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Fakaha and stories of Pablo Picasso’s African Influence

Picasso used everything that came through his door and integrated it into the constant evolution of his artistic process

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An artist paints on a cotton fabric in his workshop, in the village of Fakaha on January 24, 2019. - Whether in tourist brochures or online, it is not unusual to find references to Picasso's reputed visit to Fakaha, a remote village in northern Ivory Coast, some 650 kilometres (400 miles) from Abidjan, the economic capital. A whole mythology has grown up around the question of Africa and Picasso, who never spoke of having been to Fakaha. (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

“I’m sure! I tell you, he came. I saw him!” insists Soro Navaghi, keen to extinguish any doubts about Picasso’s visit to a small Ivorian village famed for its painted textiles.

Whether in tourist brochures or online, it is not unusual to find references to Picasso’s reputed visit to Fakaha, a village in northern Ivory Coast.

Fakaha is “internationally renowned” for its hand-spun cotton cloth which is painted by the Senufo people.

A whole mythology has grown up around the question of an African influence on Picasso, although the artist never spoke of it.

The artist who once provocatively brushed off the subject, denying any knowledge of African art was also an ardent admirer and passionate collector of African art and built up an impressive private collection. 

Highlighting the resemblance between African sculpture and some of Picasso’s work, many art critics see the symbolism and imagery of Africa as one of his sources of inspiration.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
African Grebo mask.
Photo Credit: GenuineAfrica

One often-cited example is the striking similarity between an African Grebo mask and one of the faces in his 1907 work “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”.

“Whenever someone emphasised the influence of African art on the development of his own work, he would shrug his shoulders: although it is certain he was influenced by it from 1906 when he experienced his first (African) sculptures,” says Gilles Plazy, one of his biographers.

“Picasso used everything that came through his door and integrated it into the constant evolution of his artistic process,” he told AFP. 

“He opened up new paths.”

Out of the bush, barefoot

For the several hundred residents of Fakaha, there is no question about where the celebrated Andalusian artist and sculptor found his inspiration.

For decades, these local artists have been hard at work smearing earth-based pigments onto canvas

An artist paints on a cotton fabric in his workshop, in the village of Fakaha, on January 24, 2019. – Whether in tourist brochures or online, it is not unusual to find references to Picasso’s reputed visit to Fakaha, a remote village in northern Ivory Coast, some 650 kilometres (400 miles) from Abidjan, the economic capital. A whole mythology has grown up around the question of Africa and Picasso, who never spoke of having been to Fakaha. (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

Their dexterity is fascinating, their moves precise. Working with knives or sticks, they plunge their tools into the bowls of colour, quickly transforming the white cotton into a work of art covered with animal motifs and figures in masks. 

And there is an element with a definite similarity between Picasso’s works and those of the artists of Fakaha

But is this just a random resemblance or creative coincidence? Or did Pablo Picasso actually see or even own one of the Fakaha canvases? 

“I tell you, he came here. He was inspired by us,” repeats Soro Navaghi, aged in his 60s.

Picasso apparently broke down while driving to Korhogo, but set off on foot and eventually turned up in the village “bare chested and without shoes”, Navaghi says. 

The artist stayed there for several days and even gave the villagers some advice, they say. 

A Blend of Styles

The foreigner taught us to use sponges and toothbrushes to be quicker and more precise says Silue Naganki, one of the artists who takes his inspiration from long-dead ancestors. 

“Before that, we never used the frames either. He advised us to paint the frames.”

Ducking into his house, Soro Navaghi comes up with the “proof” – a cotton canvas featuring Picasso himself. 

The fabric is covered with multiple motifs of a bald, white man, sometimes wearing shorts, sometimes in a grass skirt, who is variously clutching a pencil or paintbrush or even some twigs.

A self-portrait by the master! Surely there can be no doubt, even for an amateur, that this is Picasso, proclaims Navaghi.

Attached to the canvas is a self-declared certificate of authenticity signed by a travel agent who attests to having witnessed the visit.

“Picasso came barefoot to Fakaha in 1968. He worked shirtless and without clothes,” says the document, a copy of the original which is kept in the village archives for safekeeping.

For biographer Plazy, the account would have delighted the eclectic painter, the idea of him visiting Fakaha “like a magician, and infusing the traditional local art with an invigorating breath of fresh air. 

“That is a fantastic tale which would have pleased him very much,” he told AFP. 

End of his life

Picasso died in 1973 at the age of 91, and other villagers concede that his visit was probably earlier than 1968 given his age by then.

At that time, the world-renowned painter, in his mid-80s, would have walked 15 km through the bush, chancing upon a village with no electricity or running water and staying there several days.

And all this passing under the radar… 

Even though Picasso continued working until his death, it certainly wasn’t only at the end of his life that African influences appear in his works.

But could he have been in Fakaha around the turn of the century, as travel guide Petit Fute suggests? 

If there is no trace of Picasso’s visit, it is because he wanted it to be kept secret and not give away the fact that he had been inspired by Fakaha, a young villager says. 

Picasso impersonator?

If he did make the journey, Picasso would have had to take a boat to Abidjan, then travel the remaining 1,000 km by road in scorching, dry conditions with little shade from the sun — an adventure more suited to an explorer.

Such an epic trip would have taken at least several months, and would likely have featured in one of his biographies.

Even so, the story retains an element of mysterious intrigue.

In a bid to seek expert input, AFP contacted the Picasso Museum in Paris, which declined to comment, then spoke with several of his biographers, who also refused to be pinned down.

One theory put forward by residents of the city of Korhogo is that it was a false Picasso – a man who clearly resembled the famed Spanish painter and fooled the villagers by pretending to be him. 

But that also raises a question: why? 

SOURCE: NEWS CENTRAL AND NEWS PARTNERS

 

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Culture & Tourism

Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

A team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back some 4,000 years ago.

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A man brushes off dust from a sarcophagus, part of a new discovery carried out almost 300 meters south of King Amenemhat II’s pyramid at Dahshur necropolis, exposed near the Bent Pyramid, about 40km (25 miles) south of the Egyptian capital Cairo, during an inaugural ceremony of the pyramid and its satellites, on July 13, 2019. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Egypt on Saturday opened two ancient pyramids south of the capital Cairo and unveiled a collection of newly found sarcophagi, some containing well-preserved mummies. 

Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told reporters the Bent Pyramid of King Sneferu, the first pharaoh of Egypt’s 4th dynasty, and a nearby pyramid would be reopened to visitors for the first time since 1965.

Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany speaks in front of the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

He also said a team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back to the Middle Kingdom some 4,000 years ago.  

The finds were made during excavation work in the royal necropolis of Dahshur on the west bank of the Nile River, in an area home to some of Egypt’s oldest pyramids.

“Several stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi were found and some contain mummies in good condition,” the antiquities ministry said in a statement. 

The ancient wall stretches some 60 metres and is situated south of the pyramid of 12th dynasty pharaoh King Amenemhat II, also in the Dahshur necropolis. 

The finds also included funerary masks as well as tools dating back to the Late Period — which spanned almost 300 years up to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC — used for cutting stones, the ministry said.

Egypt has in recent years sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism, which took a hit from the turmoil that followed its 2011 uprising.

SOURCE: NEWS CENTRAL AND NEWS PARTNERS

 

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eSwatini bans “weird” witchcraft competition

The proposed competition of witchcraft and magic spells was unheard of and regarded as an anomaly in the country

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eSwatini bans "weird" witchcraft competition
(File photo)

A competition pitting witchdoctors against each other in a battle of skills this weekend in eSwatini — formerly known as Swaziland — has been banned, according to a government statement.

Organisers had planned to hold the competition in Manzini, the second city of eSwatini, a country in southern Africa ruled by King Mswati III, one of the world’s last absolute monarchs.

“The proposed competition of witchcraft and magic spells was unheard of in the country and it was regarded as an anomaly in the lives of the people of eSwatini,” government spokesman Percy Simelane said in a statement.

“Government will not sanction any competition of that nature. Anyone who will persist with any activity related to witchcraft will face the full might of the law.”

The statement, released on Tuesday, said the Witchcraft Act of 1889 defines witchcraft, sorcery or the practice of voodoo as a punishable offence.

“Government cannot sit back and watch while the lives of the citizens of this country are exposed to illegal and weird practices that have the potential to poison the minds of (Swazi people), especially children,” Simelane added.

“Government will not allow the voodoo competition — period!”

eSwatini has a population of 1.3 million people, with many following Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

The Times of Swaziland on Wednesday quoted “Africa Gama”, the organiser of the event, as saying the competition would have pit witchdoctors against traditional healers as under the previous king Sobhuza II, who died in 1982.

“The King was concerned about unnecessary competition among healers so he called them to one place so that they could demonstrate their powers,” he said.

“I was competing with traditional healers, doctors, and prophets from across the world.”

SOURCE: NEWS CENTRAL AND NEWS PARTNERS

 

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How Malawi’s busker is fighting myths about albinism

Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albinism musician and has featured in a Madonna-produced documentary

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How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi's musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe's Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Like scores of other buskers, Lazarus Chigwandali plies the streets of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe hoping for a few coins from appreciative passers-by.

But Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albino, releasing a professional album, and the star of a documentary produced by Madonna.

Albinos are often targeted in brutal attacks in Malawi and other southern African countries because they have white skin due to a hereditary condition that causes lack of pigmentation.

Killings, abductions and gruesome dismembering of body parts for witchcraft and rituals are all real dangers.

Despite the risks, Chigwandali, 39, has been out in front of the public for years playing his upbeat tunes on a homemade banjo and a drum that he hits with a pedal operated by his right foot.

His big break came just last year when a tourist took a video of him on a cellphone and the footage was seen by Swedish producer Johan Hugo, who asked him to record an album.

Chigwandali, who sings in the local Chichewa language, draws on his tough upbringing for his music, telling of constant harassment, suspicion and the threat of physical attack.

“Growing up, people didn’t want us being close to them because of our skin,” he told reporters.

“People would leave when I went to watch a football match with my younger brother (also an albino), others would jostle us.”

“The album talks about the plight of persons with albinism. How people should not stigmatise others.”

‘Blows you away’ –

Chigwandali’s music stands out on its own — energetic with sharp vocals that catch everyone’s attention as they walk by.

Hugo, the Swedish producer, was so impressed by the video clip that he tracked down the Malawian busker and offered to record his music.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism, Lazarus Chigwandali, poses with his managers Siphiwe Zulu (L) and Esau Mwamwaya before leaving his home at Likuni to go and perform at Area 3 Market in the capital Lilongwe. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A few golden times in life something blows you away in such an amazing way you just cry and laugh and shake your head,” Hugo said later on social media.

“(It was) one of the coolest and most emotional moments of my life.”

Chigwandali still busks occasionally to provide for his wife and three sons — two of them albinos — though he hopes the blossoming projects he is involved with will soon bring in a regular income.

He wears a wide-brimmed hat to keep off the sunlight that causes painful damage to his sensitive, heavily-freckled skin, and a traditional handmade shirt with a matching pair of trousers.

Ikponswa Ero, the UN’s chief expert on albinism, told reporters that Chigwandali was playing a unique role in tackling prejudice against albinos.

“He is using the arts for advocacy, which is a powerful tool because it touches people’s hearts, so he is really doing something important here,” she said.

“People like Lazarus complement people like myself who report and help build policy.”

And Malawi has experienced a surge in violent attacks on people with albinism.

In a report last year, Amnesty International said that since November 2014 there had been 148 crimes reported against people with albinism, with at least 21 deaths.

For Chigwandali, he says his “recent status as a famous musician has made it difficult for me to be a target because I am more prominent. So, now I go to the village without the fear of being abducted.”

‘Give voice to albinos’ –

Originally from the town of Dedza in central Malawi, Chigwandali moved to Lilongwe after his much-loved younger brother died of skin cancer in 2006.

Superstar singer, Madonna met him during a visit to Malawi last year, and took an executive producer credit in the documentary, simply titled “Lazarus”, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe’s Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A powerful voice of a new generation in Malawi,” Madonna wrote beneath a picture of the pair on social media when they performed together in Malawi.

As well as Madonna, Chigwandali hopes to emulate Salif Keita, the Malian afro-pop star singer who also has albinism.

Now preparing for his album launch, he has released a promotional track “Ndife Alendo”  (“We are strangers”) which has been played on several BBC radio stations.

“My message is reaching the whole world now,” he said. “But there’s also been really amazing support from Malawi radio and TV — I want people in my home country to hear this music and appreciate it.

“This has all been a rollercoaster ride for me, these things don’t happen in real life normally. I don’t know what to expect. But I trust that people want the best for me. 

“I hope my music gives a voice to people with albinism, so they understand they’re as worthy as any other human being.”

SOURCE: NEWS CENTRAL AND NEWS PARTNERS

 

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