The Art and Soul of Africa in Paris (with Notes from Luxembourg)
Like last Monday’s missive, a theme ran through the weekend’s activities…unexpectedly. The theme: Africa.
Africa may seem far away from Paris and France, but in fact, between 1895 and 1960 there existed the AOF, the “Afrique Occidentale Française,” a federation of eight French colonial territories: Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger. As a result, Africans are the largest group of immigrants in France representing almost 20% of the population.
One Côte d’Ivoirien, who lives and works between Paris and the Grand Bassam, is an artist and creator of furnishings and sculptures made by his own hand using exotic African woods. His creations are inspired by African tradition laced with a Western influence — making his functional “objets d’art” a perfect marriage between his native Africa and his adopted France.
I met Jean-Servais Somian about 14 years ago and fell in love with his big toothy smile and whimsical creations. So much so, that his ebony hand-carved wood and iron forged coffee table sits in my living room as one of my prized possessions. On one hand it seems primitive, but on another hand, very refined and elegant. It is this that I love so much about his work — the blend of the two cultures that would fit in just about any space.
Every couple of years, Jean-Servais brings his works to Paris for a special exhibition. This time, he’s showing his ‘forest’ of “cocotiers” (coconut palm trees) at the Galerie Philippe Lawson (16, rue des Carmes, 75005 Paris) in conjunction with another African artist, Franck K. Lundangi, on until April 19th. The gallery is a small space filled with his trees-become-furniture and other hand-made objects — artistic furniture creations that are both beautiful and whimsical, while rich in texture and sculptural.
If you have a chance to visit the gallery, perhaps before or after a stroll and a repose in the Luxembourg Gardens, as I did on Saturday afternoon, it will be well worth your visit. (Scroll to the end to read my notes from Le Jardin du Luxembourg.)
The African theme continued into Sunday when a friend encouraged me to join her to see (actually ‘hear’) the “Great Black Music” exhibition at the Cité de la Musique, on until August 24th. With earphones you are provided, you are taken into the world of music which stems from the Black Diaspora and ends with the Black artists we have all come to know and love, such as Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Miriam Makeba and so many more. From the Congo River to Congo Square, from the ‘jungle’ of Harlem to the Ile de Gorée, to the shores of the Caribbean through London and Paris and beyond, the melodies, instruments and beats gave rise to the term “Black Music” and a common heritage was born in their African roots.
Be prepared to be there for hours listening and watching via an interactive audio-visual presentation that spans the centuries. I cried watching Aretha Franklin belt out her infamous song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” (which is the key to success for any party and which I once heard sung on the Métro as R-E-S-P-C-E-T!) and Michael Jackson’s tragic end to a man who continues to influence our concept of both music and dance. Billie Holiday’s story was as blue as her bluesy songs, one of which will always be my favorite of all time, “My Man,” sung by Fanny Brice and then Barbara Streisand at the end of the movie “Fanny.”
No doubt, you will find yourself crying, smiling and dancing as you listen your way through this exhibition…don’t miss it.
Notes from Le Jardin du Luxembourg
I close my eyes and hear the crunching of the gravel under their feet. A band plays on the stand under the trees to an appreciative audience. Baskers in the sun remove their shoes, air their toes, take in the warmth of the sun and fresh air. The flowers are young, the leaves on the trees pale green and barely full. Only a few wisps of clouds punctuate the blue sky.
The clock on The Palais is correct, surprisingly so. There are no free chairs — some who feel entitled to take two: one in which to sit, the other on which to prop their feet or their belongings. Others perch on the stone balustrade or simply stroll among the masses.
Miniature sailboats float gingerly on the pond, guided by their young captains. The fountains spew water and the statuary await the roosting of a bird or two. The sun is warm, but the gentle breezes cool. The French flag flies proudly and with Spring comes hope.
I rarely take the pleasure of the garden now like I once did. Then, in the first years of exploring Paris, the gardens were my ‘office’ where contemplating life was my vocation. Now life itself needs no contemplation, but only the living of it.
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(at “forest of cocotiers” exhibit)
P.S. Join us at Parler Paris Après-midi tomorrow, April 8 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. when our speaker is Kristin Espinasse, author, creator of French-Word-A-Day.com and budding permaculture farmer who will be speaking on “A foreigner’s accent when speaking French: charming or not? Or maybe just attention getting — or even manipulative?” It’s free and it’s fun — costs only what you drink! We meet upstairs at La Pierre du Marais on the corner of rue des Archives and rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris, Métro Lines 9, 3 et 11, stations Temple, République or Arts et Métiers.