The celebratory art of Aurélia Durand

Aurélia Durand is a French illustrator with a penchant for vibrant designs depicting Black people in joyful, proud, and empowered poses.

Her client list is a who’s who of major brands, including:

With so much bleakness in the world at the moment and heightened Black trauma, vivid celebratory images like Aurélia’s are a welcome relief and a reminder that Blackness is multifaceted and joyous.

Maro Itoje presented an exhibition on Black histories missing from the UK curriculum

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition earlier this month, Itoje, who was educated at the private boarding school Harrow, says one of the constants in his schooling was “the lack of Black and African history that I was taught”. Moreover, when African history was on the syllabus, it was “a single story or narrative that was told”. He adds: “That story was often depressing, and quite often a saviour/survivor narrative. I want to try and show a fuller picture.”

Good on you, Maro!

(via The Art Newspaper)

Ekow Nimako's Afrofuturistic LEGO® universes

Ekow Nimako is a Toronto-based artist who makes Afrofuturism sculptures from black LEGO.

Ekow Nimako is a Toronto-based, internationally exhibiting LEGO artist who crafts futuristic and whimsical sculptures from the iconic medium. Rooted in his childhood hobby and intrinsic creativity, Nimako’s formal arts education and background as a lifelong multidisciplinary artist inform his process and signature aesthetic. His fluid building style, coupled with the Afrofuturistic themes of his work, beautifully transcend the geometric medium to embody organic and fantastical silhouettes. 

I haven’t played with LEGO in years so I didn’t know there were so many varied pieces to make these majestic sculptures. It’s truly breathtaking to witness.

(via Colossal)

The lost golden city of Luxor, Egypt

Archaeologists have unearthed a 3,000-year-old city in Luxor, Egypt.

The “lost golden city” dates back to the 18th-dynasty of King Amenhotep III (1391 to 1353 BC). Experts believe the city may have been used by Tutankhamun.

Dr Zahi Hawass, a former antiquities minister who lead the mission, said:

“Many foreign missions searched for this city and never found it. […] Within weeks, to the team’s great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions. What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life.”

via The Guardian

Amongst the discoveries were items of jewellery, pottery, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks “bearing the seals of Amenhotep III”. Let’s hope none of this finds its way into the British Museum as they have enough stolen artefacts as it is.

Sophia Tassew's Khula jewellery brand is dope

Sophia Tassew with 4 models wearing Khula earrings

Last year, I said I wanted to showcase more Black content, particularly creative endeavours and projects that deserve all the spotlights and this is the perfect example of that.

Khula is a jewellery brand by Sophia Tassew, a plus-size content creator from South East London. You may recognise her name from an earlier blog post I wrote about A Quick Ting On—she’ll be releasing a book about her experiences in 2022. In an interview with Bricks Magazine, she called Khula “a sort of homage to my parents who come from Ethiopia and South Africa.”

I’ve always wanted to have my own earring collection or design something. I always thought it would come in the form of a brand collaboration but it didn’t and still hasn’t so I decided to start it myself and learn how to make earrings. Also, as a plus sized girl, growing up, my fashion and style journey was tedious. You were forced to shop for clothes that were meant for people three times your age or the mens section. The only thing I could always rely on were earrings. They’ve been my savouir (sic) many times as well as a small representation of who I am and where I come from. So much growth has happened between then and now and that’s exactly what Khula means in Zulu, grow. 

Sophia runs Khula completely on her own, working very long nights and making her vast collection of earrings by hand, as well as packing and posting the products herself. It’s the epitome of a one-woman team.

I especially love the late 60s/70s vibe from the designs, which she said inspired her alongside her roots from East Africa and South Africa:

Taking inspiration from my heritage and putting that into my brand makes me feel so much closer to my roots in a way that I know how, and a language that I understand which is jewellery. I’m very interested in Black people from different eras and celebrating them and their looks.

If you can, please support Khula and buy something from the store when the next batch drops. And follow both the Khula brand and Sophia on Instagram.

(featured image taken by Chad McLean from Instagram [his website])

Equiano is the world’s first African-Caribbean rum

Equiano rum

I wrote about the very brief history of rum a few months ago and now there’s a new chapter to add to the story.

Equiano blends the flavours of Barbados and Mauritius to create the world’s first African-Caribbean rum. It comes courtesy of global rum ambassador Ian Burrell and Foursquare Distillery’s master distiller and blender Richard Seale.

Equiano Rum is the delicious result of a collaboration between two fabulous distilleries, marrying liquid from Barbados’ Foursquare and Gray’s Distillery of Mauritius. The rum from Foursquare is aged in American white oak, while the liquid from Gray’s is aged in French limousin oak and Cognac casks. It’s then married in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at Foursquare, weighing in at 43% ABV. Two hemispheres meet in one bottle, and it’s rather marvellous.

Grab a bottle of Equiano from Master of Malt and read more about the creators in MoM’s blog post from last February.

And, of course, drink responsibly. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Alcohol-related: The mint julep and its Black history, the whiskey glass from Blade Runner, and a Star Wars glass stormtrooper decanter.

Sir David Adjaye’s best projects

Sir David Adjaye

Last week, Sir David Adjaye became the first Black architect to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture by RIBA in its 173-year history. This was even more remarkable since less than 2% of registered architects are Black.

To honour the occasion, The Spaces picked 8 of the most iconic projects from his career.

Adjaye has worked tirelessly for the last 27 years, taking on projects that range from monumental public scales to intimate domestic spaces, each with an instantly recognisable aesthetic.

Amongst the chosen projects were The Stephen Lawrence Centre in South London and The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.

Check the slideshow on The Spaces website.

The Uganda Skateboard Union

The Uganda Skateboard Union started as an organisation for Ugandans to skate and “have a positive impact on the youth’s development and growth.” Back in 2006, Jackson Mubiru and Shael Swart built the nation’s first skateboard ramp out of bricks and cement. Later, a Canadian filmmaker named Brian Lye worked with them to build a small course beside the ramp and fundraised to create a skateboard park.

The skatepark featured in the music video for Naughty Boy, Kyla & Popcaan’s “Should’ve Been Me” (although the video description says the park was built in 2004).

Stream it below.

The diasporan style of Grace Wales Bonner

A man in a brown jacket, sweater, and trousers.

The New Yorker profiled Grace Wales Bonner, a Black UK designer who draws inspiration from the African diaspora to create beautiful fashion rich in Black history.

The twenty-nine-year-old London-based designer—a slight woman with enormous intellectual and artistic ambitions—draws from the creative and thus political minds of the modern African diaspora, not only to inform her art but to reveal how style has grown out of the diaspora itself, linking together our fragmented worlds in ways that others may not have noticed, but that we have. Equally at home with Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor’s theories about Negritude as she is with the history of Christian Dior—last April, she worked with the fabled house to reinterpret its New Look—Wales Bonner has been sui generis from the start, in part because, unlike many other designers, she doesn’t reference the past to service trend; in her work, she aims to make the broken history of the Black artist and intellectual in African, European, and American culture whole.

For more about Grace Wales Bonner, check out this interview she did with The Gentlewoman.

Daniel Obaweya is Nigerian Gothic

A Nife Omi by Nigerian Gothic (Daniel Obaweya) for Homecoming x Browns. Artwork by Joy Matashi

As crap as Instagram can be for its treatment of Black creatives (particularly fat Black femmes), I enjoy the people who are Black AF on the platform in a multitude of ways.

Daniel Obaweya aka Nigerian Gothic falls into that category with his archiving of Black photography and Black people from the 90s and early 2000s. It’s a period I remember with fondness and trips down memory lane are becoming more therapeutic in this hell year called 2020.

Obaweya spoke to Vincent Desmond for AnOther Magazine about the account and his latest collaboration with Nigeria’s Homecoming festival run by Browns this year.

“Growing up in Lagos, I was introduced to the beach really early and it’s kind of became a second home because I didn’t live far from it and we always walked our dogs there and just went there to chill,” Obaweya says of the basis of the project. “I found that some older African photographers, like Malick Sidibé, have referenced beach culture, and now a lot of newer, younger photogaphers are doing the same.”

You can check out the digital Homecoming festival on Browns’s website and watch one of the panel talks—Homecoming and Browns Present: Can Africa Generate The Re-Birth Of Streetwear?—featuring “The Fifty Dollar Man” Virgil Abloh, Ciesay, and Homecoming organisers Grace Ladoja MBE and Alex Sossah.

(Image credit: A Nife Omi by Nigerian Gothic (Daniel Obaweya) for Homecoming x Browns. Artwork by Joy Matashi)

Tutankhamun's tomb is an industry

tutankhamun

Howard Carter found the tomb of Tutankhamun on 22nd November 1922. I know that date well because it’s my birthday. It’s also the day the ancient pharaoh became a superstar thousands of years after his death.

Alina Cohen wrote about Tutankhamun’s tomb and its legacy as a multimillion dollar industry. It also led to the infamous curse of King Tut:

Carter’s discovery was just the beginning of King Tut mania. Herbert died in 1923, shortly after entering the tomb—most likely from an infected mosquito bite—and a series of people connected with him and Carter suffered mysterious traumas. Rumors of King Tut’s curse circulated.

Since then, his tomb and its contents have toured the globe in numerous exhibitions. But there have been questions of looting from Egypt, centring on a sculpture that had the features of Tutankhamun. The country tried to stop auction house Christie’s from selling it, alleging it had been stolen from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor in 1970. Christie’s disagreed.

According to them, the statue was in the private collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis by the 1960s. Christie’s went ahead with the July auction and sold the disputed object for nearly $6 million. Days later, Egypt sued Christie’s. The ongoing brouhaha typifies the disagreements that still pervade the market for Egyptian antiquities.

Subsequent sales of King Tut antiques have garnered huge prizes in auctions. His likeness warrants big bucks. The deeper implications of this—making money from a person of colour (I won’t get into the debate of racial identity in Ancient Egypt but knock yourself out) after death—isn’t addressed in the article and it probably wasn’t the place to do so. But it’s something that should be analysed overall, especially when we see how quickly the death of a Black person like Breonna Taylor can turn the victim into a meme and a painting before her murderers see the inside of a courtroom (if they do).

The visual art of Uzoma Chidumaga Orji

Uzoma Chidumaga Orji

Uzoma Chidumaga Orji is a visual artist and creative technologist from Nigeria. His work is representative of his heritage and focuses heavily on identity as an Igbo Nigerian.

As a technologist he seeks to design engaging human-centred digital experiences that bring the arts and tech into the same conversation.

As an artist he observes and then creates representations of society and of history; visual metaphors that explain his millennial Igbo Nigerian cultural context and the cultural environment he hopes to one day live in.

The essence of his practice is indeed identity, particularly as pertains to self, culture, and nationality. His work uses his notions of his identity as a point of exit to interrogate who we are, how we have come to be and who we aspire to become.

He also works as a web dev which seems like the perfect bridge between both media.

Check out his website and follow him on Instagram.

From fishin' to fashion: how fish skin is used for leather

Salmon skin

There are certain ethical issues with leather but perhaps this is a better solution.

Steinunn Gunnsteinsdóttir is the sales manager of Atlantic Leather, an Icelandic company that owns the only fish tannery in Europe. They’ve been making leather from the skins of salmon and cod (amongst other types) since 1994 and produce nearly a tonne of leather every month.

If that sounds like a lot, consider the fact this is all done by only 19 employees and the whole process takes nearly four weeks. There are advantages to using fish skin rather than the cow or lamb hide, as Gunnsteinsdóttir explains:

Fish leather’s actually nine times stronger than lamb or cow leather of similar thickness. This is because the fibres in fish skin criss-cross rather than (go) just up and down… it makes it much more durable leather for products that have to be really strong like shoes, belts and bags.

Snake and alligator skin are used for leather before but fish is a new one on me and it helps reduce use of the endangered species. But not for fashion houses Jimmy Choo and Dior who Atlantic Leather supply.

They aren’t the only fish leather makers in the world. Kenya is home to Victorian Foods where perch skin is the main material, fished from the largest desert lake in the world. Of course, it’s important that this practice doesn’t contribute to overfishing which has a dangerous effect on the marine wildlife and food for the populations that need it. But right now, it looks like a great alternative.

Fish Leather Development process at KIRDI Western Region Campus (KWRC), Kenya

(image credit: Ella Gordon)

Yasuke - An African Samurai in Japan

Yasuke - An African Samurai in Japan

I watched The Last Samurai a few years ago and enjoyed it. While the movie was inspired by real life Westerners fighting in Asia and played up to the white saviour trope, it was enjoyable if not cliché. But this story is much more interesting.

Authors Thomas Lockley and Geoffrey Girard recently published a book entitled African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan retelling the story of a retainer in feudal Japan who served under a warlord. The legend goes that Yasuke arrived in Japan in the late 16th century, having travelled the world after being kidnapped as a child. Being a black man in Japan caused a stir – many had never seen a man of his complexion. Being a polyglot made him even more mysterious. But his dark skin drew comparisons to Buddha. His presence was courted by Lord Nobunaga, a powerful warlord and Yasuke became one of his samurai. His ability to learn quickly helped him become a powerful figure in Japanese society.

Yasuke’s mythology has transcended centuries and Lockley and Girard’s book isn’t the first of its kind to tell his tale (there’s a book list below you can check out). In African Samurai, Lockley and Girard give an untold story of Yasuke’s life and travels, as well as a new chapter in Japan’s history. Now, yes, this is another story about people of colour written by white guys but it’s still beneficial that the story is being reviewed ecounted.

The good news is there is an upcoming anime about Yasuke and Lakeith Stanfield is set to voice the black samurai (excellent choice). It will be written by Boondocks’ co-director, LeSean Thomas and scored by Flying Lotus.

Update: Here’s are the visuals for the anime’s theme song, composed by Flying Lotus.

Yasuke | Official Teaser | Netflix

Reading list

(Please note the following affiliate links are from Amazon)