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August 26 2013

June 26 2013

Four short links: 26 June 2013

  1. Memory Allocation in Brains (PDF) — The results reviewed here suggest that there are competitive mechanisms that affect memory allocation. For example, new dentate gyrus neurons, amygdala cells with higher excitability, and synapses near previously potentiated synapses seem to have the competitive edge over other cells and synapses and thus affect memory allocation with time scales of weeks, hours, and minutes. Are all memory allocation mechanisms competitive, or are there mechanisms of memory allocation that do not involve competition? Even though it is difficult to resolve this question at the current time, it is important to note that most mechanisms of memory allocation in computers do not involve competition. Does the dissector use a slab allocator? Tip your waiter, try the veal.
  2. Living Foundries (DARPA) — one motivating, widespread and currently intractable problem is that of corrosion/materials degradation. The DoD must operate in all environments, including some of the most corrosively aggressive on Earth, and do so with increasingly complex heterogeneous materials systems. This multifaceted and ubiquitous problem costs the DoD approximately $23 Billion per year. The ability to truly program and engineer biology, would enable the capability to design and engineer systems to rapidly and dynamically prevent, seek out, identify and repair corrosion/materials degradation. (via Motley Fool)
  3. Innovate Salone — finalists from a Sierra Leone maker/innovation contest. Part of David Sengeh‘s excellent work.
  4. Arts, Humanities, and Complex Networks — ebook series, conferences, talks, on network analysis in the humanities. Everything from Protestant letter networks in the reign of Mary, to the repertory of 16th century polyphony, to a data-driven update to Alfred Barr’s diagram of cubism and abstract art (original here).
Sponsored post

January 02 2013

Zambia: Minister Threatens Editors of Online Watchdog with Treason Charge

A Zambian government minister has allegedly threatened to arrest the editors of the online citizen media newspaper, Zambian Watchdog, in addition to closing down their website. The minister is also said to have threatened to charge the editors with treason, a capital punishment in Zambia, punishable by death.

On January 2, 2013, Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu, was reportedly quoted by state-controlled Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), as saying: “ONLINE PUBLICATIONS…. publishing defamatory statements will be taken to court so they explain their false allegations.”

ZNBC has since removed the statement from its website. But many netizens, who have listened to the broadcast on ZNBC, have widely commented on the statement. Like online political activist, Ask Aunt Tina Banda, who writes on his Facebook page:

…..who is it [the minister is alluding to]? Zambian watch dog, Zambian EYE, Tumfweko, Mwebantu media etc….LOL Yaba [exclamation]!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Zambian Watchdog is no stranger to threats of closure. But this recent threat seems to be squarely aimed at the website, which publishes the following statement:

The Zambian government has announced that it will close the Zambian Watchdog and charge its editors with treason. But the Watchdog is reliably informed that the renewed vigour to stop the Watchdog is because this publication has made it impossible for the PF [Patriotic Front ruling political party] regime to push propaganda since their praise singers the Post Newspaper is no longer selling.

After heavily suppressing the opposition political parties, civil society organisations, the church, and other opposing views, dictator Michael Sata’s government has a new-years’ resolution – hunting down and close all on-line publications, especially their worst enemy, Zambia Watchdog (this publication).

[…] Zambia’s Home Affairs minister, Edgar Lungu told the state owned and PF controlled ZNBC that the owners will be charged with treason, a capital punishment in Zambia that carries a death sentence.

The PF government since coming to power has been hunting the Zambian Watchdog and has issued several threats and ultimatums which have so far yielded nothing.

But Mr. Lungu has today (January 2, 2013) openly declared war and that 2013 is the year to get the Zambian Watchdog which has proved a pain to the ruling PF dictatorial regime that is bent on suppressing any opposing views.

Earlier this year, the Zambian Watchdog was named by the Zambia Security and Intelligence Services (ZSIS), better known as the Office of the President, as Zambia’s most influential publication.

Commenting on the latest threat, a number of the Zambian Watchdog's readers expressed solidarity. Honest wrote (individual comments on the Zambian Watchdog website do not have links to them):

The best the [government] would do is to provide the correct position of any matter which the govt feels was not reported with facts. Stifling the [Zambian Watchdog] won’t help the [government] in anyway. The [government] should promote free press where authors write objectively. The truth may be hated by the majority but it will finally triumph over falsehood. Very few people can stand on the side of truth as truth demands loyalty to principles and even personal sacrifice in the face of persecution and so forth. The post should simply go in extinct and rest in the archives.

A reader calling himself The Analyst wrote:

I like the Zambia Watchdog but I also don’t really understand their operations. Are they really in Zambia? Are they even registered with [Registrar of Societies, Clement] Andeleki ? Are people who feed them with Information safe?

A reader, Vlad!, whose previous comments appeared to have been censored, lambasted the publication:

Why dont you publish my posts? Is it because I tell you the truth? Test how popular you are as you claim by not moderating posts. All I know is that you are fake, fools! Why attack the [government] when you know that it will not defend itself? We are here to defend the [government] but you block our comments. How credible are your claims?

A few weeks after the 2011 elections, which ushered the current Patriotic Front government into office, President Michael Sata ordered his newly appointed Attorney-General, Mumba Malila, to “regulate online publications.”

In the few months following that order, the government reportedly released millions of dollars for security officers to pursue online publications in general and the Zambian Watchdog in particular. As a consequence, on May 2012, the website was allegedly the victim of an online attack, and was inaccessible for several hours.

Ironically, the Zambian Watchdog seems to be popular among government ministers themselves. As we reported back on October 2, 2012, Zambia's Finance Deputy Minister, Miles Sampa, and Minister in Charge of Chiefs, Nkandu Luo, were both caught on camera, during a parliament session browsing the very online news website their government is allegedly threatening today:

December 26 2012

Four short links: 28 December 2012

  1. Kenyan Women Create Their Own Geek Culture (NPR) — Oguya started spending some Saturday mornings with Colaco and other women, snipping code and poring through hacker cookbooks. These informal gatherings became the Akirachix. Oguya graduated and turned her mobile phone idea into a company called M-Farm. At 25 years old, she now has a staff of 18. And 7,000 African farmers use her app.
  2. Ozone Widget Framework (Github) — open source webapp integrator. The Ozone Widget Framework is released to the public as Open Source Software, because it’s the Right Thing To Do. Also, it was required by Section 924 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. Spook-made, citizen played.
  3. gtypist — open source universal typing tutor. You can learn correct typing and improve your skills by practising its exercises on a regular basis.
  4. Open Source Hardware Bagpipes — to practice your fingerings without actually killing the neighbours. (via Hacked Gadgets)

December 06 2012

Science Podcast - Sleeping sickness, kids' science books, the GRAIL mission, and more (7 Dec 2012)

Sleeping sickness, prize-winning children’s books, the GRAIL project, and more.

November 29 2012

As digital disruption comes to Africa, investing in data journalism takes on new importance

This interview is part of our ongoing look at the people, tools and techniques driving data journalism.

I first met Justin Arenstein (@justinarenstein) in Chişinău, Moldova, where the media entrepreneur and investigative journalist was working as a trainer at a “data boot camp” for journalism students. The long-haired, bearded South African instantly makes an impression with his intensity, good humor and focus on creating work that gives citizens actionable information.

Justin ArensteinJustin ArensteinWhenever we’ve spoken about open data and open government, Arenstein has been a fierce advocate for data-driven journalism that not only makes sense of the world for readers and viewers, but also provides them with tools to become more engaged in changing the conditions they learn about in the work.

He’s relentlessly focused on how open data can be made useful to ordinary citizens, from Africa to Eastern Europe to South America. For instance, in November, he highlighted how data journalism boosted voter registration in Kenya, creating a simple website using modern web-based tools and technologies.

For the last 18 months, Arenstein has been working as a Knight International Fellow embedded with the African Media Initiative (AMI) as a director for digital innovation. The AMI is a group of the 800 largest media companies on the continent of Africa. In that role, Arenstein has been creating an innovation program for the AMI, building more digital capacity in countries that are as in need of effective accountability from the Fourth Estate as any in the world. That disruption hasn’t yet played itself out in Africa because of a number of factors, explained Arenstein, but he estimates that it will be there within five years.

“Media wants to be ready for this,” he said, “to try and avoid as much of the business disintegration as possible. The program is designed to help them grapple with and potentially leapfrog coming digital disruption.”

In the following interview, Arenstein discusses the African media ecosystem, the role of Hacks/Hackers in Africa, and expanding the capacity of data journalism.

Why did you adopt the Hacks/Hackers model and scale it? Why is it relevant to what’s happening around Africa?

Justin Arenstein: African journalists are under-resourced but also poorly trained, probably even more so than in the U.S. and elsewhere. Very, very few of them have any digital skills, never mind coding skills. Simply waiting for journalists to make the leap themselves and start learning coding skills and more advanced digital multimedia content production skills is just too — well, we don’t have enough time to do that, if we’re going to beat this disruption that’s coming.

The idea was to clone parts of the basic model of Hacks/Hackers from the U.S., which is a voluntary forum and society where journalists, UI people, designers, graphics people and coders meet up on a regular basis.

Unlike in the U.S., where Hacks/Hackers is very focused on startup culture, the African chapters have been very focused on data-driven journalism and imparting some basic skills. We’re trying to avoid some of the pitfalls experienced in the U.S. and get down to using data as a key tool in creating content. A big weakness in a lot of African media is that there’s very little unique content, firstly, and that the unique content that is available is not particularly well produced. It’s not deep. It’s not substantiated. It’s definitely not linked data.

We’ve been focusing on improving the quality of the content so that the companies where these journalists work will be able to start weaning themselves from some of the bad business practices that they are guilty of and start concentrating on building up their own inventory. That’s worked really well in some of the African countries along the coastlines where there’s data access, because you’ve got cables coming in. In the hinterland of Africa, data and Internet are not widely available. The Hacks/Hackers chapters there have been more like basic computer-assisted reporting training organizations.

Like in the U.S., they all run themselves. But unlike in the U.S., we have a structured agenda, a set of protocols, an operating manual, and we do subsidize each of the chapters to help them meet the physical needs of cost. They’re not quite as voluntary as the U.S. ones; it’s a more formal structure. That’s because they’re designed to surface good ideas, to bring together a challenge that you wouldn’t ordinarily find in the media ecosystem at least, and then to help kick-start experimentation.

Do you see any kind of entrepreneurial activity coming out of them now?

Justin Arenstein: I’m not aware of any notable startups. We’ve had ideas where people are collaborating to build toward startups. I haven’t seen any products launched yet, but what we have seen is journalist-led startups that were outside of these Hacks/Hackers chapters now starting to come into the fold.

Why? Because this is where they can find some of the programming and engineering skills that they need, that they were struggling to find outside of the ecosystem. They are finding engineers or programmers, at least, but they’re not finding programmers who are tuned to content needs or to media philosophies and models. There’s a better chance that they’ll find those inside of these chapters.

The chapters are fairly young, though. The oldest chapter is about six months old now, and still fairly small. We’re nowhere near the size of some of the Latin American chapters. We have forged very strong links with them, and we follow their model a lot more closely than the U.S. model. The biggest chapter is probably about 150 members. They all meet, at a minimum, once a month. Interestingly, they are becoming the conduits not just for hackathons and “scrape-a-thons,” but are also now our local partners for implementing thinks like our data boot camps.

Those are week-long, intensive hands-on experiential training, where we’re flying in people from the Guardian data units, the Open Knowledge Foundation and from Google. We’re actually finding the guys behind Google Refine and Google Fusion Tables and flying in some of those people, so they can see end-users in a very different environment to what they’re used to. People walk into those boot camps not knowing what a spreadsheet is and, by the end of it, they’re producing their first elementary maps and visualizations. They’re crunching data.

What stories have “data boot camp” participants produced afterward?

Justin Arenstein: Here’s an example. We had a boot camp in Kenya. NTV, the national free-to-air station, had been looking into why young girls in a rural area of Kenya did very well academically until the ages of 11 or 12 — and then either dropped off the academic record completely or their academic performance plummeted. The explanation by the authorities and everyone else was that this was simply traditional; it’s tribal. Families are pulling them out of school to do chores and housework, and as a result, they can’t perform.

Irene Choge [a Kenyan boot camp participant who attended data journalism training] started mining the data. She came from that area and knew it wasn’t that [cause]. So she looked into public data. She first assumed it was cholera, so she looked into medical records. Nothing there. She then looked into water records. From water, she started looking into physical infrastructure and public works. She discovered these schools had no sanitation facilities and that the schools with the worst performing academics were those that didn’t have sanitation facilities, specifically toilets.

What’s the connection?

Justin Arenstein: When these girls start menstruating, there’s nowhere for them to go to attend to themselves, other than into the bushes around the school. They were getting harassed and embarrassed. They either stopped going to school completely or they would stop going during that part of their cycle and, as a result, their schoolwork suffered dramatically. She then produced a TV documentary that evoked widespread public outcry and changed policies.

In addition to that, her newsroom is working on building an app. A parent who watches this documentary and is outraged will then be able to use the app to find out what’s happening at their daughter’s school. If their daughter’s school is one of those that has no facilities, the app then helps them through a text-based service to sign a petition and petition the responsible official to improve the situation, as well as link up with other outraged parents. It mobilizes them.

What we liked about her example was that it was more than just doing a visualization, which is what people think about when you say “data journalism.”

First, she used data tools to find trends and stories that had been hidden to solve a mystery. Secondly, she then did real old-fashioned journalism and went out in the field and confirmed the data wasn’t lying. The data was accurate.

Thirdly, she then used the data to give people the tools to actually act on the information. She’s using open data and finding out in your district, this is your school, this is how you impact it, this is the official you should be emailing or writing to about it. That demonstrates that, even in a country where most people access information through feature phones, data can still have a massive impact at grassroots level.

These are the kinds of successes that we are looking for in these kinds of outreach programs when it comes to open data.

How does the practice of data-driven journalism or the importance of computer-assisted reporting shift when a reporter can’t use rich media or deploy bandwidth-heavy applications?

Justin Arenstein: We’re finding something that maybe you’re starting to see inklings of elsewhere as well: data journalism doesn’t have to be the product. Data journalism can also be the route that you follow to get to a final story. It doesn’t have to produce an infographic or a map.

Maps are very good ways to organize information. They’re very poor mechanisms for consuming information. No one kicks back on a Sunday afternoon laying on their sofa, reading a map, but if a map triggers geofenced information and pushes relevant local information at you in your vicinity, then it becomes a useful mechanism.

What we’re doing in newsrooms is around investigative journalism. For example, we’re funding projects around extractive industries. We’re mapping out conversations and relationships between people. We’re then using them as analytical tools in the newsroom to arrive at better, deeper and evidence-driven reporting, which is a major flaw and a major weakness in many African media.

What capacity needs to be built in these areas? What are people doing now? What matters most?

Justin Arenstein: Investigative journalism in Africa, like in many other places, tends to be scoop-driven, which means that someone’s leaked you a set of documents. You’ve gone and you’ve verified them and often done great sleuth work. There are very few systematic, analytical approaches to analyzing broader societal trends. You’re still getting a lot of hit-and-run reporting. That doesn’t help us analyze the societies we’re in, and it doesn’t help us, more importantly, build the tools to make decisions.

Some of the apps that we are helping people build, based off of their reporting, are invariably not visualizations. They’re rather saying, “Let’s build a tool that augments the reporting, reflects the deeper data that the report is based on, and allows people to use that tool to make a personal decision.” It’s engendering action.

A lot of the fantastic work you’ve seen from people at the Guardian and others has been about telling complex stories simply via infographics, which is a valid but very different application of data journalism.

I think that, specifically in East Africa and in Southern Africa, there’s growing recognition that the media are important stewards of historical data. In many of these societies, including industrialized societies like South Africa, the state hasn’t been a really good curator of public data and public information because of their political histories.

Nation states don’t see data as an asset? Is that because technical capacity isn’t there? Or is that because data actually contains evidence of criminality, corruption or graft?

Justin Arenstein: It’s often ineptitude and lack of resources in South Africa’s instance. In a couple of other countries, it’s systematic purging of information that is perhaps embarrassing when there’s a change of regime or political system — or in the case of South Africa and many of the colonial countries, a simple unwillingness or lack of insight as to the importance of collecting data about second-class citizens, largely the black population.

The official histories are very thin. There’s nowhere near the depth of nuance or insight into a society that you would find in the U.S. or in Europe, where there’s been very good archival record keeping. Often, the media are the only people who’ve really been keeping that kind of information, in terms of news reportage. It’s not brilliant. It’s often not primary sources — it’s secondary. But the point is that often it’s the only information that’s available.

What we’re doing is working with media companies now to help digitize and turn reportage into structured data. In a vacuum, because there is no other data, suddenly it becomes an important commercial commodity. Anyone who wants to build, for example, a tourism app or a transport app, will find that there is no other information available. This may sound like a bizarre concept to most people living in data-rich countries, like the U.S., but you simply can’t find the content. That means that you have to then go out and create the content yourself before you can build the app.

Is this a different sort of a “data divide,” where a country is “data-poor?”

Justin Arenstein: Well, maybe digitally “data poor,” because what we are doing is we’re saying that there is data. We initially also had the same reaction, saying “there is no data here,” and then realized that there’s a hell of a lot of data. Invariably, it’s locked up in deadwood format. So [we're now] liberating that data, digitizing it, structuring it, and then making sure that it’s available for people to use.

How much are media entities you work with making data, as opposed to just digitizing?

Justin Arenstein: Some are making data. We haven’t, because a lot of other actors are involved in citizen data creation. We haven’t really focused too many of our very scarce resources on that component yet.

We are funding a couple of citizen reporting apps, because there’s a lot of hype around citizen data and we’re trying to see if there are models that can really work where you create credible, sourced and actionable information. We don’t believe that you’re going to be able to do that just from text messaging. We’re looking at alternative kinds of interfaces and methods for transmitting information.

Are there companies and startups that are consuming the digital data that you’re producing? If so, what are they doing?

Justin Arenstein: Outside of the News Challenge, we are co-founding something with the World Bank called “Code for Kenya.” It’s modeled fairly closely on the Mozilla Open Use Fellowships, with a few tweaks. It’s maybe a hybrid of Code for America and the Mozilla Open Fellowships.

Where Code for America focuses on cities and Mozilla focuses on newsrooms, we’ve embedded open data strategists and evangelists into the newsrooms, backed up by an external development team at a civic tech lab. They’re structuring the data that’s available, such as turning old microfiche rolls into digital information, cleaning it up and building a data disk. They’re building news APIs and pushing the idea that rather than building websites, design an API specifically for third-party repurposing of your content. We’re starting to see the first early successes. Four months in, some of the larger media groups in Kenya are now starting to have third-party entrepreneurs developing using their content and then doing revenue-share deals.

The only investment from the data holder, which is the media company, is to actually clean up the data and then make it available for development. Now, that’s not a new concept. The Guardian in the United Kingdom has experimented with it. It’s fairly exciting for these African companies because there’s potentially — and arguably, larger — appetite for the content because there’s not as much content available. Suddenly, the unit cost of value of that data is far higher than it might be in the U.K. or in the U.S.

Media companies are seriously looking at it as one of many potential future revenue streams. It enables them to repurpose their own data, start producing books and the rest of it. There isn’t much book publishing in Africa, by Africans, for Africans. Suddenly, if the content is available in an accessible format, it gives them an opportunity to mash-up stuff and create new kinds of books.

They’ll start seeing that content itself can be a business model. The impact that we’re seeking there is to try and show media companies that investing in high-quality unique information actually gives you a long-term commodity that you can continue to reap benefits from over time. Whereas simply pulling stuff off the wire or, as many media do in Africa, simply lifting it off of the web, from the BBC or elsewhere, and crediting it, is not a good business model.

Photo via International Center for Journalists.


September 17 2012

Four short links: 17 September 2012

  1. Aaron Swartz Defense Fund — American computer systems are under attack every day of the week from foreign governments, and the idiot prosecutor is wasting resources doubling down on this vindictive nonsense.
  2. Baghdad Community Hackerspace Workshops (Kickstarter) — Makerspace in Baghdad, built by people who know how to do this stuff in that country. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Teaching Web Development in AfricaI used the resources that Pamela Fox helpfully compiled at to mentor twelve students who all built their own websites, such as websites for their karate club, fashion club, and traditional dance troupe. One student made a website to teach others about the hardware components of computers, and another website discussing the merits of a common currency in the East African Community. The two most advanced students began programming their own computer game to help others practice touch typing, and it allows players to compete across the network with WebSockets.
  4. Transient Faces (Jeff Howard) — only displaying the unchanging parts of a scene, effectively removing people using computer vision. Disconcerting and elegant. (via Greg Borenstein)

June 28 2012

Egyptian cartoonist George Bahgoury: 'My vision is contaminated in Egypt' - video

Regarded as the father of Egyptian caricature, George Bahgoury discusses his life and work, and the problems of being an artist in post-revolutionary Egypt

June 12 2012

Muammar Gaddafi's photo archive gives an insight into the 'Jamahiriya'

Libyan dictator always had an eye for the camera, whether it was posing with world leaders or harking back to his Bedouin roots

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years before he was overthrown last summer and killed by rebels in October. So it will take some time before his countrymen are able to escape his giant shadow. Even as a young man – he was 27 in 1969 when he and his fellow officers overthrew the western-backed King Idris – Gaddafi had an eye for the camera and for posterity.

Archives seized after the revolution contain a rich photographic record of his poses, achievements and friends, though his hugs of welcome for fellow Arab leaders from Yasser Arafat to Egypt's President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, his hero and inspiration, often masked stormy private relationships.

Gaddafi's penchant for elaborate military uniforms and powerful allies is combined in a shot of him standing hand-in-hand with the ageing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1981, at the start of a decade which saw Libyan backing for the IRA and other terrorists, retaliatory US air attacks on Libya as well as the notorious Lockerbie bombing. Years of sanctions followed until Gaddafi finally came in from the cold and shed his pariah status for a brief honeymoon before the Arab spring erupted.

Images found by Human Rights Watch in state intelligence buildings and Gaddafi family residences make up a unique archive of the years when the Jamahiriya or "state of the masses" was run according to the precepts of the "Brother Leader's'' Green Book, and was effectively closed to the west.

Gaddafi often harked back to his Bedouin roots – receiving visitors in a tent pitched inside his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli before the Nato-backed revolution ended his control of the capital.

In one undated picture he lies sprawled happily and barefoot on the sand, foreshadowing the unmarked desert grave he was buried in last October after being killed by rebel fighters on the outskirts of his home town Sirte.His rotting corpse was left on display in a meat store for three days in a grotesque parody of a conventional lying-in-state for a mourned national leader.

Hatred and vengeance were the products of decades of the repression that was an important part of Gaddafi's Libya. One grim shot in this exhibition shows bodies dangling from makeshift gallows in a Benghazi sports stadium – the result of one of his periodic "revolutionary" show trials of the dissidents he hunted down without mercy at home and abroad.

The Gaddafi Archives: Libya Before the Arab Spring London Festival of Photography © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 27 2012

Beneath the surface: Steve Bloom's portraits of Apartheid

In the 1970s Steve Bloom recorded the everyday inequities of apartheid. A new exhibition shows the day-to-day reality of this lost and unlamented world

The screams from my neighbour's flat woke me in the early hours. The sound I remember, intense today as it was 35 years ago, was a woman's shrill voice crying out, "Leave me alone! I'll do what I like with my body!" Through my kitchen window I saw two policemen dragging a black woman in nightclothes along the passageway, closely followed by my white neighbour who was frogmarched by the two remaining policemen. Under the apartheid system, interracial sex was illegal.

During the 1970s I worked for Nasionale Tydskrifte, which printed many of South Africa's top fashion magazines, and employed mixed-race people, who were obliged to enter the building through a separate doorway. I felt discomforted by the unearned rights assured by my white skin. I spent my weekends in the streets with my 35mm camera looking for something, though I never quite knew what: a confrontation with that particular time and place, an antidote to my working world of seamless commercial images. With no formal training, I approached the project as a fresh-faced amateur.

On my way home from work each day I passed a group of bergies – homeless street dwellers. Many were addicted to methylated spirits: cheap industrial alcohol that causes blindness and shortens life expectancy. Bergies were regarded as invisible by most people; stepped around, avoided at all costs. I photographed them, some very directly, trying to capture their sense of hopelessness. I visited Crossroads squatter camp, where thousands of families had set up home in defiance of the Group Areas Act forbidding migrant workers from living with their families. During the day, the authorities routinely demolished homes and terrorised the population.

It is impossible to escape the agenda of the photographer with an individual story to tell. I sought to capture a sense of alienation that may well have been a reflection of my own estrangement from the society in which I lived.

Beneath the Surface, an exhibition of Steve Bloom's photographs of mid-70s South Africa, is at the Guardian Gallery, Kings Place, London N1, 1-28 June ( © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 22 2012

Jacob Zuma penis painting defaced - video

A controversial portrait, entitled The Spear, of the South African president with genitals showing, is defaced by two men in a Johannesburg gallery

Jacob Zuma painting vandalised in South African gallery

Picture showing South African president with his genitals exposed is covered with red and black paint by protesters

A painting depicting the South African president, Jacob Zuma, with his genitals exposed has been vandalised, leading to ugly scenes at an art gallery in Johannesburg.

One man painted a red cross across Zuma's face and penis while a younger man spread black paint over the image. The younger man was reportedly assaulted by security guards.

The 1.85-metre-high painting, entitled The Spear, has bitterly divided South Africans, with the governing African National Congress (ANC) describing it as "rude, disrespectful and racist", but others defending the artist Brett Murray's right to freedom of speech.

South Africa's Eyewitness news identified one of the vandals on Tuesday as a university professor, and said he "took a small can of red paint and slowly marked two large 'X' symbols over the genitals and the face with a paintbrush.

"After a while, another man with a small can of black paint smeared the painting using his hands."

It added: "Footage on eNews showed security forcefully cuffing the men with cable ties after the painting had been defaced."

Andrew Harding, the BBC's Africa correspondent, was at the Goodman Gallery and tweeted: "Zuma picture smeared with black paint. Man who did it tells me 'picture was offensive.' gallery guard assaults him. 2nd man arrested too."

He continued: "Red and black paint now covers Zuma portrait. Two men responsible now taken away. Gallery closed."

The BBC quoted one of the men as saying: "I'm doing this because the painting is disrespectful to President Zuma."

A private security company was guarding the painting when the incident happened at around 11am. The BBC website reported that one man wielding a paint brush was pounced on by guards and headbutted at one point.

Harding tweeted: "Young black man was beaten by guards. Older white man treated much more courteously."

The suspects were arrested and taken to a nearby police station.

A spokesman for the Goodman Gallery said: "One man painted a red X across Zuma's face and the second covered the painting with black paint."

Murray said earlier that his work was never meant to hurt anyone but an "attempt at humorous satire of political power and patriarchy within the context of other artworks in the exhibition and within the broader context of South African discourse."

Earlier, a crowd of ANC supporters gathered near a court in Johannesburg where the party was seeking to have the painting removed. It was decided that a full bench of the high court would hear the case on Thursday. Judge Kathree Setiloane said: "This is a matter of great national importance."

Meanwhile, as the temperature of the debate continue to soar, Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist church, commonly known as the Shembe church, called for retribution against Murray.

"This man has insulted the entire nation and he deserves to be stoned to death," he told the Times of South Africa. "What he did clearly shows his racist upbringing because art does not allow people to insult others.

"This is an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa. With our culture we are allowed to marry many women. And white people must understand that and tolerate our culture as we do theirs. We are not like some of them who prefer prostitutes as they regard women as sex objects."

The painting has reportedly been bought by a German collector for about R136,000 (£10,345). © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 21 2012

Jacob Zuma goes to court over painting depicting his genitals

South African president says his right to privacy violated by The Spear, triggering row about freedom of speech and racism

It began with an impression of a man's penis in an art gallery where only a tiny fraction of the population would normally set foot. Now it has become a national debate running the gamut from freedom of expression to the right to privacy, from the nature of racism to "what is art?", and is being seen as nothing less than a test of South Africa's constitutional democracy.

On Wednesday the president, Jacob Zuma, will bring a court action to argue that a painting showing him with exposed genitalia should be removed because it violates his right to dignity and makes a mockery of his office.

The claim is disputed by the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, which is displaying the 1.85m-high (6ft 1in) painting, entitled The Spear, as part of artist Brett Murray's Hail to the Thief II exhibition.

Freedom of speech is protected in South Africa but Zuma's governing African National Congress (ANC) believes that, in this instance, it has a case beyond mere censorship of its critics. It contends that the artwork is playing up to crude stereotypes of African male sexuality. It is no doubt aware that Murray is white.

Zuma states in a legal affidavit: "The continued display of the portrait is manifestly serious and has the effect of impugning my dignity in the eyes of all who see it. In particular, the portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests that I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect. It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of my fellow citizens, family and children.

"In terms of the theme of the exhibition, my portrait is meant to convey a message that I am an abuser of power, corrupt and suffer political ineptness."

The president added that he was shocked and "felt personally offended and violated".

The ANC has been rallying around its leader over the painting. Gwede Mantashe, its secretary general, said on Monday: "It's rude, it's crude, it's disrespectful."

If it had been a white man depicted, the reaction would have been very different, he added, but as far as many people were concerned, black people were just objects.

"I said, 'How about the idea of going to court tomorrow and as we sit there we can take off our trousers? ... we can walk around with our genitals hanging out'.

"It's crude … we have not outgrown racism in our 18 years [of democracy]."

Ngoako Selamolela, president of the South African Students' Congress, added: "This arrogance is ideological and an attack to the very value and moral systems of the majority African people and many other religious persuasions."

And Wally Serote, a leading poet and writer, suggested the painting was no different to labelling black people "kaffirs" – a highly offensive term.

"Blacks feel humiliated and spat on by their white counterparts in situations like this," he was quoted as saying. "We all need to learn that as creative people we have a responsibility to see that our work contributes to building a new South Africa, free from prejudice."

Zuma is a polygamous Zulu who has married six times and has four wives. In 2010, he publicly apologised for fathering a child out of wedlock, said to be his 20th overall. In 2006, he was cleared of raping an HIV-positive friend but caused anger by saying he took a shower after having sex with her.

"It will be his sexual legacy that we will remember more than anything else," said the columnist Mondli Makhanya in South Africa's Sunday Times, adding: "His sexual endeavours are therefore fair game for artists, cartoonists, comedians, radio DJs and tavern jokers."

Other South Africans, both black and white, have taken the view that, as a public figure, Zuma should be thick-skinned when it comes to satire.

Tselane Tambo, daughter of the late ANC stalwart Oliver Tambo, reportedly posted on a social networking site: "So the Pres JZ has had his portrait painted and he doesn't like it.

"Do the poor enjoy poverty? Do the unemployed enjoy hopelessness? Do those who can't get housing enjoy homelessness? He must get over it. No one is having a good time. He should inspire the reverence he craves. This portrait is what he inspired. Shame neh!"

The row has been good for business at the gallery, where staff estimate there were 50 or 60 visitors at any one time on Saturday, more than double the usual attendance.

A spokeswoman for the gallery said: "The gallery provides a neutral space in which 'dialogue and free expression' is encouraged. In this space the ANC's right to condemn the work is acknowledged as much as the artist's right to display it. This, the gallery believes, is democracy at work.

"But the gallery cannot give up its right to decide what art will hang on its walls. For this reason we are opposing the application brought by the ANC and President Zuma for the removal of the artwork."

The Goodman Gallery will be increasing security and may search visitors, she added, amid rumours of a possible public protest. South Africa's Sunday Times reported that The Spear had been sold for 136,000 rand (£10,345) to a German buyer. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 25 2012

Cartoonist Frank Odoi killed in Kenya road accident

Artist whose Driving Me Crazy comic strip focused on reckless driving in Kenya is killed when minibus overturns in Nairobi

One of Africa's best-loved cartoonists, whose subjects included reckless driving in Kenya, has been killed in a road accident in Nairobi.

Frank Odoi, 64, died when the minibus taxi, known as a matatu, in which he was travelling overturned on Saturday. His Driving Me Crazy comic strip focused on the notoriously wayward matatu drivers.

The veteran artist was known for his Golgoti series, about a white man who travels to Africa, and Akokhan, featuring an African superhero inspired by the folklore of Ghana, where he was born.

After studying fine art and design in Accra, Odoi emigrated to Kenya in the 1970s. He became one of the first visual artists to command a daily slot in Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper.

His work was also featured in newspapers in Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique, Denmark and Finland, as well as the BBC's Focus on Africa magazine. He held exhibitions in various countries and won several cartoonist of the year awards.

Odoi was travelling in a matatu in Nairobi that veered off the road and overturned, killing him and another passenger. Patrick Lumumba, a local traffic commandant, told the Daily Nation: "The driver of the bus swerved to avoid hitting a pedestrian who was crossing the road. The bus veered off, overturned and landed in a ditch."

Family members realised something was wrong when Odoi did not return home all weekend. They searched every hospital in Nairobi and eventually found his body in a mortuary on Monday morning.

Tributes have been paid by friends and peers. John Nyaga, a cartoonist at the Daily Nation, told the newspaper: "Frank was one of the pioneer cartoonists in Kenya who was still practising. Long before I started doing my own works, when I was still in school, he was being published and his illustrations inspired me."

Paul "Maddo" Kelemba, a fellow director of the media company Four Dimension Innovative, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme: "Looking at the empty desk in the corner and expecting to see Frank has been very difficult, disturbing and has made us very angry.

"It is so sad that he met his end at the hands of the matatus which were the subject of his comic strip."

Last year, in an interview on the Kimaniwawanjiru website, Odoi was quoted as saying he would like to be remembered for his comics and cartoons. He added: "Happiest moments? Several. Any time I meet a fan of mine I get high. I am happy as long as I am with happy people." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 17 2012

US graffiti artist's Johannesburg mural takes swipe at diamond trade

Huge mural on wall of Jewel City, which contains nearly 300 diamond trading companies, angers locals

What could be more hip, the urban planners must have congratulated themselves, than a splash of street art in gritty downtown Johannesburg? They commissioned American graffiti artist Above, to spray-paint a giant mural on the wall of Jewel City, the heart of South Africa's diamond trade.

But while they gave him permission to paint giant black-and-white letters that paraphrased Marilyn Monroe: "Diamonds are a woman's best friend," he added a sting in the tail: "And a man's worst enemy."

This swipe at the global trade in conflict or "blood" diamonds has caused local anger, embarrassment and demands that the mural be scrubbed immediately.

Above, from California, boasts that he hoodwinked the property owner into allowing him to smuggle in a political message. "What the owners didn't know is that I lied to them and was hijacking their wall," he told the graffiti blog 12ozProphet.

"I assume the owners were so busy trading diamonds inside the mega centre that they never took the time to come out and see that I was painting a controversial wordplay about the diamond trade and how it's fuelled so much bloodshed in wars, making it one of man's worst enemies."

The huge mural is on the east security wall of Jewel City, which contains nearly 300 companies and is reportedly the biggest diamond exporter in the southern hemisphere, worth more than 7bn rand (£560m) a year.

The mural was commissioned by the nearby Arts on Main, a community arts and culture development, which is working with Jewel City to beautify the rundown neighbourhood.

Iain Nicol, an asset manager at Redefine Properties, which owns the Jewel City vicinity, said: "I don't know who Above is and I don't care. It shouldn't have gone up. He took money from our neighbours and didn't tell them properly what he was doing. The guys at Arts on Main feel embarrassed: they feel they've been lied to so they've inadvertently lied to us. It's a bit of a nonsense."

Nicol said the mural would be replaced and insisted that Jewel City does not trade in diamonds from conflict zones. "We are the legitimate side of diamonds in southern Africa. I do feel strongly about blood diamonds because there are thousands of people who work in the legitimate diamond business. Blood diamonds create a problem for them too."

Above should have picked a different target, he claimed. "There's a place to do that and take on someone moving blood diamonds. We are not moving blood diamonds. There are probably more blood diamonds going through Antwerp, Israel and India." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 13 2012

Play fullscreen
American Holocaust: The Destruction of America's Native Peoples


Uploaded by VanderbiltUniversity on 30 Oct 2008

American Holocaust: The Destruction of America's Native Peoples, a lecture by David Stannard, professor and chair of the American Studies Department at the University of Hawaii. Stannard, author of American Holocaust, asserts that the European and white American destruction of the native peoples of the Americas was the most substantial act of genocide in world history. A combination of atrocities and imported plagues resulted in the death of roughly 95 percent of the native population in the Americas. Stannard argues that the perpetrators of the American Holocaust operated from the same ideological source as the architects of the Nazi Holocaust. That ideology remains alive today in American foreign policy, Stannard avers.

The 31st Annual Vanderbilt University Holocaust Lecture Series, the longest continuous Holocaust lecture series at an American university, takes the theme this year of (over) Sites of Memory and examines places that are infused with memories of genocide and the challenge to find effective ways to honor these memories.


cf.: - - "US-Regierung zahlt Ureinwohnern eine Milliarde Dollar" | 2012-04-12

In einer historischen Einigung entschädigen die USA zahlreiche Indianerstämme für die Nutzung ihres Landes. Damit werden zum Teil mehr als 100 Jahre alte Klagen geregelt.

Reposted byhenteaser henteaser

February 16 2012

Thandi Sibisi: the new face of South African visual arts

Boost for black artists as 25-year-old daughter of farmers from Zulu heartland opens her own Johannesburg gallery

Thandi Sibisi, a daughter of farmers in the Zulu heartland, remembers arriving in the big city for the first time. "The bus dropped me in Gandhi Square in Johannesburg," she recalled. "I was 17 and had never even seen a double-storey building in my life. I looked around and it was like, 'I'm going to own this city'."

Eight years later, she has not yet quite conquered it all. But on Thursday she became the first black woman to open a major art gallery – named Sibisi, naturally enough, for someone so ambitious – in South Africa.

It is a sign, she believes, that anything is possible for the country's "born free" generation. "All I have to do is look at myself and my background," she said. "Growing up, I would never have thought I'd be exposed to so many opportunities. South Africa is free.

"I go all over the world and people are closed up and they can't express themselves. South Africa allows you to be you and to be whatever it is you want to be."

The country's visual arts scene, dominated by the white minority during racial apartheid, has not transformed as quickly as some would like. Gallery Momo, the first 100% black-owned gallery, opened in Johannesburg in 2003, while the national gallery in Cape Town has a non-white director for the first time in its 140-year history.

Young black artists such as Mary Sibande and Nicholas Hlobo are also gaining unprecedented attention on the world stage.

Sibisi reflected: "Of course it's dominated by white people, if it's 2012 and this is only the second black-owned gallery being opened. But I think there's room for change: people know this new gallery is coming up and are receiving it in a positive way. Perhaps it needed someone as brave as me to say I'm going for it."

South Africa continues to face twin crises of education and employment. Millions of young black people drop out of school, lack skills and fail to find work. But Sibisi typifies a relatively small but undeniably growing class who are confident, upwardly mobile and unburdened by the past.

Her parents, who farm cattle in a village in KwaZulu-Natal province in the east of South Africa, never learned English.

"My mum has never been to the city," Sibisi said. "She thinks the city is the devil's land. But they believed in education so when we were growing up they sent us to private schools with cattle money. Then I came to Johannesburg and I've always been the diva in the family who wanted to do everything."

Now 25, Sibisi is a successful entrepreneur with her own marketing agency, charitable foundation and media company, but she recently discovered a passion for art.

Some believe the momentum of change is now unstoppable. Monna Mokoena, the founder of Gallery Momo, said: "We're there now. When I started, I wasn't looking at black people collecting works because of the dynamics of the country. But that is changing and we're seeing a lot of black folks buying works. There is a mindshift."

Gabriel Clark-Brown, editor of the South African Art Times, said: "I think things are changing really quite rapidly and going the right way. It's very encouraging to see a black gallerist … [there is] a huge potential that no one has explored. It just needs more exposure to the rising black middle class; it's a rapidly growing market and there's a huge amount of money generated. " © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 21 2012

January 17 2012

Black Women in European Politics: from Struggle to Success

Nowadays, it is a common occcurence to witness African-born women having successful careers in Europe. Despite the evident challenges, many of them have also distiguished themselves in politics. Still, it was not so long ago that such success would have seemed impossible. To achieve greatness, these women have often come a long way, both literally and figuratively.

In order to better appreciate the progress made, one needs to think back to the 19th century and consider the image of black women in Europe then. For the purpose of this article, we will only address the story of women from the African diaspora who have been elected to positions of leadership in countries other than the colonial powers that previously ruled their home countries.

A history of racism

Postcard depicting Sarah Baartman, Wikipedia (public domain)

The story of the “Hottentot Venus” is symptomatic of the relationship between the West and African women in the last two centuries. Sébastien Hervieu, an Africa correspondent for Le Monde newspaper in France, tells the story of Sarah Baartman from South Africa, better known as the “Hottentot Venus”. In an article published in October 2010 in his blog, he reviews [fr] Abdellatif Kechiche's [fr] film about her tragic story, Black Venus:

Au début du XIXème siècle, cette servante est emmenée en Europe et devient un objet de foire en raison de ses attributs physiques proéminents. Certains “scientifiques” utilisent sa présence pour théoriser l'infériorité de la “race noire”. Lorsqu'elle meurt à seulement 25 ans, ses organes génitaux et son cerveau sont placés dans des bocaux de formol, et son squelette et le moulage de son corps sont exposés au musée de l'Homme à Paris. C'est seulement en 2002 que la France accepte de rendre la dépouille de Saartjie Baartman à l'Afrique du Sud, concluant ainsi un long imbroglio juridique et diplomatique

At the beginning of the 19th century, this servant was brought to Europe and became a fairground attraction because of her prominent physical attributes. Some “scientists” used her presence to support the theory that the “black race” was inferior. When she died at only 25, her genitals and her brain were placed in jars of formaldehyde. Her skeleton and a molding of her body were exhibited at the Museum of Man in Paris. It was only in 2002 that France agreed to return Sarah Baartman's remains to South Africa, thereby drawing to a close a long running legal and diplomatic imbroglio [fr].

Sarah Baartman died in Paris on 29th September 1815. More than 100 years later, the Khoïkhoï people in South Africa called on Nelson Mandela to demand the restitution of Sarah's remains. The demand was met with the refusal of the French authorities and the scientific community citing the inalienable heritage of science and the state, but France eventually repatriated the body to South Africa where, in accordance with the rites of her people, it was purified and placed on a bed of dried herbs which were set alight.


Two centuries later, the position of black women in Europe has drastically changed. Amongst others, many have now been elected to political office.

Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen on Wikipedia (Norway) (CC-BY 3.0)

Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen in Norway is one of these women, and one of the most interesting because she shows the contradictions that still exist within some countries. She had to step down from a ministerial post in the Norwegian government just four months into her job. An article on sets out her career [fr]:

Originaire de l’Ile de la Martinique, à 44 ans, Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen a obtenu son poste de ministre de l’Enfance et de la Parité au sein du gouvernement de centre-gauche norvégien le 18 octobre 2007[…] Elle est mariée avec Terje Osmundsen, un homme politique membre du parti conservateur norvégien. Après son mariage, elle a pris la nationalité norvégienne et renoncé à celle de la France. Le pays n’autorisant pas la double nationalité.

Born in Martinique, 44 year old Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen gained her post as Minster for Children and Equality in the centre-left Norwegian government on 18th October 2007 […] She is married to Terje Osmundsen, a politician and member of the Norwegian conservative party. After their marriage she took Norwegian nationality and renounced her French nationality as the country does not allow dual nationality.

In an interview with Patrick Karam from the website in 2008 she explains [fr] some of the things that played in her favour in being appointed and why she stepped down following a controversy over an alleged conflict of interest in the hiring of a political appointee:

En Norvège, il y a obligation de représentation des deux sexes dans les conseils d’administration, 40 % de femmes au minimum. Nous menons aussi une politique pour inciter les hommes à prendre plus de responsabilité dans le foyer pour laisser les femmes entreprendre professionnellement. J’ai travaillé aussi sur l’enfance en danger, les violences, les maltraitances… J’ai travaillé quatre mois sans être critiquée, c’était une expérience réussie. Les critiques sont venues avec la nomination d’une médiatrice. Avec du recul, tout le monde voit que c’est une bagatelle. J’ai cédé au pouvoir de la presse.

In Norway there must be parity of representation between the two sexes within the administrative councils, with a minimum of 40% women. We are also pursuing a policy which encourages men to take more responsibilty at home, leaving women able to pursue a career. I also worked on child endangerment, violence, abuse… I worked for four months without criticism and it was a real success. The criticism began with the appointment of an ombudsman for children. In hindsight everyone can see it was something being made out of nothing. I gave in to the power of the media.


Nyamko sabuni

Nyamko Sabuni, Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA)

Nyamko Sabuni [fr] is a former minister in Sweden, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Born in Burundi in 1969, her father fled the country due to persecution. She was elected to the Riksday as a member of the parliament in 2002, and at 37 years old became a Swedish goverment minister from 2006 to 2010. An article published on sets out [fr] her progress.

En 1981, à l’âge de 12 ans, elle est arrivée en Suède avec sa mère et trois de ses cinq frères et sœurs. Là, elle a retrouvé son père, un opposant politique plusieurs fois emprisonné au Congo (actuellement République démocratique du Congo), venu dans le pays nordique grâce à Amnesty International.

In 1981, at the age of 12, she arrived in Sweden with her mother and three of her brothers and sisters. There she was reunited with her father, an opposition politician imprisoned several times in Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), who had come to the Nordic country with the help of Amnesty International.

The Netherlands

Ayaan hirsi ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wikipedia (public domain)

The Hirsiali blog presents a profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

Née en Somalie en 1969, excisée à l’âge de 5 ans, Ayaan Hirsi Ali est scolarisée dans un lycée musulman pour filles. Soumise à ses parents, à son clan et à sa religion jusqu’à l’âge de vingt-trois ans, elle profite d’un passage dans sa famille en Allemagne, pour s’enfuir et échapper à un mariage forcé. Réfugiée aux Pays-Bas, elle adopte les valeurs libérales occidentales au point de devenir une jeune députée à La Haye et de s’affirmer athée. Pour avoir travaillé dans les services sociaux du royaume, elle connaît, de l’intérieur, les horreurs tolérées à l’encontre des femmes au nom du multiculturalisme.

Born in Somalia in 1969 and circumcised at the age of 5, Ayaan Hirsi Ali went to a Muslim girls school. Subjugated by her parents, her clan and her religion up to the age of 23, she took advantage of a trip to visit family in Germany to flee and escape a forced marriage. Taking refuge in Holland, she adopted Western liberal values to the extent that she became a young member of parliament in The Hague and declared herself to be an athiest. After having worked in the country's social services she knows, at first hand, the horrors tolerated against women in the name of multiculturalism.

A fierce apponent of some of the aspects of Islam and African traditions that go against basic human rights, she founded an NGO whose aims are set out, on her website Ayaan Hirsiali in the following terms:

In response to ongoing abuses of women’s rights, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her supporters established the AHA Foundation in 2007 to help protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.


The first black person to be elected to the Italian parliament is Mercedes Lourdes Frias from the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean. This is how she is described [en] on the blogging site Black Women in Europe:

Mercedes Lourdes Frias was born in the Dominican Republic. She was the first black person elected to the Italian Parliament in 2006 where she served through April 2008. She was a member of the Commission on Constitutional Affairs and the Parliamentary Committee on the Implementation of the Control of Schengen Agreement, and the Control and Surveillance on Immigration. She works on anti-racist activities and welcoming immigrants. From 1994 1997 she was a member of the Council of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy. In the town of Empoli Ms Frias served a councilor for the environment, rights of citizenship, equal opportunities.

The most surprising of the black women to have been elected via universal sufferage or appointed to positions of elevated responsibility in European countries is Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane, elected in 2009 on a Northern League ticket; the most racist and xenophobic of Italy's political parties. One of the party's objectives is the secessoin of some of the northern part the Italian peninsula (though the boundary is not clearly undefined) because the party leaders do not like Southern Italians.

The blog (foreigners in Italy) gives a brief outline of her career [it]:

Il primo sindaco di colore in Italia ha la camicia verde. Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane si è aggiudicata con appena 38 voti di scarto la fascia tricolore a Viggiù, cinquemila anime in Valceresio, tra Varesotto e Canton Ticino. Alle sue spalle, una lunga storia di migrazioni. Di Viggiù era originaria la famiglia materna del neosindaco, scalpellini emigrati in Francia, dove durante la seconda guerra mondiale arrivò il padre, un soldato statunitense afroamericano. Il neo sindaco è nata a Springfield, nel Massachussets, nel 1961, ma a dieci anni, dopo la separazione dei genitori, ha seguito la madre nel paesino d’origine.

Italy's first coloured mayor wears a green shirt [the colour worn by Northern League supporters]. Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane won the tricolour scarf of the Mayor of Viggiù, a town of five thousand inhabitants in the Valceresio region, between the town of Varèse and the Canton of Tessin, with a margin on only 38 votes.
A past with a long history of migration. The new mayor's family on her mother's side were stone masons, originally from Viggiù, who migrated to France. During the Second World War, her father, an African-American soldier from the United States arrived in France. The new Mayor was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1961, but ten years after the separation of her parents she followed her mother back to her home village.

This, according to the blog, is how she found herself [it] in politics, with a rather unlikely ideological platform:

Della Lega sono sempre stata sostenitrice, anche se mai vera militante. Quando ero ragazza morivo dal ridere a vedere i loro manifesti, curiosi e di forte impatto. Poi quindici anni fa, più o meno, mi sono avvicinata di più. […] Vedo come «molto americana» anche la Lega, per la richiesta di rispettare rigorosamente la legge, anche per i clandestini. Anche se a Viggiù, precisa, non ci sono problemi di integrazione, nè tantomeno di sicurezza. Tra le priorità, guarda al rilancio turistico del paese, con manifestazioni e attenzione alla cultura.

I have always supported the Northern League without ever being very active. When I was a little girl their posters used to make me laugh, they were curious and had a big impact. Then, around fifteen years ago I became a little more involved. […] I see it as being “very American”, even the Northern League, because they insist on a rigorous respect for the law, even for illegal immigrants. Even so, she points out that there are no problems of integration and still yet security in Viggiù. One of her priorities is to reignite tourism in the area, with events and a focus on culture.

Despite the marked progress in the inclusion of African women in European politics, they represent isolated cases as, beyond the difficulties they face due to racism or culture and religion, even within their own families and their own societies, they also have to face up to the challenges that all women across the world face [fr]: domestic violence, the challenge of bearing children, marginalisation and under-representation.

December 22 2011

Artist of the week 169: Yto Barrada

A Tangier-based photographer and video artist who charts the struggles going on behind the scenes in tourist mecca Morocco

Morocco's mystique is synonymous with its famous fans: William Burroughs and the beats in the 1950s, who hung out in Tangier when the city was an international zone, and the Rolling Stones, who went seeking thrills in Marrakech a generation later. It's the go-to place to get inspired and indulge in druggy dalliances – or at least that's the view from Europe. The Tangier-based artist Yto Barrada's photos, films and sculptures give us a different picture – of the struggles of the people who live there.

The photography Barrada made her name with in the early 2000s captures a Tangier tortured by dreams very different from those in Western tourist brochures. The port town lies on the Strait of Gibraltar, which divides Morocco from Europe. While the Moroccan government steps up its tourist industry, attracting westerners free to travel as they please, many thousands of Moroccan immigrants attempt to make the illegal and perilous journey across the Strait every year. The spectre of this boundary haunts Barrada's images.

A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project, started in 1998, is rife with dividing lines: muddy ditches slice across green fields, new builds spring up next to wastelands, kids jimmy holes in fences to play football and Ferris wheel spokes split the sky. While swimming pools gleam from tourist posters, new developments typically sit half-finished – the trappings of the developed world without the substance. People turn their backs or stare into the distance, lost in their desire for escape from a country defined by deprivation.

Barrada has an eye for showing everyday details that open up a mass of issues. That classic symbol of all things exotic, the palm tree, is the star of her works currently on show at Tate Modern. Actually a foreign import, palms turn out to be a point of controversy for Tangier's tourist industry in her film Beau Geste. Because of its protected status, a slender mop-haired tree is the only thing standing in the way of a Tangier landowner developing a scrappy patch of ground. To get around this, the tree has been hacked into in the hope that it will die naturally – so Barrada and her team set about patching it up with concrete to save it.

It's a futile gesture of conservation, tackling the power struggle around the growing city's precious vacant lots – a battle between locals, developers, plants and animals – with the absurdist charm of a Charlie Chaplin skit. That Barrada's concrete remedy will probably be ineffective is beside the point; rather, it's the small gesture of defiance in the face of relentless and thoughtless urbanisation that seems important.

Why we like her: Sporting half-blown lightbulbs and a scratched paint job, the metal palm tree Palm Sign might have been lifted from a rundown funfair. It speaks volumes about Tangier's ramshackle modernity.

Border control: Barrada originally studied political science before turning to art. The deciding moment came when she was living in Israel's West Bank and working on her thesis. To document how people negotiated roadblocks there she began using photography, and soon realised she wanted to tell the human stories beyond the facts and figures.

Where can I see her? I Decided Not to Save the World is at Tate Modern, London SE1, until 8 January 2012 © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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