to New York to found a family, and the firm Birsel + Seck.
A few years ago Birsel + Seck was approached by an Italian firm, Moroso, to create designs for an upcoming show in Milan, M’Afrique which took place at the Moroso showroom. Bibi designed 9 items. The Bayekou chair was just featured in the New York Times Home section.
At the Biennale of Dakar, he met an entrepreneur who dealt in recycling plastic for industrial use, and they formed a joint venture to make furniture from recycled plastic in Senegal.
The factory in Dakar-making the stools
The factory in Dakar-making the stools
Most recently, in 2011, the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in Long Island City, NY,inaugurated new cafeteria stools. This was the result of a not-for-profit fundraising effort, spearheaded by Herman Miller Furniture. The true adventure was in getting the furniture in time to New York from Dakar! Below are a few photos of the manufacturing process in Dakar (taken with Bibi's phone camera, so they are a little fuzzy), and the finished product in use at PS1.
On Friday and mostly on Saturday, April 13-14, 2012, Columbia University's School of International Policy held the 9th Annual African Economic Forum. Nick Tattersall, Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism at Columbia University, introduced t he first keynote speaker: Sanusi Lamido Sanusi , Governor of Nigeria's Central Bank. Mr. Sanusi hails from Northern Nigeria; on Wikipedia , he is called "Mallam" (" learned " or "teacher," from the Arabic language), as he is also an Islamic scholar---probably a rarity in the banking world! He spoke softly (a little too softly for some of us, as the microphones were not working too well on the first day of the Forum) and couched his words carefully; however, his goals for Africa in general, and Nigeria in particular were quite clear: self-sufficiency leading to prosperity, and independence from foreign economic interests. I cannot, of course, provide here the full speech; howev
In various parts of Africa, there are informal organizations, called "tontine," in French-speaking Cameroon. I looked up “tontine” in the English-language Wikipedia , and the definition is not the same; however, there is a link to the word “ likelamba ,” which describes the everyday African tontine. Two types of tontines The usual system is that all the members of a tontine—usually tontines are all-male or all-female—contribute a set amount of money every month to a common “pot,” and every month a different person takes the entire sum, usually to take care of a large expense they couldn't otherwise afford: tuition for a child, household equipment, etc. It is very difficult to save money in Sub-Saharan Africa for all but a fortunate few. Everyday needs are pressing, and there is never enough money; even if there is, a family member may have an urgent need, and there goes any money that was left over! In Cameroon, there is yet another tontine system, called the "
Ndolé with fried plantains Food in tropical Africa, as everywhere in the world, is mainly made with local products. Notable exceptions: tomatoes have become a staple, after being imported by the Europeans who had themselves imported them from South America. Tomatoes are not quite as ubiquitous as in southern Italy, but are the go-to item for sauces when a cook is in a crunch. Another import is salt cod, also known in the Americas as Bacalao . Cooked with what else... tomato sauce! Onions are also very popular, and I don’t think they are originally from the African continent. Ndolé plant Food, traditionally, is cooked. Well cooked. Salads used to be an unknown entity, and older people still call it “goat’s food.” Raw, or insufficiently cooked, would have been—and may still be—dangerous, in the hot and humid equatorial climate, where bacteria thrive, as it is never cold. Snow is a completely unknown entity. Even after a third of his life spent in temperate climates, my hus