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South Africa's Coming-of-Age Ceremonies Continue to Claim More Lives

This winter's initiation season has already claimed the lives of 18 young men.

Eighteen lives have been claimed by the winter initiation season, according to eNCA. As if this were not concerning enough, these deaths have occurred in what are still the early days of the initiation season and the death toll may continue to rise in the coming weeks. A hundred young boys were also rescued from illegal initiation schools and numerous individuals have since been arrested.


The summer initiation season, which ended in January of this year, saw at least 37 young South African boys who set out to become men, return home in body bags instead. The Eastern Cape province alone accounted for 23 of these deaths.

READ: More South African Young Men Continue to Die in Coming-of-Age Initiation Ceremonies

Earlier this month, the winter initiation season was formally opened by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders of South Africa. However, in that first week alone, three lives were lost including that of a seven-year-old-boy—way below the legal age of circumcision which is 18.

These coming-of-age initiation ceremonies are heralded as being necessary in a young man's life and his passage to manhood. The ceremony itself, called ulwaluko in Xhosa, involves a journey to an isolated area or a mountain and primarily focuses on the circumcision of the boys who subsequently receive lessons on manhood and masculinity from elder males.

Speaking about illegal initiation schools and what their role has been in a considerable number of these deaths, COGTA provincial spokesperson, Mamkeli Ngam, said:

"We want to emphasize the rule of law, and those that break the law will be arrested. We want to make sure that all traditional surgeons who break the law are held accountable. We are also calling on parents to report cases of their children who are illegally circumcised so that the law can take its course."

Watch how initiation deaths have become a national crisis in the video below:

Initiation deaths are a national crisiswww.youtube.com


Art
Photo: CAMH

Amoako Boafo On Showing the World How He Wants to Be Seen

The Ghanaian artist uses his latest exhibition, a debut museum solo show, to spotlight his place -- and the place of African art as a whole -- in the world.

In recent years, African art has become very popular in galleries and museums, and across the global art market. For his solo museum debut, Amoako Boafo wanted to interrogate the space African artists could -- and should -- occupy, so he created a site-specific work that responds to the questions that get raised over hype about art from the continent.

‘Deep Pink Sofa’ shows a crossed-legged individual with a calm and confident look staring into what can be said to be a camera. Once Boafo's exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, (CAMH) where it's currently on view closes, the artwork will be disassembled, never to be featured again. Created for the moment, it has a lasting message.

"I think a lot of people talk about tables, chairs, and sofas and I think they all have the same idea about sitting and relaxing, joining the table,” Boafo tells OkayAfrica. “Whatever is happening to African contemporary art, most people think that it's just a wave and it will just vanish. But I think making that painting, for me, makes me feel like I have arrived.”

He continues: "Yes, I will talk for myself first, but I also think that we've been around for a long time. But now, we have a couch where we are comfortable. We are around, and we are not going anywhere."

The piece is one of 30 paintings created by Boafo between 2016 and 2022, featured in his exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. It's an expansion of the show that opened at San Francisco's Museum of the African Diaspora earlier this year.


An image of Amoako Boafo's portrait of Beyonce and Jay Z against a yellow background

The title of Amoako Boafo's exhibition is a spin on Pan-African civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois' 'The Souls of Black Folk.'

Photo: CAMH

Titled 'Soul of Black Folks,' the show is curated by cultural critic Larry Ossei-Mensah. The selected works highlight topics of concern that interest Boafo, including constant resistance against systemic oppression, the active combatting of anti-Black rhetoric, the commodification of Black bodies in the media, and COVID-19.

The exhibition’s title is a spin on Pan-African civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois' 'The Souls of Black Folk,' the seminal book that contains several essays on race, and examines how Black people view themselves and how the world views them. Boafo tells OkayAfrica, Ossei-Mensah "wanted to connect what [Du Bois] did as a scholar and what I am doing now as a visual artist." Of note, the American sociologist, socialist, and historian is buried in Osu, a neighborhood in the capital of Ghana, where Boafo was born and raised.

The current exhibition adds to the growing list of career milestones for arguably one of the most sought-after artists internationally.

Amoako Boafo says the exhibition shows that the depth, consistency, and maturity, as much as the color palette of his work has grown.

Photo: CAMH

The Accra-born, Vienna-based artist, who left a career in tennis to pursue art professionally, is known for his vibrant use of color and thick improvisational gestures, focusing on the complexities of Black life globally, Black joy, and the Black gaze. His Black Diaspora portraits, which consist of accentuated and elevated figures often isolated on single-color backgrounds, have made him a favorite in the art world. His paint-dipped finger's signature style -- of friends, family members, and celebrities -- crafts these works.

In 2020, he made history as the first African artist to collaborate with French Luxury house Dior on their 2021 Men's Spring/Summer collection. Three paintings of his were also launched into space aboard Jeff Bezos’ rocket ship in 2021. Adding a solo museum exhibition to his resume only solidifies his place in the art world and further fans the flame for what yet is still to come. "Having that is an amazing thing, and to be alive to experience that," he says, "but I think one museum show is not enough."

There are more spaces where Boafo wants to show and share his work. "A lot of work has to be done to have more spaces and not just institutions in Europe, but I also think showing in institutions here on the [African] continent is also something that I am looking forward to do."

The themes of Boafo's practice stem from a personal place. One of his most notable works is 'Body Politics.' It details his experiences of discrimination arising from his nationality and race when he first moved to Vienna, where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts. "I think the thing with discrimination and stereotype is that people have a position of what Blackness is for them, and they have a box for it" he says. "A lot of work has been done to change that perception, so I needed to do it differently because most of the time people be screaming and shouting. And I don't see anything wrong with that because that's the way they want to maybe explain or deal with the situation. In my case, I wanted them to know what I am talking about instead of complaining about how they see me. I wanted to show them how they should see me."

'Body Politics' inadvertently marked the beginning of his ascent in the art world. Some three years after his relocation to the capital of Austria, he was awarded the jury prize at the 2017 Walter Koschatzky Art Award.

Boafo is also a Ghanatta College of Art and Design alum in his home country. He won Best Abstract Painter of the Year and Best Portrait Painter of the Year in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

A 2018 discovery of Boafo's work on Instagram by African-American portrait painter Kehinde Wiley (known for, amongst other things, his portrait of the former American president, Barack Obama) kick-started the mainstreaming of him and his craft. Wiley bought a painting and became an advocate of his work by introducing Boafo to his galleries.

He has since won the STRABAG Art award International in 2019, and his works are in private and public collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Rubell Museum, and the Albertina Museum in Vienna, where he lives.

In the light of presenting works created over the past five years in his museum debut, how would he say his craft has evolved over the years? “I think one thing which is very clear in my work is the depth, consistency, and maturity. As much as I will say that my color palette has grown,” states Boafo. “My way of playing with the tones and details have also changed. There’s more abstraction in that figuration. That’s also another growth that I am looking forward to exploring.”

“I think in general, it’s not just figuration or portraiture. It’s like, you know, all the elements – figuration, portraiture, landscape, abstraction. They are all in one element,” Boafo adds.

He will be in Ghana in December to open his artists’ residence, where he will collaborate with many artists for a group show as part of its opening. The space is for "artists to come and experiment, explore and grow with their work," says Boafo. The Deep Pink Sofa may not be there but he envisions it to be a welcoming space, nonetheless.

Music
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Burna Boy Is King of the World In New Video For "It's Plenty"

You heard the man: "Everyday party!"

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Popular
Photo: Cyrille Choupas

Alice Diop On Using Film to Center Marginalized Stories

The French director, whose latest film Saint Omer has been selected by France as its submission for the Best International Picture race, is known for her nuanced portraits of humanity.

“When I hear myself through Nicholas, I find me [sic] too radical!” French filmmaker Alice Diop jokes during our conversation, after hearing some of her words and thoughts filtered through her translator Nicholas Elliott.

Diop was responding passionately to a question about the tensions in France between holding onto assimilation policies and embracing a more modern ethos of inclusion and diversity. She is tying her argument to the radical leaning of French republicanism, which is very, very different from the conservative spirit embraced by the Republican party in the United States, where she is expected to appear in October to present her latest film, Saint Omer at the New York Film Festival.

Saint Omer marks Diop’s transition to fiction after seventeen years working as a documentary filmmaker. The film, which won the Grand Jury prize and best debut feature prizes recently at the Venice Film Festival where it debuted, is a wrenching legal drama that follows a young novelist Rama (Kayije Kagame) covering the trial of an immigrant mother accused of infanticide.

Before her triumph at Venice, Diop was in New York to promote the MUBI release of her latest documentary, We (Nous), which premiered at the 2021 Berlinale, where it won the Encounters Grand Prize. The film chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south. Diop makes We (Nous) a personal declaration of belonging, weaving footage from her family archive and trailing her sister, a home nurse, at work as she provides care for her patients.

Diop, who is a first-generation daughter of immigrants from Senegal had a wide-ranging chat with OkayAfrica about her films, belonging to French society, and her reasons for prioritizing the stories of the marginalized.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In We (Nous), you are telling these seemingly unrelated stories without obvious connections. What is the common thread linking these stories or people together?

The link is a very personal vision that I have of French society. It is a vision that is at once a dreamed vision but also something already there and not many people see. It is about what can unite people who appear to be so different in a single territory or country. And in a sense, the thread is one that I am weaving myself. It doesn’t exist as such but something very subjective.

In terms of constructing the film, what was the starting point for you?

It started from the book, The Passengers of the Roissy Express published in France about 30 years ago. It is a nonfiction book in which the writer, François Maspero takes the RER B train and follows it to the last stop. This is the train that has the peculiarity of crossing all of the Paris banlieues (low-income suburbs) from north to south. Now these are very different areas that have a great diversity of populations that really express the complexity of French society. I read this book, and it gave me the framework for using the name of the train to describe these very different territories.

A still from the film, We (Nous) of train tracks.

We (Nous) chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south.

Photo: Mubi

At what point does your family come in and how do you weave them into the narrative?

This film is a composition of the singularities of the many different people who live and work in France, and my family is part of that history. That is why I wanted to use our family archive in the film because it is a symbolic way of inscribing these traces of my family, and people like them, who are not shown in the constitution of French society. The archive, for me, completes a missing part of French history. I have so little in terms of archives of my family. I have only less than 17 minutes of images of my mother and everything that I have is in this film. That is something very painful; the lives that my parents had were not necessarily appreciated. These were lives that were not epic or did not have the right narratives. At least that was the feeling that I had because the people that I saw on television, in films and novels were not like me. They did not have my history or background, so I grew up with that absence. And I think that is why I became a filmmaker, to repair the violence of having this unrepresented life.

In a sense, this film, and your entire career has been about adjusting this narrative?

Absolutely. This question touches me because this is at the very heart of my filmmaking. I have done this work ever since the desire came upon me to do it, as a way to not succumb to the anger. My new (fiction) film, Saint Omer is focused on Black women, and is inspired by my mother, and it made me realize how much I needed to do this. I want to add up their bodies in film and in history.

Film, for me, is not a space for entertainment, it is a space for revenge and self-care. Saint Omer is not about the banlieues at all. I believe that people from the banlieues have every right to make films that are not about the banlieues. It is about maternity, and I have every right to talk about maternity because it is a question that is relevant to Black women, as much as it is to white women. I am speaking from my own body, and I think the closer I am to myself, the more likely I am to touch other people.

In the film, you talk about not paying into the family fund that ensures you are buried back home in Senegal. Was coming to this realization difficult?

Exile is not just measured in economic gain; it is also a loss that I cannot even qualify. This relationship to the land where you will be buried, I find it a beautiful thing to choose where you are going to die. But the most concrete way of saying where you belong is to say where you are going to be buried. And for me to say it publicly the way I did was for me to cut myself off. I have a 13-year-old mixed race son who was born and lives in France. I speak French, I don’t speak Wolof. I go to Senegal twice a year at most. I am a Frenchwoman.

Now, I am a very particular kind of Frenchwoman; I am a Black woman with colonial history so the most concrete way for me to be French is to say I am going to be buried where my son lives, or where he is most probably going to live. And that’s not a choice between France and Senegal that I am making, it is a way of saying that I am in harmony with where I am. But it does separate me forever from the place where my parents came from. It is hard to think about, even in this conversation with you. It is the entire complexity that is raised here: of the path of immigrants, of the trajectories of coming and of going, of where you are. It is something that is so complex and intense that merely signifying it is already an achievement. It is also a very universal question.

A still from the film We (Nous) of the filmmaker sitting at a table with an interviewee.

Alice Diop and Pierre Bergounioux in a pivotal moment from We (Nous).

Photo: Mubi

And when you put yourself in the frame by the end of the film, are you completing this tapestry that you are sewing?

In a sense. My appearing with my Black woman’s body in the frame, next to this writer Pierre Bergounioux, in his office is a way for me to get revenge for my father for the 40 difficult years he spent working in France. There is a point in the film when I ask my father if spending these years in France has been positive or negative, and he says it’s been a positive gain overall. But I have the intuition that for his daughter to be able to go to university and do things that as a working man, and my mother as a cleaning woman, never had the opportunity to do, and then to show myself in the frame next to this white writer in the film that I am making -- that I have invited the writer to -- I think that shows something about French society and what it can allow. And that repairs, to some degree, the pain that my parents experienced by coming here to offer me a life that they could not have.

Translation by Nicholas Elliott.

Music
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