Looking for Africa? by pemora

Looking for Africa?
by pemora

Today's NY Times featured an article about the fashion world's recent embrace of all things 'African'.  Really, Africa is in style this winter?  Who knew?

My problem with the article is complicated.  On the one hand, I am always tired of the idea of marketing someone's culture (this season, Latin America! Next season, Hassidic Jews!).  Culture, and the markers we use to define culture, are not meant to be bought and sold under layers of taffeta.  It is what we use to find common ground, language and mannerisms with those in our community.  But on the other hand, fashion + style are major components of what we define as culture.  For example, part of Zapata's allure as a leader in the Mexican Revolution (and I am oversimplifying here for blog's sake) was his wardrobe and trademark mustache.  The man wore 3 piece suits with ammo belts over his shoulders and looked freaking dapper!  How could thousands of people not follow him?

I think my real conflict is that I do find myself looking for these "exotic" pieces whenever I'm out shopping.  My best friend is off to her native Mexico? Please get me a colorful bag.  My mother-in-law is in Ecuador? A poncho, please. Friends to Puerto Rico? I would like the requisite black faux-leather flip flops that say "Puerto Rico" (ok, this is a sad example.  But I do ask each and every time).  There is even a major graffiti painting in my dining room of an indigenous woman (indigenous to which country, no one knows. But she looks damn stunning).  I so want to believe that this is a problem of white Americans wanting to make money off of everyone else, but what happens when I am the one shelling out the cash to buy these pieces of culture?

By the way, if you really are on the hunt for awesome handmade clothing made from African prints, check out naKIMuli.  Love her clothes.


Intro to UR [originally posted 11.6.05]

About five years ago I had an idea for an online literary journal. The internet boom was the day's prevalent cliché and I thought I might cash in with a repository for what I thought was exceptional urban talent. Laden with grandiosity and biased by nepotism, I bought a domain name and had my brother help me put up urbanrhetoric.com. While I don't remember much of my mission statement, it probably had little to do with the self-serving purposes for which I devised the site, and more likely illustrated my intent to provide an outlet for a fresh voice.

This voice was to be the voice of new breed of intellectual. College graduates were of that age where hip hop was their birthright - their cultural description. They were alive to hear the first mainstream hip hop record and at the same time remember when rap labels had seventeen artists - all with very unique sounds. This new literati could dissect the metaphors of Lord Finesse, beat box for a freestyle cipher, and at the same time expound on the mediocrity of Joycean epiphanies. In short, formally educated people were brought up in the admiration of, and largely by, an iconoclastic street art form.

I wanted to develop a forum where these intellectuals (on a more narrow focus - my peer group) could share their poetry, artwork, music and ideas with each other, and, hopefully, the general public. I wanted to generate a publicity machine for the explosion of urban stereotypes, fusing the embodiment of the street with the wisdom of educators.

Unfortunately, I was not very self-motivated, had no knowledge of HTML, and for the most part, could not dedicate the time such a site required.  As editor-in-chief, UR became the home of the occasional rant by me, an occasional response rant from a friend, and some nifty flash experiments by my brother.

For me, the highlight of the UR experience was posting an angry response to the September 11th attacks on the web site. Outside of that, UR didn't seem worth the domain fees, and I let it expire.

It is odd how three years later the site is no less necessary than it was when I first devised it. This intellectual voice, while being more reflected in actual hip hop (some of these rappers have actually sniffed a college textbook) has still not been provided with an outlet for the most profound of its thinkers. The dialogue is still lacking, and this has been evident by the initial interest drawn by the new editor's appeals for talent and input.

In short, UR is fulfilling a need - a cavity left by commercialism, mediocrity and general ennui. It is with great pride that stand back and watch UR take off in more capable hands, and hope to encourage those who were interested five years ago, when this was a fledgling idea, to renew you enthusiasm, because it will be rewarded.

Finally, I want to point out that hip hop is my point of reference, and not a point of reference for the site. URis just like its namesake. It is a forum for the words and thoughts of those with an urban sensibility. Please take an active involvement in this site, as it is as much yours as it is the staff's.