Thursday, May 25, 2017

Homage to Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Henry Ossawa Tanner is considered to be the quintessential African-American artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A large part of his legacy stems from his life and work in France.

In homage to him, I am sharing a few lesser known facts about his life and art as presented in Marcus Bruce's publication, Henry Ossawa Tanner - A Spiritual Biography.

Henry Ossawa Tanner - A Spiritual Biography by Marcus Bruce
Book jacket

When Tanner arrived in Paris in the winter of 1891, he found the city and the customs of its citizens "strange." Yet he was quickly seduced by the City of Light and expressed surprise that "after having been in Paris a week, I should find conditions so to my liking that I completely forgot that when I left New York I had made my plans to study in Rome."

Tanner was the son of a minister and was worried about succumbing to the temptations of Paris life. He joined the American Church in Paris, which, according to Bruce, was "a place of refuge for young American artists." The church offered lectures, cultural programs, and country outings for students and Tanner happily attended these events.

American Church in Paris
© Discover Paris!

In early 1893, Tanner caught typhoid fever. He was hospitalized at the Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris.

The "new" Hôtel Dieu
ca. 1875 - photographer thought to be Charles Marville

After he was released, he spent a year in Philadelphia recuperating from this illness.

In 1894, he returned to Paris and gained his first entry into the prestigious Paris Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, by submitting the genre painting The Banjo Lesson.

The Banjo Lesson
1893 Oil on canvas
Hampton University Museum, Hampton, VA

He won his first Salon award, an honorable mention for the painting Daniel and the Lion's Den, in 1896. Tanner would create three versions of this painting - the one most similar to the original hangs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Tanner married Jessie Macauley Olssen, a white American of Swedish-Scottish ancestry, in England in 1899. They lived in France for most of their 25-year marriage, splitting their time between Paris and Normandy. Their only child, Jesse Ossawa Tanner, was born in 1903 during a brief stay in Mount Kisco, New York.

Jesse Ossawa Tanner (left) and Jessie Olssen Tanner (right)
posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner's painting
Christ and his mother studying the scriptures
Not after 1910
Archives of American Art

In 1899, Booker T. Washington visited Tanner in Paris. After Washington's death, a group of African-American women commissioned Tanner to produce a portrait of the African-American leader. It was shown in the recent Paris exhibition, The Color Line.

Portrait of Booker T. Washington at The Color Line
1917 Oil on canvas
State Historical Museum of Iowa, Des Moines, IA

During the First World War, Tanner volunteered his services to the American Red Cross, proposing a gardening project through which the land around hospitals and military bases would be used to raise vegetables, plant flowers, and raise livestock. He was made an honorary lieutenant in the Red Cross and named an assistant director of the Farm and Garden service for the organization.

Henry O. Tanner in uniform during WWI
Archives of American Art

After the war, the Tanners began rebuilding their life in the Normandy town of Trépied and Tanner returned to painting. His career reached its zenith during the ten years following the armistice and in 1923, he was elected to the Legion of Honor at the rank of Chevalier. He became a sought-after expert in fine art and advised his Philadelphia alma mater, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, on acquisitions from the Paris Salon for the Academy.

Edgewood, the Tanner home in Trépied, Normandy
ca. 1917
Archives of American Art

Tanner's acclaim caused him to reach celebrity status among African-American artists of the period. Bruce reports that "young artists and writers, eager to make his acquaintance and perhaps study with him for a time, inundated Tanner with letters and made pilgrimages — sometimes unannounced — to his home in Trépied and his Paris studio."

Jessie Tanner died in 1925 and Tanner mourned her passing for several years. During the 1930s, he spent progressively more time in Normandy. Yet he maintained a Paris studio near the Luxembourg Garden on rue de Fleurus, which he began renting in June 1934. He died in his sleep at this studio on May 25, 1937.

Tanner, his wife, and his wife's parents are buried in a plot at the cemetery of Sceaux, a suburb that lies 10 km (6.2 miles) south of Paris.


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Thursday, May 18, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro Takes Paris by Storm

Raoul Peck's 94-minute documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, debuted in Paris last week and is taking the city by storm. It is receiving extensive media coverage and has already been shown on Arté, the French-German cultural television station, along with a two-part interview with Peck. Arté showed a dubbed version of the film, with French singer and actor Joey Starr providing the voiceover.

I Am Not Your Negro
Screenshot from Arté TV

Raoul Peck interview
Screenshot from Arté TV

The avant-première took place at the Arlequin Cinema, rue de Rennes, on May 5. Director Peck was present.

On May 10, opening day, the documentary was shown simultaneously at three locations. Attendees at each screening got to interact with intellectuals, film critics and others who have viewed and studied the film.

Tom and I attended a screening of the original language version at the MK2 Beaubourg on May 12. Thankfully, we had pre-purchased our tickets. When we arrived, attendants at the theater announced that the screening was sold out.

Sign designating entry lines at MK2 Beaubourg
© Discover Paris!

Sign above screening room
© Discover Paris!

Packed house
© Discover Paris!

At the end of the screening, director Raoul Peck and sociologist / philosopher Didier Eribon commented on the film prior to taking questions from the audience.

Raoul Peck and Didier Eribon
© Discover Paris!

Conference moderator
© Discover Paris!

The discussion, which was conducted entirely in French, lasted roughly an hour.

At the time of this writing, Allociné reports that the documentary has a rating of 4.3 / 5 stars by the press (based on 17 reviews) and 4.1 / 5 stars by the public (based on 131 votes).

Four additional original language screenings of I Am Not Your Negro are scheduled to include audience interactions with Peck or others:

Paris - May 18 at 8 PM: l'Arlequin - with L'Histoire Magazine and historian Pap N'Diaye

Paris - May 19 at 8 PM: l'Arlequin - with Taschen Books and the Collectif James Baldwin

Saint-Ouen - May 29 at 8:30 PM: Espace 1789 - with author Olivier Mahéo

Saint-Denis - June 2 at 8:30 PM: l'Ecran - with director Raoul Peck


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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Creole Cuisine at the Foire de Paris

The Académie de l'Art Culinaire du Monde Créole hosted an all-day event featuring Creole cuisine at the Foire de Paris (Paris Fair) last week.

MC Laura provided lively commentary as various local chefs prepared recipes for foods and beverages before a live audience.

Laura, Mistress of Ceremonies
© Discover Paris!

Chefs Tristan Tharsis and Yannis Artigny teamed up to prepare Pain au beurre et Chocolat martiniquais, a traditional combination served at special occasions such as weddings and baptisms.

Chef Artigny prepared the bread,

Chef Yannis Artigny
© Discover Paris!

while Chef Tharsis prepared the hot chocolate.

Chef Tristan Tharsis
© Discover Paris!

Chef Elis Bond prepared multiple Afro-Caribbean fusion dishes.

Chef Elis Bond
© Discover Paris!

He also worked with nutritionist Dr. Marie-Antoinette Séjean, who shared tips on how to prepare light and healthy Creole meals. Dr. Séjean is president of the French association Nutricréole and the ambassadrice santé (Health Ambassador) for the Académie.

Dr. Marie-Antoinette Séjean
© Discover Paris!

Healthy Créole Cuisine
© Discover Paris!

Chef Xavier Guillaume Sivager prepared a flaming plantain and bacon dish called Croustillant de banane au lard.

Chef Xavier Guillaume Sivager
© Discover Paris!

Flaming the plantains
© Discover Paris!

Chef Ayaba prepared several varieties of vegan Boules d'énergie gourmandes Kâ. These were made from ground nuts, dates, and other ingredients rolled into balls and coated with shredded coconut.

Chef Ayaba
© Discover Paris!

Gourmet Energy Ball
© Discover Paris!

And Chef Stéphane Sorbon demonstrated how to make exotic cocktails.

Chef Stéphane Sorbon
© Discover Paris!

Other chefs who participated in the culinary event (but whose photographs are not shown here) are Béatrice Fabignon, who prepared seafood dishes, and Vanessa Kichenin, who prepared Indo-Guadeloupian lentil fritters.

Some of the cooking demonstrations were interactive, with members of the audience joining the chefs on stage to learn firsthand how to prepare the recipes.

Processing ingredients
© Discover Paris!

Peeling and seasoning
© Discover Paris!

Contemplating cocktails
© Discover Paris!

Several of the participating chefs are members of the Cercle des Jeunes Chefs Créoles (Circle of Young Creole Chefs), of which Chef Xavier Guillaume Sivager is president.

The Académie also hosted a food photography exhibition, with images taken by chefs as well as amateur and professional photographers. It sponsored a drawing for an airline ticket to the French Caribbean (winner: Abauzit Sylviane) and awarded the Prix Savoirs et Saveurs Créole (Creole Expertise and Flavors Prize) to the best Créole gastronomy stand at the fair.


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Thursday, May 4, 2017

New Soul Food - The Food Truck

Back in January, I wrote a blog post about the state of "Soul Food in Paris.”

I indicated that several establishments are now labeling their cuisine as soul food and briefly described three of them: New Soul Food, Gumbo YaYa, and Mama Jackson Soul Food Kitchen.

New Soul Food came across my radar again in early April, when they participated in a special day of activities during the spring-summer Africa Now festival being hosted by Galeries Lafayette. My husband Tom brought home a couple of dinners and we quite enjoyed them.

New Soul Food take-out
© Discover Paris!

Subsaharan chicken, basmati rice and plantains, and peanut sauce
© Discover Paris!

Pineapple-coconut baba
© Discover Paris!

So we decided to visit the truck at its primary location to find out what its regular customers experience when they want a taste of “new soul food.”

The truck is generally parked on a large plaza at 128, avenue de France in the 13th arrondissement. When we visited it on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, it was part of a circle of seven food trucks that provide meals and refreshment for moviegoers at the Cinéma MK2 Bibliothèque and others in the neighborhood.

(The other trucks are purveyors of Greek, American, Thai, Peruvian, and French food. One of the French trucks specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches made from many types of French cheese. The pioneering American food truck, Le Camion Qui Fume, is part of the circle.)

New Soul Food food truck viewed from the plaza
© Discover Paris!

New Soul Food’s cuisine is best described as Afro-fusion. The menu revolves around chicken and fish, both of which are “braisé” – what Americans call charbroiled or grilled. There are three “flavor themes” – Afro-Subsaharienne, Afro-Caribéenne, and Afropéan – that evoke Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. Diners can mix and match selections from these themes. The entire menu is gluten-free.

New Soul Food menu board
© Discover Paris!

Note that fish is not cooked in advance, so be prepared to wait a bit if you select this menu item.

We dined on chicken. Tom selected the same chicken dish and sauce he brought home for the two of us when he went to the Africa Now festival - the Afro-Subsaharienne version that consists of drumstick, thigh, and back prepared in a marinade of Cameroonian Penja pepper, and Cacahuète aux Epices du Cameroun (peanuts and Cameroonian spices) sauce. He chose the Afropéan Attiéké (manioc semolina made with olive oil, semi-dried tomatoes, and African herbs and condiments) as his accompaniment.

All my selections were from the Afro-Caribéenne theme: chicken prepared in an Antillean colombo-turmeric-ginger marinade, Patates Douces (white and orange sweet potatoes sautéed with herbs), and Coco et Vanille (coconut and vanilla) sauce.

As a beverage, we each selected a house-made soft drink. Tom chose Framboise hibiscus parfumé à l’eau de rose (raspberry-hibiscus drink perfumed with rose water) and I chose Gingembre passion (ginger and passion-fruit drink).

We carried our orders over to a tall table in front of the food truck and tucked into them as music from Africa and its diaspora played over the truck’s sound system.

New Soul Food chicken dinners and soft drinks
© Discover Paris!

Meals are served in cardboard boat-like containers and the utensils supplied are wooden forks and knives.

Tom was thrilled with the food he ordered.

Subsaharan chicken, attiéké, and peanut sauce
© Discover Paris!

I loved my chicken and sweet potatoes but felt that the coco-vanilla sauce would have been more appropriate for a dessert course and asked for a serving of the spicy peanut sauce to finish my meal.

Afro-Caribbean chicken, sweet potatoes, and coconut-vanilla sauce
© Discover Paris!

I quite liked the ginger-passion fruit drink but Tom found his raspberry-hibiscus drink a bit too sweet.

We were looking forward to trying some of the signature desserts that the truck offers, but alas, none were available that day.

New Soul Food is the brainchild of Rudy Laine, a culinary professional trained in cooking and pastry making. He and his brother Joël, who is also a chef patissier, are proudly introducing a new way for the French public to experience African and Caribbean cuisine.

Rudy Laine
© Discover Paris!

With their mother being a pastry chef from Cameroon and their father being a cook from Guadeloupe, they grew up with a mix of the best of African and Antillean cuisine. New Soul Food is their way of honoring their culinary heritage and sharing it with the world. They think of it as “a culinary melting pot in osmosis with our cosmopolitan society…”

New Soul Food - Afrodisiaque
© Discover Paris!

We look forward to returning to New Soul Food to try the Afropéan chicken, which is marinated with herbes de Provence prior to grilling, and the Afropéan Yassa sauce, which made with mustard, onions, and lime. We also look forward to trying more of their desserts.

Because New Soul Food is an itinerant kitchen, its location changes frequently. To access the schedule, visités.

New Soul Food
128, avenue de France
75013 Paris
Métro station: Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (Line 14)
Credit card: Visa, Mastercard
Web site:

New Soul Food food truck viewed from avenue de France
© Discover Paris!


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