Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blacks on Stage at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin

Cover of the first-edition publication of A Raisin in the Sun

A musical rendition of Lorraine Hansbury's A Raisin in the Sun opened at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin on April 21, 1979.

Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin
2009 Creative Commons License - Danglars2

Directed by Charles Axton, it starred Sandra Phillips as "Mama," Nate Barnett as "Walter Lee,", and Corliss Taylor-Dunn as "Ruth."

Though it came to Paris 36 years ago, Raisin in the Sun is the most recent of a long line of plays featuring black characters at the Porte Saint-Martin. The productions that preceded it were staged in the 19th century!

Between 1803 and 1892, at least eleven productions performed at the theater included black characters in the cast. But this is not to say that black people played these roles. The first black actors to appear on stage in Paris did so in 1847, and they were poorly received by audiences.

In April 1824, one of four versions of a play based on the popular novel called Ourika, by Claire de Duras, opened at the Porte Saint-Martin theater. The story line of Ourika, ou l'orpheline africaine (Ourika, or the African orphan), was fairly true to the novel - a young Senegalese girl is raised as a white French girl by an aristocratic couple and accidentally discovers her race when she overhears a conversation where two women are discussing her misfortune at never being able to marry a French man.

1924 Léonel de la Tourrasse

The novel was based on a true story about a black child who was purchased in or around 1788 by the Chevalier de Boufflers, the colonial administrator of Senegal, and given as a gift to the Duchess of Orléans. She dies of a mysterious illness at the age of sixteen.

In this production, the part of Ourika was played by French actress Marie Dorval.

Marie Dorval
Lithograph by Paul Delaroche
Public domain

Frédérick Lemâitre, a famous 19th-century actor, portrayed four black characters at the theater throughout the years, including Toussaint l'Ouverture (in a play of the same name) in 1850.

Toussaint l'Ouverture
Public domain

Frédérick Lemaître
Public domain

Ironically, many plays by Victor Séjour - a free man of color from Louisiana - were staged at the Porte Saint-Martin between 1852 and 1862, but none of them had black characters.

Victor Séjour
Public domain

In July 1937, Langston Hughes (whose poem "Harlem" was the inspiration for A Raisin in the Sun) spoke at the International Writers' Congress at the theater.

Langston Hughes
1936 Carl Van Vechten


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Thursday, April 23, 2015

African Revival - Art in the Marais

There's still a week left to stop by the African Revival art show in the Marais!

Aude Minart, owner of the itinerant gallery called La Galerie Africaine, has mounted a show in an intimate space on rue du Pont Louis-Philippe between the Seine and rue de Rivoli.

African Revival exposition - La Galerie Africaine
© Discover Paris!

Called African Revival, it features paintings by Cape Verdean artist Nelson Gomes Teixeira,

Coloured Caras by Teixeira and various sculptures
© Discover Paris!

contemporary sculptures in wood by Franco-Beninese artist Niko,

A pair of sculptures (oak) by Niko
© Discover Paris!

and classic African sculptures and masks.

Baoulé sculpture with red patina
© Discover Paris!

Yaouré mask
© Discover Paris!

Nelson Gomes Teixeira left Cape Verde at the age of three and grew up in Lisbon, Portugal. He has lived in Paris for many years, where he has a studio in the 12th arrondissement. He works with inks, pastels, charcoal, acrylics and oils to create his paintings, and often uses raw or recycled materials.

Mythe by Teixeira
© Discover Paris!

Zoom by Teixeira
© Discover Paris!

This is the first time that La Galerie Africaine has featured his work.

In contrast, the gallery has often featured works by Niko.

Aude welcomes you to enjoy a cocktail and experience the works of these and other artists "up close and personal" on Tuesday, April 28th from 6 PM to 10 PM. The exhibition closes on April 30, 2015.

La Galerie Africaine
African Revival
19, rue du Pont Louis-Philippe
75004 Paris
Metro: Hôtel de Ville (Lines 1 and 11), Saint-Paul (Line 1), Pont Marie (Line 7)

For additional information, contact Aude by phone at or by e-mail at .


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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Afrique Unie - An Afro-Caribbean Cultural Exposition

Afrique Unie (United Africa) event is the first event bringing together the cultural and economic players in Africa, the Caribbean and the overseas departments and territories of France and in Europe for the sake of development, promotion and solidarity. It was created by Da Patch Ateliers, a French non-profit association founded by young Parisians of African origin. One of its overarching missions is to promote Africa and its cultural diversity to a European audience.

Collage from Afrique Unie press release

Since 2006, Da Patch Ateliers has worked to provide academic support to children from immigrant families while helping them discover the richness of culture through the creation of musical works or plays. In this context, the organization decided to create the first Afrique Unie event in 2009 – the first in Paris to focus on Afro-Caribbean crafts. From all over France, vendors came to exhibit their creations in a festive atmosphere charged with music. Internationally renowned artists such as Papa Wemba participated that year.

In 2012, speakers came from all over Europe and 150 exhibitors displayed their wares. More than 5,000 visitors attended the event, which was held in the salle Olympe de Gouge, in one afternoon.

The 2015 edition of Afrique Unie will be the third organized by Da Patch Ateliers. The group has set its sights higher for this year’s salon, offering the public the opportunity to meet no less than 270 exhibitors and to experience a wide variety of activities in connection with the Afro-Caribbean world. To remain true to its intent to create a warm, convivial atmosphere, it will host twenty groups representing folklore and traditional music of the continent and islands. Television producer and host for Trace and BeBlack, television personality Ayden BBlack will host the event.

Ayden BBlack
Image courtesy of Afrique Unie

There will be a dedicated space where children can discover African and Caribbean games and storytelling as well as dance and listen to traditional music.

Music groups from around the world, such as John Doe, Zouk, K-dy, and Fenomenes d’Afrik will perform throughout the weekend.

Chef Malonga, participant in the 2014 Top Chef competition, will provide cooking demonstrations.

And several African and Caribbean fashion designers will present their works, including:

Sonia DAMALA – Bénin (Winner of the International Festival of African Fashion [FIMA] in 2013)
Chouchou LAZARE – Gabon
Angélique DIEDHIOU – Senegal
Alvine DMANOU – Cameroon
Mariah BOCOUM – Mali
Fauvette Nacto – Guadeloupe/France

Part of the proceeds of the event will be donated l'ANIDA, an organization that supports African children who suffer from albinism.

Partnering organizations include Nollywood TV, Africa N°1 radio, the RATP Foundation, and Pullman Hotels and Resorts.

The event is being held at:

Paris Event Center
20, avenue de la Porte de la Villette
75019 Paris
Metro: Porte de la Villette (Line 7)
Tram: Porte de la Villette (Line T3B)

Saturday, April 25: 10 AM – 8 PM
Sunday, April 26: 10 AM – 8 PM

Entry is FREE!


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Afro-Cuban Artist Guido Llinás: Expo of Parisian Works

A remarkable collection of works by Guido Llinás (1923-2005), an exiled Cuban artist who was heavily influenced by the abstract expressionist movement in the U.S. and African art, is being shown in Paris through April 30.

Vernissage invitation

A contemporary of Wifredo Lam, Llinás moved to Paris in 1963 and lived here until his death. The exhibition presents several of his Parisian oeuvre, including Pintura Negra (Black Painting) works that date from the 1960s and beyond.

Pintura Negra
1968-1970 Acrylic and oil on paper mounted on canvas
Image by Suzanne Nagy

Pintura Negra
1988-89 Oil on canvas
© Discover Paris!

Pintura Negra
1990 Acrylic and matte acrylic varnish
© Discover Paris!

Of particular importance is his Hommage to Wifredo Lam, painted in 1982, the year of Lam’s death.

Hommage to Wifredo Lam
1982 Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of the estate of Guido Llinás

Watch the artist at work here.

Curator Christoph Singer and estate manager Jean-Philippe Aka joined forces to put together this private show.

Christoph Singler, Monique Y. Wells, and Jean-Philippe Aka
© Discover Paris!

To arrange a visit to this exposition, which is being shown at

41, rue Coquillière
75001 Paris

contact Jean-Philippe Aka at

Hours are by appointment only.

Follow Jean-Philippe on Twitter at @handpickjpak to receive artist updates and to learn when the printed catalog for the exposition will be available.


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Thursday, April 2, 2015

William Alexander Brown's Dream - The First African-American Theatrical Company

At the reception and dinner held in honor of Ishmael Reed on March 21st, I had the pleasure of meeting Florence Alexis, Special Advisor to the President of France's National Committee for the Remembrance and History of Slavery (Comité National pour la Memoire et l'Histoire de l'Esclavage - CNMHE).

Florence Alexis and Monique Y. Wells
© Discover Paris!

Florence explained to me in great detail the work that the committee does. Among its responsibilities, it is charged to make proposals and recommendations to the Prime Minister and members of the Government on:
  • commemorations
  • national or international events related to the history of trafficking, slavery and its abolition
  • identification of and networking with memorial sites, institutions, museums, interpretive centers and research facilities related to these topics, including sites located abroad.

On Monday, March 30, CNMHE sponsored a presentation that focused on a little-known element of African-American history - the first African-American theatrical troupe, called the African Company, created in New York City by William Alexander Brown. The event was held in the Salle Félix Eboué at the Ministère des Outre-Mer (Ministry of Overseas Territories) in the 7th arrondissement.

The speaker for the evening was Gerty Dambury, theater director, award-winning writer, and author of the book entitled Le Rêve de William Alexander Brown (William Alexander Brown's Dream).

Gerty Dambury
© Discover Paris!

The evening began with brief statements by the committee's president, Myriam Cottias, and the general secretary, Angèle Louviers, followed by an introduction of the speaker.

From left to right: Florence Alexis, Gerty Dambury, Myriam Cottias,
and Angèle Louviers
© Discover Paris!

Drawing on material from her book, Dambury presented the history of the African Company to an enraptured audience, explaining that slavery was legal in New York at the time the group was formed in 1821.

Full house
© Discover Paris!

William Alexander Brown was born in Saint Vincent, a Caribbean island with French and British colonial history. He founded the company with James Hewlett, who, according to Dambury, was probably born in Nassau, Bahamas. Both men were free blacks at a time when New York was incrementally freeing slaves.

Dambury explained that Brown created a club, which he called the African Grove, in his home as a place where free blacks could drink and socialize. When it was shut down by New York City authorities, he and Hewlett created the African Company at the same address in 1821. The theater troupe frequently performed adaptations of Shakespearean plays, whose representations attracted a mixed audience of whites and blacks.

The African Company moved several times during its brief existence (1821 - 1823), and was eventually ransacked by white racists who gained entry by purchasing tickets to attend a show.

No images of William Alexander Brown are known to exist, but an engraving of Hewlett portraying Richard III survives the period.

James Hewlett as Richard III
Theatrical Portrait Prints (Visual Works) of Men (TCS 44), Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

(Dambury's book includes her French translation of a play written by American playwright Carlyle Brown about the African Company's staging of the Shakespearean play Richard III.)

Dambury noted that William Alexander Brown was the author of the first African-American play, The Drama of King Shotaway, which tells the story of the Carib revolt against the British that took place on the island of Saint Vincent in 1795. She also stated that Ira Aldridge, an African American who rose to prominence in Europe as a celebrated Shakespearean actor, got his start at the African Company.

Coming in April, the CNMHE is planning the first "Memory Month" for slavery and the fight for equality. It will take place from April 27 through June 10, 2015. Information (in French) about event will be posted on the organization’s Web site:


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