Tag Archives: Nu Africa

Roger Ballen is a photographer’s dream

Roger Ballen will tell you, his is the last of a great generation, one of photographers who capture the world in black-and-white, on a vintage thing called film. He’s proud of this, rightly so; it’s an art form in which he knows his tool—his Rolleiflex 24 x 24 cam- era—like a painter knows his brushes, a writer his pen. Though not often criticized, his work has been described in many ways, one of the most popular of which may be “dark.” But, as he explained to me, that darkness is a form of light, the brightness of which is wholly dependent on one’s own self-inspection. Ballen harbors great respect for the self, and whether it was his intent or not, after our conversation, I was left with more than recorded words; it was the first time I’ve ever interviewed another person and come away damn sure it was somehow about me.

Art Nouveau: What continues to attract you to black- and-white film photography over digital?

Roger Ballen: I can’t really separate the formal quali- ties in my work from the fact that I use film and the fact that I use black-and-white. Black and white is an inseparable aspect of what I’m doing. It’s like the skin on your hand, [it’s] inseparable from your hand. I don’t even consider wanting to use color, because it’s so foreign to the format that I’ve developed over these years… a lot of what you see in those pictures is synonymous with the fact that I use black-and-white and film.


AN: You were born and raised in America, to a mother who was a photo editor of Magnum, so your early milieu was photography, which explains your talent. But did you ever feel obligated to pursue photography in mass media, either fashion or journalism?

RB: Photography has always been a form of personal expres- sion for me… it’s a special occupation that I’m involved in, separate from the world around me. I do photography only for myself; I certainly don’t feel I can get the same gratification doing this on a regular basis. [Commercial photography] has never really appealed to me.


AN: Speaking of occupation, how did you wind up as a geologist in your early career?

RB: I was always interested in working outside and in nature, so geology fit the criteria.


AN: I guess geology inevitably led you to a career in photography?

RB: Not really, I’d been doing photography since I was about fifteen years old. I only started working full-time as a geolo- gist when I was about thirty-two; I already had a book and had been in photography for about sixteen years. What I did do at that time, in 1982, was work on my geology in the South African countryside, and as I worked I completed my first two books on South Africa, Dorps and Platteland. During this period, I was able to earn a living in geology, and, at the same time, I went from place to place working on those two projects from 1982 to ’94. It’s also were people sometimes get mixed up: beginning in 1994, I stopped going to the coun- tryside, and since [then] all my photographs have been in Johannesburg.

AN: There are many similarities between mines and minds, metaphorically and literally; are all the similarities dark?

RB: Well, first of all, I think that depends on how you define dark. For people like myself, that dark is a form of light; dark is essentially exuberance. Dark can be a sense of self-satisfac- tion and self-fulfillment by discovering the dark and finding the light in the dark. I don’t really believe that the way most people define dark is a simple one. I think for most people, when they say the pictures might have a dark side they’re re- ally referring to the side of themselves that they haven’t been able to confront, a side of themselves they’re scared to work with.

AN: Your abstract metaphor and your keenness for psy-chology is enthralling, and you incorporate that entirely into your work. Do you think that with all the abstractions that you set up and shoot there is a natural quality in it?

RB: Again, this would go back to the definition of what’s natural and what’s abstract. I think if you wanted to define the pictures in a more exact way, you’d define them as imaginary realism. So, there’s an aspect of abstract in the pictures, and there’s an aspect of something very concrete. At the same time, the pictures have strange drawings, surrealistic environment, abstract lines, and complex meaning.


AN: Your latest work is very heavy with motifs, like body parts and language, animals, abstract reflections, and quite often with striking overtones of morality.

RB: I’m quite certain about that. I think that is an issue we all deal with on a regular basis. It’s quite an interesting fact that so little contemporary art deals directly with it.


AN: Your tableaux sets are so elaborate; do you consider yourself a set designer perhaps as much as a photographer?

RB: No, I’m first a photographer—then perhaps an artist who’s been able to integrate aspects of drawing, sculpture, painting, and other art forms through photography. So, I would say I am first and foremost a photographer, first and foremost an artist, not a set designer in any way. I work with people and I create installations that exist in the space that I work in, but ultimately I transform those environments through photography into an image that has deeper meaning.


AN: Can you tell me a little bit about your current project?

RB: The current project is on birds. It’s dealing with birds in a strange, surrealistic, complex environment that we’ve been working on for four or five years now. This place is inhabited by various people from all walks of life, and each person that works in this environment—both the house and the space that these people are living in with the animals—have sort of allowed the people and the animals to live together. Primarily, the space that I’ve been working on

is inundated by flying birds. It’s quite an interesting experience to photo- graph the birds and the people, the birds and the other animals, and the other animals and the people in this particular place in Johannesburg.


AN: So the area in which you’re shooting is fairly chaotic as your taking these pictures?

RB: Very chaotic, very chaotic, [but] through the chaos I’m able to come up with meaning. And photograph- ing the chaos allows me to contribute to the environment that allows me to create interesting images. In the chaos I find the order.


AN: I’d like to turn back to South Africa. You were brought there through your work as a geologist…

RB: I got there in 1974 when I hitchhiked from Cairo to Cape Town. I found it quite interesting; what defines South Africa perhaps more than anything else is the interaction between the First and Third World, [it’s] a First World country and a Third World country. It creates some interesting experiences.


AN: You have a foundation there in your name [The Roger Ballen Foundation].

RB: The purpose of the foundation that I have in South Africa is to increase the awareness of contemporary photography and photography in general as a form of expression, and to educate the South African public to the various aesthetic sides of photo- graph. It’s important to the people of South Africa to give talks and lectures and to show their work over the last few years. Those are the types of things we’re committed to. It’s going very well. You know, nothing like this is going to happen overnight. It’s hard to imagine how it’s going because you can’t get inside people’s heads, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I think it’s making a contribution to people’s lives.


You can read more from our talk with Roger Ballen in issue 8 of Art Nouveau. Get your hands on the “Nu Africa” issue here!

If “Nu Africa” had a music festival…

As a continent that has endured some of the highest levels of human atrocity, misfortune and pillaging in the world, Africa’s nations are in the very least united by their immense struggles. However, if you need any evidence that Africa’s peoples do not see themselves as victims, just look at their music. Regardless of the traditions of a given region, there is almost always a fighting spirit that shines through. NU AFRICA symbolises the desire to move forward from the horrors of eras past and embrace the elements that make it what is today; traditional, colonial and modern. NU AFRICA is about unity in diversity. If it was a music festival, this is some of the stuff you might hear:



Buraka Som Sistema – Eskeleto (feat. African Boy)

On album opener, ‘Eskeleto’ from Buraka Som Sistema’s new album, Komba, African Boy chews up all the ignorant labels and preconceived notions used to describe African diasporas in other countries and spits them back out into a bile-filled diatribe over a menacingly warped synth line, which acts as both percussion and melody. African Boy brings real fire with his caricatured growl, which is frighteningly defiant  (“look into my eyes, can’t you see I’m a demon!”) and disturbing in its conviction.


DVA – Just Vybe (feat. Fatima)

In ‘Just Vybe’, DVA’s polyrhythmic tribal percussion underlies sassy vocals from Fatima, whose own performance is reminiscent of late 80’s hip-house. It is a song, which really embodies its title and taps into a primitive instinct that makes it impossible not to sway along. Listening to this song is like sunbathing in rays of good vibrations.  There is no bad energy or negativity anywhere in site on this track.

NAIRA – Put Me On (feat. Lloyd Musa)

‘Put Me On’ is a fun, straight-up R&B throwback from NAIRA, a multi-talented artist from Atlanta by way of Nigeria. On this cut, NAIRA’s purr sounds euphorically exasperated as she coos for you to put her on. Given the name of her album is Fearless: The Art Of Letting Go, it is only fitting that she would suggest such a seductive come on. But instead of going the Lil Kim route, it is a proposition delivered in smooth style.


Jonti – Firework Spraying Moon

Jonti is a South African/Australian artist who is becoming increasingly better known for his challenging and off-kilter output. ‘Firework Spraying Moon’ is one such cut which features an eccentric mix distinctly African drumming motifs (e.g. interplay between syncopated hand claps and a clipped, tight-skinned drum beat) with a glistening keyboard melody that even Disney would fall in love with. Exaggerated? Ironic? Who knows? Whatever the case though, its replay value will mystify you.

Popskarr – Fighter

Wow. If Depeche Mode had died, been reincarnated and their souls repatriated to South Africa, they would probably sound something like Popskarr. ‘Fighter’ submerges itself in those familiar aching synth washes reminiscent of the 80’s, and Terrance Pearce’s darkly resonant croon. However the real clincher in this song is the beautiful African blues mini-riff that flutters in and out of the misty synth fog. 


Spoek Mathambo – Put Some Red On It (Shabazz Palaces Remix)

Spoek Mathambo is entirely capable of making exciting Afro-futuristic hip-hop all by himself. Anyone who has listened to Father Creeper can attest. However, on the sparse post-dubstep stomp of ‘Put Some Red On It’, Mathambo enlists Shabazz Palaces to chop and screw this anthem detailing the horrors of conflict diamonds. As a result, it transforms into something else entirely; a beast resembling a woozy transformer or something out of ‘Power Rangers’. A huge, mechanical monolith that is powerful but endearingly clumsy as it destroys everything in sight.


Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang – Eh Mane Ah

Bubu, a style originating from Sierra Leone, has Janka Nabay to thank for exposing it to an international audience. Originally an art form devoted to occultist practices, it now represents the synergy of regional traditions with the area’s Muslim influences and espouses messages of peace and equality. ‘Eh Mane Ah’ is a frantic, percolating number with virtuosic electric guitar and keyboard swirls resembling 60’s psychedelia. It makes complete sense when you reflect on the fact that this type of music is associated with religious and supernatural practices; its frenzied repetitiveness is hypnotic and transcendental.


Dawn Richard – Change

Now, it’s not hard to be sceptical when someone presents you with a solo album from one of the former members of Danity Kane. Nor is it hard to be sceptical when many alternative music websites are suddenly raving about said-artist, now that they have come back with an album of independently released R&B. However, Dawn Richard’s Armour On EP is a genuinely impressive collection of songs that exploits the best things about R&B and leaves the middle of the road, mass-produced shlock out of it. ‘Change’ is a meditative love hymn that resembles something you would imagine Kanye West producing something for Rhianna ala ‘Love Lockdown’. It’s like waiting for the sun to rise over an African savannah. The song grows as impatient as Richard’s protagonist praying for change. However, at the same time she sounds entirely devoted because of her certainty that a change will come; as certain as we are about the beauty of a sunrise. (Note: No pun was intended at the time of writing linking the song to a dawn).

This article is lifted from The Nu Africa issue of Art Nouveau Magazine. Get your hands on the Nu Africa issue here!

Gritty Passion: Georgia Anne Muldrow As Real As It Gets

Illustration by Donald Ely

Georgia Anne Muldrow is an old soul, screaming a message that is unwavering and unavoidable. “It’s about getting through what’s trying to come through me,” she stated and all for good reason. Just coming off a tour on the west coast (where she was born and now resides), and recently releasing her newest album Seeds, Georgia began our conversation saying, “it was wonderful seeing that kind of love and support by your own people.”

A statement, not meant to exclude or impede on other races, Georgia’s pride and adoration for being a black woman, is what makes her music all the more tangible and filled with soul. An affection that dates back to her childhood, when asked what inspires her she simply stated, “my love of music…true rhythm and blues…the old people in the church type of music.” Growing up in a household of musicians, she explained that, “because I had older parents I was exposed to a lot more music [like] Luther Vandross, Ike and Tina Turner, Isley Brothers, Rock and Roll.” Speaking about how her lyrics, “come from everything around me and everything I see,” Georgia’s pure intentions to speak about a purposeful message quickly became authentic not only in the lyrics she sang, but also in the words she spoke.

Georgia was one of those every blue moon experiences and within the first five minutes of our conversation I had convinced myself we had known one another for years or even in another life. The warm vibe she naturally embodied had deeply resonated within me. Possessing a clear sense of self with a deliberate message, Georgia insisted on making her music intentions clear. “I’m doing what is required of me, speaking about what is really important and about what needs to be exposed, because none of this is new…it is part of my responsibility…[my] obligation.” She defined this through her lyric influence, explaining her purpose was to be the voice for those people who, “live real lives…I want to bring something to the table that has concern for children, mothers, fathers… people who don’t have time for foolishness.”

Giving homage to those who came before her, Georgia’s humility permeated throughout the conversation. She expounded by stating how, “this was happening before I was born… people that came before… didn’t have to know me to care… they were doing it because they believed it was a part of their obligation, understanding that their was a generation that was coming after them… just like there is a generation that is coming after us.” A notion that a lot of people consider, but never truly embrace as an idea strong enough to influence their actions, Georgia’s entire aura revolved around the belief in what she identified as the “greater whole.”

A concept that is ubiquitous in her music, Georgia stressed the need to, “set it up for the next generation.” A notion that can lead to ambiguous opinions and beliefs, her brilliance was proven (if you didn’t already know) in her poetic break down, which went like this:

“As the earth gets older it becomes harder to zone out that white noise, and get in touch with the kind of reality that opens our minds to what is really going on in the earth. The bombing of cities, the starving children, the struggles that are in life that no one wants to talk about, but is pervasive throughout the everyday life of millions of people…ordinary people…people need to realize that if they just close their eyelids you’re at genesis… you are perceiving kali.”

Pause for one moment and let that absorb. Wait for it…. Let your mind understand the implications of that statement, really thinking about what she is saying.

And for those that don’t know Kali, she was so kind to rap about that as well:

“Kali Yuga (a song on her newest album Seeds, which everyone should cop, if you truly believe in feeding your mind’s spirit)…is a double entendre.” The first is, Kali Yuga known as the fourth and present age of the world (in Hindu belief), full of conflict and sin. The second component known as Kali Ma is explained by Georgia as “the goddess, which is the medicine for this time of so much white noise.” An entendre that must co-exist to remain relevant, her lyrics explanation that, “man is temporary, his logic is insane…but kali is forever the home of light unchanged,” challenges the foundation of societies beliefs (driven by consumption and superficialities), while simultaneously addressing the sole idea that Kali (inhabited by humans and the Goddess) endures only in the presence of one another. (Did you catch it? If not I’ll wait, while you re-read).

“It’s in the forefront of my mind, people that live these simple lives but are dealing with the craziest challenges”. Instantly, my mind raced to her lyrics “children going hungry,” a harsh reality Georgia explains, “it doesn’t take a lot of thought… when you are in a flow of being open to your surroundings… people are so blinded by what they have been programmed to understand.”

Her statements were so fluid it was startling. She asked me, “what are we trying to do” (which I hated to admit to myself as a rhetorical question). We sat silent on the phone for a couple seconds, only to let the painful, honest truth come out instantaneously. We, “poison our minds…consuming a shallow reality that isn’t truly real.” She went on to expose every component of our superficial world, from what we define as beauty, to our need to separate ourselves from one another (which she rebuttals in her song Calabash, asking why do we kill each other, when we are all the same). Even addressing the “stigmas blackness gets” within our society (accepted by every race, not excluding black people), Georgia exposed the problems in what she defined as Kneecap Jelly (Also, a single on her album “Seeds”). Defined as a “hesitation [and] punking out,” it baffled me how much the notion relates to our society. She exposed how no one wants to hear about real things, cause lets face it no one cares about anything but celebrity gossip right?

Going further into the notion of blackploitation, in Georgia’s Petey Wheatstraw song, she identifies the irony in society’s fascination of black culture that encourages the stereotypes, negative connotations, and belief of what blackness represents. She explained how, “black signified the evil, and white defined the purity of the world.” An idea that invades our everyday lives in magazines, movies, and advertisements, Georgia went back to the idea of an obscure, distorted reality that has been deemed worthy in society. She went on to passionately state how, “black aint dirty… blackness is the door to your potential… blackness is the goddess of creation and the goodness that is the beginning of creation.”

With that being said, I had to know what her opinion was on consciousness. I asked, and she so poetically replied:

“It is not my job to define consciousness, my job is to refine my consciousness, and I’m not sure as to all that it is because it is so much… consciousness is shared, it’s like the eye of the fly… My conscious is part of a greater whole… it’s a mating call to your reality…where your thoughts are is where you are going to be… your consciousness is everything about who you are, the DNA of what you represent from the way you think, to the way you talk, to the way you dress, to the way you express yourself…it’s like that song, you are everything and everything is you…that is the soul and core of it all and it is undeniable… it is kinetic synthesis straight from Africa and that’s everything.”

She went on to further explain consciousness as, “the God part, it’s God’s eyeball, being perceived, and people have to understand there is no perception outside of God’s eyeball…when you accept that you do not define consciousness, and become open to the fact the true perception is God’s perception you can see and understand more things and unify that eyeball… when you try to separate yourself rather than unify… that’s your ego… you can’t look at yourself as different…when you allow your ego to get in the way, there’s a lot that can go wrong.” She explained how you must “unite with your experience…unifying your whole life experience.”

Ideas that are ubiquitous throughout her music, Georgia was able to establish a genuine humanity that she embraced as being a part of the human experience. She spoke about, realizing that your greatest mistakes, are the biggest things you needed to learn.” A crippling idea if not embraced as being inevitable as human beings, Georgia spoke in a way that made her vulnerable, but all the more respected in my eyes. She was honest, sincere, and uninhibited. Finally, Georgia addressed a cure for this inevitability, and the cure was “to get in touch with the negative space…get acquainted with the great unknown” and to stop being “afraid to say you don’t know.” Easier said than done, it is definitely a concept worth fighting for and challenging yourself to work towards as a constantly growing being.

Leaving the conversation with a new-found revelation to conscious music and embracing the idea of becoming one with the universe (as cliché as that sounds), you have to wonder; maybe Georgia Anne Muldrow is really onto something. A groove that not everyone can vibe with or learn to accept, you’d been an idiot not to want to listen to how she translates these complex ideas into impenetrable sounds that stimulate your mind, body, and soul. A viscosity that brings us back to the motherland of good music, she walks to a beat that can be described by her own lyrics, “fresh from the earth pure indeed, fresh from the earth pure in mind, fresh from the earth pure in heart,” can you dig it?


This article appears in the Nu Africa issue of Art Nouveau. Get your copy of issue 8 here.

“I had to take it back, back to the motherland,” Issue #8: “Nu Africa” available now

“I had to take it back, back to the motherland, when I was a baby girl and I held my mother’s hand” – Corinne Stevie from “Nu Africa”

I had to take it back, back to the motherland. Dances in Damascus, Pyramids on the French Rivera, and it feels like a Nu Land. This issue we present a place where the old and new meet continuously to push NU ideas and the creative spirit while never forgetting where we’ve been. Like the Sankofa, there is no moving forward, without looking back.

As a continent that has endured some of the highest levels of human atrocity, misfortune and pillaging in the world, Africa’s nations are in the very least united by their immense struggles. However, if you need any evidence that Africa’s peoples do not see themselves as victims, just look at their art, music and popular culture. Regardless of the traditions of a given region, there is almost always a fighting spirit that shines through. NU AFRICA symbolizes the desire to move forward from the horrors of eras past and embrace the elements that make it what is today; traditional, colonial and modern.

Nu Africa, Art Nouveau’s 8th Issue, features a hand selected group of artists, designers and musicians that adhere to this aesthetic ideal. Our cover story “As Real As It Gets” finds Georgia Anne Muldrow as imagined by artist Donald Ely talking openly about solidarity and new aesthetics.



Also featuring: PopSkarr, Gold Coast Trading Company, Kutloano Molokomme, Fool’s Gold, JP Hanekom, DVA, Jonti, Spoek Mathambo, NAIRA, Adrienne Price and more. Get your copy of Issue #8: Nu Africa right now.





Live From The Coast: A look at Gold Coast Trading Co.’s “Winds from the North” collection

Designer Emeka Alams, of Gold Coast Trading Co., has been on the radar of fashion followers for a few seasons now unleashing his take on merging African and western styles. So many have used this concept as inspiration in the fashion world, and undoubtedly, many will again. Almost to the point that it could fall in the category of “done and redone.” The colors and spirit of African garb are by nature and design something that would attract a designer of any background. But what makes Alams’ work at Gold Coast so special is his profound connection to his home continent. His life has taken him back and forth between the Ivory Coast to various cities in Western Europe and America. He has lived through the social and political unrest that plagues the whole continent firsthand. Alams’ pride of his heritage translates to a brand that is a unique, non-literal interpretation of an idea that is personal for him.

SnapTrakks: GREATeclectic feat Corinne Stevie & Jack Preston – nu AFRICA

SOPA or not, If you’re looking these three you can find them on the Internet. In anticipation of his upcoming musical project Planet of the Ape$, artist, DJ & editor of Art Nouveau, GREATeclectic drops another track this time featuring emcees Corinne Stevie & Jack Preston. Planet of the Ape$ drops January 31, until then tide yourself over with this one.

Continue reading SnapTrakks: GREATeclectic feat Corinne Stevie & Jack Preston – nu AFRICA