Thursday, April 27, 2017

Jacqueline Woodson - 2017 American Library in Paris Fellow

On Wednesday, April 19, a standing room only crowd gathered to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak at the American Library in Paris.

Woodson is the Library's 2017 Visiting Fellow. She is the ninth in a line of distinguished professionals who have come to Paris since 2013 to pursue a book-writing project (fiction or non-fiction) or the making of a feature-length documentary film that is consistent with the Library’s Franco-American tradition and interests.

When she took the podium, Woodson unabashedly took photos of the audience to share with her family.

Jacqueline Woodson taking a photo of the audience for her family
© Discover Paris!

She then expressed her excitement and gratitude for having the opportunity to visit Paris and work on her project, which she described in a blog post written especially for the Library as being about "movement and resistance."

Woodson giving a "thumbs up" to the audience
© Discover Paris!

In a completely unassuming manner, she spoke candidly about her creative process and shared intimate details about her life and that of her family. Her reflections about her belief that books should present readers with mirrors and windows - places where they can see reflections of themselves as well as step into the lives and environments of others - was especially powerful.

Woodson read from two of her books - Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir, and Another Brooklyn, her first adult novel in twenty years. She described the latter as a "biography" of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, where she grew up, and spoke of how one has more freedom to "play with time" when writing for adults compared to writing for children.

Woodson considering her words before continuing her story
© Discover Paris!

During the evening's Q&A session, Woodson held the audience's rapt attention as she fielded questions about how she views cultural appropriation, how she dealt with writing about her family, how the writings of James Baldwin influenced her life and her own writing...

Another Brooklyn was available for sale and signing after Woodson's presentation and the line of buyers was quite long.

Woodson and a happy book purchaser
© Discover Paris!

During and after the book signing, attendees gathered at a lively reception on the lower level of the library.

Reception on lower level of library
© Discover Paris!

Woodson has written more than 30 books, mainly but not exclusively for young adults and children. She has received numerous award for her work, including the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award and several Newbery honors. Some of her best-known works include Miracle's Boys and her Newbery Honor-winning titles Brown Girl Dreaming, After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers, and Show Way - all of which are available in the Library's collection. She is in Paris for the rest of the month of April.

For more information about Jacqueline Woodson, click HERE.


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Picasso at the Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac

Organized by the Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac in collaboration with the Musée National Picasso-Paris, Picasso Primitif endeavors to examine the relationship between "primitive" art and the art of Pablo Picasso. The exhibition consists of more than 100 works by Picasso, as well as numerous documents (letters, post cards, photographs...) that reveal details of his life and the times in which he lived.

Exhibition curator Yves Le Fur led a group of bloggers through the Garden Gallery at the museum last Thursday evening, presenting numerous works and explaining his concept for the show.

Curator Yves Le Fur
© Discover Paris!

The first part of the exhibition consists of a chronology of Picasso's life in Paris and introduces visitors to his first encounters with non-Western art. The timeline begins in 1900, when he moved to Paris, and ends in 1974, one year after his death.

Throughout this section, documentation clearly indicates that Picasso was an avid collector of African and Oceanic art. According to the information posted, he purchased his first works in 1907, shortly after having completed Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. He frequently loaned pieces from his collection to prestigious art shows. More than 200 previously unknown works were found in his Cannes studio after his death.

Photo of works discovered in Picasso's
Cannes Studio after his death
© Discover Paris!

The subject of Picasso's infamous quote "L'Art Nègre? Connais pas !" (Negro Art? I don't know it!) is addressed in this section of the exhibition. Le Fur opined that the statement, which was made in 1920, has been taken out of context and indicated his belief that Picasso was comparing his level of knowledge of this art form to that of experts such as Guillaume Apollinaire.

Another explanation for the statement is found in an information panel for the year 1923, where Picasso indicates that his interviewer attributed those words to him without Picasso actually having stated them:

Information Panel - 1923
Picasso's clarification of l'Art Nègre quote
© Discover Paris!

"I already told you that I didn't have anything else to say about 'Negro art.' You responded for me, 'Negro art? I don't know it!'"

Yet the artist clearly expressed his debt to African art when he made the following statement after visiting the Trocadéro Ethnological Museum in 1907:

At that time, for most people, an African mask was only an ethnographic object. When I went to the Trocadéro Museum with Derain for the first time, the smell of mold and abandon caught in my throat. I was so depressed that I wanted to leave right away. But I forced myself to stay, to examine the masks, all the objects that men executed for a sacred purpose, magic, to serve as an intermediary between them and the unknown, hostile forces that surrounded them, trying to overcome their fear by giving it color and form.

And then I understood that this is the very meaning of painting. This is not an esthetic process; it is a form of magic that is interposed between the hostile universe and us, a way to seize power by imposing form on our terrors as well as our desires. The day that I understood that, I knew that I had found my path.

Picasso revisited his painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon because of what he experienced at the museum. He was quoted by Cultural Affairs Minister André Malraux as calling the painting his first "exorcism canvas".

The second part of the exhibition is called "Corps à Corps" ("Face to Face"). It looks at various themes found in non-Western art that are echoed in Picasso's art - the use of simplified forms as a means of representing the essence of the human body (Archetypes), the combination of human and animal forms (Metamorphoses), and the deconstruction of the body to reveal the inner character housed within (The Id). The non-Western works shown in this section are displayed in proximity to Picasso's works to illustrate similarities of inspiration and form, but not necessarily to indicate that they directly inspired the Picasso works located nearby.

Picasso's Jeune garçon nu with several anthropomorphic sculptures
© Discover Paris!

Some non-Western works that were acquired by Picasso are also on display.

Détroit de Torrès Mask
19th century
Sheet metal, Casoar feathers, shells
© Discover Paris!

Picasso Primitif runs through July 23, 2017.

Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac
37, quai Branly or 217, rue de l'Université
75007 Paris
RER: Pont de l'Alma (Line C)
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday - 11 AM to 7 PM; Thursday through Saturday - 11 AM to 9 PM. Closed Mondays.
Entry fee: 10€
Reduced fee: 7€


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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Name Change for an Historic Afro-Caribbean Night Spot

In September 2016, I wrote about the impending relaunch of the Bal Colonial, which was commonly known as le Bal Nègre.

The club was scheduled to reopen on March 21, 2017 with the name "Le Bal Nègre." But protests caused the owner to rename the club "Le Bal de la rue Blomet," after the street on which it is located.

Le Bal de la Rue Blomet
Header at Le Bal Blomet's Web site

Le Bal Blomet façade
Press photo from Le Bal Blomet Web site

On the Web site, an open letter to owner Guillaume Cornut expressed outrage at the selection of the name "Bal Nègre," saying that the name was insulting and racist. It also "called out" M. Cornut for having falsely declared that Claude Ribbe - a key influencer in Paris' Afro-Caribbean community - supported his choice. Six thousand (6,000) - 7,000 persons reportedly signed the letter, which was addressed to Cornut; Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris; Philippe Goujon, Mayor of the 15th arrondissement; and Audrey Azoulay, France's Minister of Culture.

Additionally, several dozen people staged a live protest in front of the establishment on February 7. Notably, one person carried a sign bearing the image of James Baldwin and the title of the recently released documentary I Am Not Your Negro.

Tweet posted by @vivreparis on February 7, 2017

The original opening date of March 21 was selected because it marks the beginning of spring. But, as noted in the open letter, this is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The opening actually took place on March 22, 2017.

Le Bal Blomet promises eclectic musical programming, including cabaret, jazz, and classical music on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in a spacious, 250-seat concert hall.

Concert hall at Le Bal Blomet
Press photo from Le Bal Blomet Web site

It also has a restaurant that seats 70 persons and features French cuisine with a Caribbean influence.

Restaurant logo and photo at Le Bal Blomet
Press photo from Le Bal Blomet Web site

Le Bal Blomet

33 rue Blomet
75015 Paris
Telephone: 01 44 93 00 27
La Table du Bal Restaurant hours:
Tuesday through Friday 12 noon to 2 PM and 7 PM to 10 PM
Saturday 12 noon to 3 PM and 7 PM to 10 PM
Sunday 12 noon to 3 PM


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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Atelier Lea Lund and Erik K - Open for Business!

I first met Lea Lund and Erik K. at the African Stories exhibition at the Mu Gallery in January 2017.

The dynamic couple informed me that they'd soon be opening an atelier in the 11th arrondissement and promised to keep me informed. They were true to their word and invited Tom and me to their vernissage, which took place on March 31.

Vernissage invitation

It was a gorgeous day and the festivities had already gotten off to a great start by the time we arrived. People congregated on the cobblestones and the sidewalk in front of the atelier.

Guests gather in front of Lea Lund & Erik K atelier
© Discover Paris!

Lund and K happily posed for a photo before the crowd showed up. They are the epitome of grace and style!

Erik K and Lea Lund
© Discover Paris!

The photograph used for the invitation hung prominently on a wall at the left of the predominantly open space. K told me that dressed in one of Lund's kimonos and draped a scarf over his head to pose for this photo.

Photo for vernissage invitation on the atelier wall
© Discover Paris!

Front room of atelier
© Discover Paris!

Soon people began to filter into the atelier to appreciate the works inside.

Guests gather inside the atelier
© Discover Paris!

Lea Lund greets guests
© Discover Paris!

K and Monique Wells admire Erik, Paris, 2015 (Kind of Blue)
© Discover Paris!

Erik, Paris, 2015 (Kind of Blue)
© Discover Paris!

Though their magnificent photographs and engravings were hung throughout their freshly renovated space, Lund and K emphasized that they are not operating a gallery. Rather, this will be a work space, complete with a press, where they will create K's engravings.

Reproduction of Erik K engraving of Coco Chanel
© Discover Paris!

They will continue to live part time in Switzerland and travel the world to find more stunning backdrops for their photography.

Atelier Lea Lund et Erik K
3, cité Dupont
75011 Paris

Bouquet of roses and silhouette of Erik K
© Discover Paris!


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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Anna Julia Cooper - First African American to Earn a Ph. D. at the Sorbonne

As the end of Women's History Month rapidly approaches, I thought it would be fitting to write an article about a phenomenal woman who is a major figure in the history of African Americans in Paris. Her name is Anna Julia Cooper.

Anna Julia Cooper in 1892
Photo from A. J. Cooper's book The Voice of the South
Image in public domain

In an article published in Paris on April 28, 1925, the Chicago Tribune wrote the following about her:

Mrs. Cooper won her doctorat d'universite at the Sorbonne on March 23, 1925, and she left Paris for her native city of Washington, D.C. a month later.

The subject of her thesis at the Sorbonne was: L,Attitude [sic] de la France a l'egard de l'esclavage, 1789-1848*.

*The Attitude of France Toward Slavery during the French Revolution

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1858, Cooper was the daughter of a white slaveholder and an enslaved mother. She was nine years old when she received a scholarship and began her education at Saint Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh. An excellent student, she went on to earn a Bachelor's degree (1884) and a Master's degree (1887) at Oberlin College.

Cooper completed courses in French literature, history, and phonetics at La Guilde Internationale in Paris during the summers of 1911-1913 and enrolled in a doctoral program at Columbia University in 1914. Her pursuit of this graduate degree was hindered by personal circumstances, but she successfully transferred her credits from Columbia and La Guilde Internationale to the Sorbonne in 1924.

Details of the story vary depending on the source consulted, but Cooper did complete her graduate work at the Sorbonne in 1925. The university shipped her diploma to the U.S. and she received it at a ceremony held at Howard University on December 29, 1925.

Anna Julia Cooper was a master educator, education administrator, writer, community activist, and advocate for women's rights. She was a lesser-known contemporary and peer of Ida Gibbs Hunt and Mary Church Terrell, both of whom also spent time in Paris.

Part of Cooper's legacy is represented by a commemorative U.S. a postage stamp:

and the inclusion of one of her quotes included at the top of pages 26 and 27 in the U.S. passport:

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or sect, a party or a class -
it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.

Cooper died in Washington, D.C. in 1964 at the age of 105. She is buried in Raleigh, North Carolina.


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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dr. Lee Ransaw's French-inspired Art

As a professor of art at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Lee A. Ransaw developed an honors course called "The Arts of the Harlem Renaissance." Students had to have an accumulative “B” average to enroll. They were required to do extensive research on some African or African-American culture changer in the fields of art, music, literature and dance during the first part of the 20th century, and determine what made them special as well as why the mainstream world embraced them. Not so surprisingly, Josephine Baker was one of the favorite artists that students selected. Baker was also one of Dr. Ransaw’s favorites and the project later inspired him to paint the portrait below.

Lee A. Ransaw
2012 Acrylic on canvas
36” x 74” (91.4 cm x 187.9 cm)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Ransaw chose to paint a reflective Josephine who became a cultural changer. He describes the portrait as follows:

I chose this quiet and thoughtful pose with a Parisian background, at a quiet moment when Josephine might be realizing that her life’s work had been rewarding. She is elegantly dressed in a curvaceous evening dress; her hair is stylized and accented with designer earrings. To her left, she may be recalling her younger days in her performance of La Revue Nègre where the audience is giving her the toast of Paris. To her right is the Arc de Triomphe, which characterizes and attests to her world success as an entertainer.

Ransaw was inspired to major in art while attending high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. In college, he became interested in examining great works of art created by master artists and felt there was no better place to look for original works than in the art capital of the world, Paris. He received a United Negro College Fund Distinguished Scholars Award for research which allowed him to spend considerable time at the Louvre and the Musee de l’Homme. He toured the city with a group and visited several additional times with his wife, Cheryl.

Cheryl and Lee Ransaw at the Eiffel Tower (Musée de l'Homme in background)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Artists Lee Ransaw and Louis Delsarte at the Louvre
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Ransaw has created several paintings with a Paris connection or French inspiration. The first one was a tribute to the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, entitled Tribute to Renoir: Luncheon of the Boating Party. He changed the party-goers to include a more diverse group and replaced the puppy with a parrot.

Tribute to Renoir: The New Luncheon at the Boating Party
Lee A. Ransaw
1998 Oil on canvas
24" x 30" (60.9 cm x 76.2 cm)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Luncheon of the Boating Party
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
1881 Oil on canvas
51.2" x 68.1" (130 cm x 173 cm)
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

The second painting is entirely conceptual. Ransaw portrayed a gathering of well–to-do Blacks, who had moved to Southern France in the middle of the 20th century, as high rollers.

A Feast in Nice
Lee A. Ransaw
2002 Acrylic on canvas
36" x 48" (91.4 cm x 121.9 cm)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Dr. Ransaw’s artwork can be found in institutional collections such as Hampton University, Clark Atlanta University, The National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University, The APEX Museum in Atlanta, The Georgia Museum of Art, The Auburn Avenue Research Library, Morris Brown College, Bowie State University and in many private collections. His work can also be found on Fine Art America.


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

BAO - A New Afro-Créole Supermarket

The sister-brother team of Sona, Kossi, and Lemba Muluala recently opened what many people in Ile de France likely consider a godsend - a modern, full-service Afro-Créole supermarket.

BAO storefront
Screenshot from BAO video

BAO, which is "short" for BAOBAB, opened on December 10, 2016. It is stocked with more than 2,000 items sourced from producers and distributors in the Caribbean, Africa and the Indian Ocean.

The Mulualas, who are Franco-Congolese, were inspired to launch their store because of their childhood memories of how difficult it was for their mother to find ingredients for their favorite recipes in their neighborhood. Not only did she need to travel an hour to get into Paris, she also had to shop in multiple places to find everything she needed and contend with merchants who were not familiar with the products they were selling. It often took a good half-day to get the shopping done and return home.

Sona and Kossi Muluala
Screenshot from BAO video

The Mulualas are committed to providing authentic, high quality items at the best possible price. They sell fresh and frozen foods, including Hallal meat, fruits and vegetables, cooking oils and condiments, spices, juices and other beverages, and Créole specialities such as pigtails, turban squash, breadfruit, Créoline sauce, and Floup ice cream.

Stocked shelves
Screenshot from BAO video

African eggplants
Screenshot from BAO video

Palm oil from Congo
Screenshot from BAO video

Frozen goat-filled samossas from Reunion Island
Screenshot from BAO video

To watch them present BAO on video (in French), click HERE.

BAO is located in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. The supermarket is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 AM to 8 PM.

Centre Commercial Bobigny 2
Boulevard Maurice Thorez
93000 Bobigny


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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hidden Figures Released in France

On March 8, the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures was released in Paris.

Hidden Figures ad in metro
© Discover Paris!

On March 2, Tom and I had the opportunity to see a preview of the film at a private screening at the U.S. Ambassador's residence.

Chargé d’Affaires Uzra Zeya and Cultural Affairs Specialist Randianina Peccoud welcomed guests at the door and indicated the path to the reception, where cold and hot hors d'oeuvres, miniature desserts, and a variety of beverages were available. This was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and meet new ones.

Randianina Peccoud and Curtis Robert Young
© Discover Paris!

One of my new acquaintances is Julia Fendrick, Counselor for Cultural Affairs. Fendrick assumed this role at the Embassy in June 2016.

Raina Lampkins-Fielder, Monique Y. Wells, and Julia Fendrick
© Discover Paris!

She excitedly told us about another preview of the film that took place earlier in the day. This one was at a Gaumont cinema and the attendees were hundreds of French school children. She shared the following details about the event:

Four hundred (400) middle and high school, vocational school, and science club students filled every seat of this theater to watch the soon-to-be released film “Hidden Figures” and it appeared to spark a great deal of interest in STEM studies.

Following the film, students stayed for almost an hour of questions with the panelists Timothy Tawny of NASA, Fabienne Casoli of the Center for National Space Studies (Centre national d’etudes spatiales), and Fatoumata Kebe of the Paris Observatory (Observatoire de Paris), addressing issues of space exploration, engineering and science studies, and gender equity questions. Panel members reinforced the film’s message of striving to achieve and not underestimating one’s abilities.

Our NASA colleague also spoke about the excitement of the new frontiers in space and that all achievements in space research today will need the power of young minds from many countries working to solve problems together. Students left with NASA pins and badges, but also with the message “Dare to Try” in their heads.

Watch the reactions of several students to the film (in French) below:

Fendrick also shared that the Embassy helped the American Presence Post (the U.S. Consulate) in Toulouse do two screenings of the film. They welcomed approximately 500 people, including middle school and high school students, at Cite de l’Espace, a theme park focused on space and the conquest of space. Claudie Haignerie, the "marraine" (godmother) of Cité de l'Espace and the first French woman in space, introduced the film.

After about an hour of socializing at the Ambassador's residence in Paris, we were directed to the screening room.

What would a movie be without popcorn? We were encouraged to take cups of the freshly popped snack into the screening room.

Monique enjoys her popcorn
© Discover Paris!

Zeya addressed the audience prior to the start of the film.

Uzra Zeya announces the film
© Discover Paris!

Then the lights went down and we settled in for the evening.

I read the book Hidden Figures several months ago. As I expected, the film did not come close to delivering the detail found in the book and it took considerable artistic license with the stories of Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Goble Johnson, and Mary Jackson. Nevertheless, I thought it did a great job of presenting the long untold stories of these remarkable women!


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