Sometimes you stumble into lucky situations. That’s what happened when the High Museum in Atlanta hosted the “Making Africa” in 2017 and I was invited to attend a lecture given by one of the many fantastic African artists who were highlighted in that exhibit – Omar Viktor Diop.
This photographer from Senegal was sponsored by the French Consulate and spoke about regaining the tradition of portraiture that was uniquely African but lost for a variety of reasons. He also spoke about the importance of portraits because they depicted people who had lives and stories and successes and failures and experiences, and in a way, by creating portraits of them, you were eternalizing their stories. You were giving life to them even though history had sought to eliminate them and their stories.
His portraits highlight people who started their lives as slaves them rose to positions of prominence in government. People who had migrated from one country and established themselves in a new land. People who had fought in wars and participated in feasts of opulence. They are beautiful and colorful and filled with textiles and textures and richness that represent the regions and the subjects of the photos.
And he explained why he thought this work was so important. He said that taking away someone’s identity – which includes their sense of family, of history, of region, of culture, of struggle, of pride and accomplishment – is one of the most demeaning and heartbreaking things you can do. He said that in Senegal, often one of the first questions asked when meeting someone new is, “Who are your people?” For too many, their culture and identity and history has been swept away, so his work is an effort to help get it back and to help them be proud of where they’ve come from and also proud of where they’re going.
Since then, I was also able to see his work in Evora, Portugal, and I learned about his work called “Liberty: Universal Chronology of Black Protest” which includes photos that represent Trayvon Martin, Selma, World War I fighters returning to Africa, and more. It is powerful for its images, the visuals, the statement it is making, and the stories that are being held up.
I admire his stories and his recognition of the power in knowing your own stories.
https://www.omarviktor.com which is where the photos are from!
One afternoon, I was wandering around Hong Kong. I had an hour to kill before meeting a friend for lunch, so I was taking my time and meandering through Star Street and Pacific Place, observing the people and the non-stop hustle bustle that characterizes that amazing and wonderful city.
I wandered into a bookstore, hoping to find something interesting to read, and on the shelf, a book called “Solve for Happy” caught my eye – mostly because of the big, yellow, smiley-faced emoji that was gracing the cover.
Hmmmm. “Solve for Happy.” Sounded like a good read. So I bought a copy, put it in my handbag, and forgot about it until I returned to the US and found it while unpacking.
A few weeks later, I started reading it. When I got to page 18, there was a section titled “Our Default State.” In this section, Gawdat explains that our default state IS happy. He compares us to our phones that come with a default state and then get all screwed up when we add a ton of apps and software onto them, and sometimes we have to return them to the default state to get rid of the bugs and garbage that have infested them.
And I stopped and closed the book.
Because I knew that was what I was needing to understand. My default state IS happy, and it’s only when I accept all of the garbage that other people are trying to put on me that my happiness goes awry.
I put the book away. For like a year. I didn’t read any more of it! Since then, I’ve read more of that great book and it hasn’t disappointed in terms of delivering insights and perspectives that are helpful in staying true to my default state and keeping the garbage out.
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In college, I had the good fortune to be able to see Maya Angelou speak. I will be honest - I had no idea who she was when it happened - but I did end up eventually buying a copy of her book titled, “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.” I think I bought the...
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