Looking at Daniel Bracci’s magnificent images of Anilez Silva entitled ‘Africa’, my rational mind says “don’t go there, Anne”. Our politically correct world only sees stereotypes where you see art and connection.
After all, Anilez Silva is fiercely tribal, sensual, erotic, impenetrable, dangerous, ancestral, aboriginal and ancient. She is ferocious, native, natural, primeval and primitive; turbulent, unbroken and proud.
My friends at Jezebel would probably hate her. We tend not to see eye-to-eye on a few issues, and this is one of them. Are Bracci’s images stereotypical? Racist? I’m not an African American — or African woman — or African Parisian woman, so I can only speak to how these images affect me personally.
When the subject is Africa, I have a visceral response that another person might have with India. Most Americans have no visceral response at all, in terms of connection with “foreign” imagery, but this is not the case for me.
Musée Dapper in Paris
Wandering through Paris on a creative mission for Victoria’s Secret, my affinity for African art brought me a small museum in Paris called Musée Dapper, located then in a small townhouse at 50 Avenue Victor Hugo. I went there after the breakup of a serious love affair (again), wanting to escape current reality for an hour.
Thankfully, when I entered the almost colonial feeling townhouse of the old Dapper, it was mid-afternoon and raining, leaving the museum empty. Drawn immediately to a room of mounted masks, I sat down on a bench, alone with ancestral voices, personifications of good and evil, oracles from the spirit world, and witnesses to history. Almost instantaneously, I was overcome with an intense sorrow.
The small staff at the Musée Dapper left me alone in my pool of tears. One can only carry on in such a state for a good 20 minutes without feeling foolish, and I eventually calmed myself. Soaking in all the meaning, inspiration, lessons and collective unconscious learnings of the advent of civilization spoken by these masks, I stood up and walked out of the main exhibit room and into the shop.
When the lights went out, I wasn’t surprised, but exasperated. “After all,” I told myself, “the electricity wiring is terrible in these old buildings.” I remembered being in Cartegena, Colombia, where the electricity went out regularly from 3 to 6pm.
It’s also factually correct to say that when I gave presentations at Victoria’s Secret, we paid to have a technician standing by. For whatever reason, I have always had a strange relationship with electricity and energy.
Returning to the Musée Dapper a few months later with my African American friend Phyllis, I told her the story of my quick exit from my first visit.
We entered the bookstore to the right of the entrance, which made leaving easy. Literally five minutes after walking in the front door, lights went our, alarms rang, and Phyllis and I were ushered out onto the street as doors were locked.
The adage is three strikes and you’re out, and this is my story. I returned to the Musée Dapper a few years later with my partner and his son.
By this time my unusual chemistry with African artifacts was known to my family, and we entered the building prepared to leave immediately. That was not the case. In fact, we spent at least 45 minutes wandering through the small rooms on a crowded day and were on the second floor when the alarms went off.
Was I a witch? A high priestess?
This is the end of my Parisian African art museum story. The Musée Dapper moved to new quarters at a block away and I have no magic powers there.
My inexplicable relationship with the Dapper Museum wasn’t my only extraordinary experience with African artifacts. Stone sober on a New York Saturday morning in the 70s, I fell in love with a necklace at Ashanti Bazaar on Lexington Avenue.
Submerged in Unconsciousness
When the shop assistant fastened the necklace around my throat, I went into an altered state of consciousness for several minutes — a quick trip journey to a grassy savannah across the ocean.
Totally not present in New York, even with my husband nudging me and talking loudly, I appeared to be in a trance but don’t believe that I lost cognitive function. That experience made a stunning impression on me, and it’s not one I discuss readily. Both of these stories are the gospel truth.
Why do I mention them? Because many feminists are in search of women’s true history and we believe it lies in writing the reality of African women’s history.
My thoughts mean to honor African women at home and also those whose families have migrated across the world for generations — willingly and in chains. I find the Anilez Silva images inspiring and in touch with the origins of female power — long suppressed.
We live in a time of marvelous archaeological discovery about migration patters and the origins of the first humans. Last month, researchers released a study confirming that the genomes of some Ethiopian populations bear striking DNA similarities to populations in Israel and Syria and less commonality with the truly ancient genomes of some Southern African populations.
It’s Lake Turkana, located in the Kenyan Rift Valley, that’s regarded as the cradle of humankind. Turkana’s far northern end crosses over into Ethiopia.
I’m off and running now, just Googling Carl Jung + East Africa. The father of the collective unconscious, which I embracing fully, was very uncomfortable with his trek into Africa. More on that story shortly. Peter Gabriel wrote Rhythm of the Heat in about 1982, here performed in Venice in 2007.
Peter Gabriel ‘Rhythm of the Heat’
The moment takes me to sleeping in Venice and the Kenyan spirit that also speaks to me in my dreams: Dan Eldon. Speaking of sleep, links tomorrow. It’s time for dark reveries and reading the NYTimes article Chris Stringer on the Origins and Rise of Modern Humans. ~ Anne
Related: Dan Eldon | A Good Life Is the Best Journey AOC World