The Obama Portraits: Amazing or Atrocious?

Let’s begin with some disclosure: I love Barak and Mitchelle Obama. Not with the glassy-eyed awe of a worshipper but with the silent humming pride you feel when someone in the family makes the entire tribe proud.

I watched their initial campaign with equal parts of hope, fear and a pinch-me-wow-this-is-real amazement that lingers to this day. I followed their tenure in office with the same amazement and I wish them and theirs well in all they do.

So when, I heard they were unveiling their Presidential portraits at Smithsonian, I was elated. The feeling didn’t last long.

Full disclosure: I am not a trained art critic and I won’t pretend to be one. But even to my amateur eyes, the portraits failed to render what one would expect from a presidential painting: elegance, gravitas and an artistic depth that conveyed without words how important, how historic, how novel their tenure was.
The paintings presented do none of this.

Close scrutiny of the works done by both artists look like a devious defence pre-arranged by the best Devil’s Advocate. Kehinde Wiley, the painter of Mr Obama’s portrait, has a gallery full of work that is done in similar style. He also has work depicting the beheading of white women and often paints sperm on the portraits of his subjects.

Amy Sherald, who painted Mrs Obama, has a gallery of work with pastel colours and abstract themes and appears to be much less controversial. Her portrait of Mrs Obama was largely praised with Mr Obama being the first to commend her ability to bring his wife’s ‘hotness’ alive in the work. Others have fallen over themselves to praise her work as well but a small group of people have noted that the portrait doesn’t look much like Mitchelle Obama but appears to be a re-imagining (of her).

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Final disclosure: I do not like the portraits.
But that is not important, both of them seem to love their portraits very much. Mrs Obama said she was honoured and humbled to be the first person in her family to sit for one. Mr Obama had only good words for his as well.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to shake the feeling of anger and mild shame I feel especially about Mr Obama’s picture.

Every time I look at it I feel a deep sense of loss. And this was before more problematic issues emerged about his portrait: the sperm cell on his face, the repetitive pattern of the leaves, the ‘sixth finger’ on his right hand.

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I think the leaves and flowers might have been well intentioned but they were overdone. I think the sperm cell is atrocious. I think that Mr Obama should have another portrait, a do-over.

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But we know that won’t happen.

Critics and foes of Mr Obama were vitriolic in their expressions of disgust about the portraits. Calling it a befitting semblance of a man they loathed. And that is what annoys me most of all.
Mr Obama maybe many things but one thing he is not is ugly, if anything, the portrait should have highlighted his handsomeness. It failed woefully.

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The hullabaloo seems to have died. The good news is that the gallery housing both portraits have witness a huge boost in patronage. Sources say they are almost unable to cope with the throng of people coming to see the portraits. It is good to know something good has come of these singularly polarising portraits.

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The bets are on about the historical verdict these portraits will receive. Will they be hailed as brave masterpieces ahead of their time? Or mocked as fledgling peasant art that couldn’t hold its own?

We wait, and hope one day, to see.

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“This Table You Are Shaking” Origin, Usage & Influencer Chat

If you have been on Twitter for a week or two, one thing you must have noticed is the thirst to trend. Everyone wants to be relevant and in a global, viral, unforgettable way. Many brands and businesses even go as far as paying for people to make their ideas trend. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

So when an innocuous phrase seems to capture the attention of the entire TwitterNg overnight, without any big name endorsement, grand budget or media team, people are curious.

‘Shaking the table’ is no great poetic marvel. It is a simple idiom that describes disruption, interference, meddling with the norm. It is odd that its documentation in the Urban Dictionary is as early as October 2017, but that would not be enough to make it viral.

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For the phrase to capture the collective attention of thousands (millions) of people it needed a unique use, some synergy, an ability to deliver more than mere expression; it found this in the quote tweet.

Specifically the quote tweet used to comment on a subtweet.

Subtweets are as old as Twitter. They provide a subtle way of voicing ideas that are potentially embarrassing or controversial with little of the backlash. Without mentioning names or triggering anyone’s mentions one can effectively deliver barbs, abuse, shade or any combination of the three.

But most subtweets lack context and are not as effective as they could be.

Enter the quote tweet where added context can be provided.

But how to provide this context in a witty/satirical way? Cue ‘This table you are shaking” and in an instant the subtweet is united with it’s target in a witty/silly/more memorable manner.

The first use of the phrase, as a quoted tweet to give more context is credited to @MallamSawyerr. The origin tweet is not entirely ‘safe for work’ but it captured the imagination of a small set of users, one of them was @Olumuyiwa__ .

Olumuyiwa started using the phrase to add some context of his own. The first time, he used it in quotation marks as attribution to an unknown source. When the phrases popped up on @Olumuyiwa__ feed it was barely noticed. The phrase remained largely unnoticed the next time Olumuyiwa used it but he stayed with the phrase until it broke through.

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With that the phrase took wing and within days, there was an epidemic on the TL. It wasn’t only food on the table. There were babes, guys, activists-turned-government-spokesmen, On Air Personalities, BellaNaija, even the users of the phrase it self.

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In a chat with @Olumuyiwa__ he was quick to say he wasn’t the inventor of the phrase but someone who saw its potential and stayed with it till it caught on. Our chat went:

Me: It looks like you invented a trend..

Olumuyiwa: I didn’t invent it. I saw it somewhere and it stuck, ‘this table you are shaking has food on it’ it seemed really apt at the time.

Me: But you stayed with it till it caught on…

Olumuyiwa: Yes, I did, using it persistently till it racked up 200RTs, that I can take credit for 😂

Me: Absolutely. So what next? What do you think will happen after this?

Olumuyiwa: Nothing else. Just one of the many definitive but passing fads of social media.

Me: I quite agree.

Already, many people are fed up with the phrase. But I think it still has some more miles to go before joining the history books especially as some people are just falling in love with it.

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What better way to mock the next losers of a Champions League match, National election or Tweetfight than to remind them, they are pawns on a shaking table, in the next avalanche of subtweets?

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Chats have been modified for clarity

Is This How We Learn Your Names?

 

For Dapchi

Is this how we learn your names?
Soaked in blood and tears
drenched in the stench of a nation’s fears.
Would I ever know
Buni Yadi, Chibok, Dapchi
places so pretty
stained by tragedy
bent by the weight of wails ?
My feet have not kissed your dust
but my heart beats for your loss
I long to gather you in my arms
kiss away this pain that keeps growing
a gluttonous cavern, an abyss
which never goes away. Will you
ever get past this to become what you could have been before the war?
what can we call it when our daughters are stolen sons slaughtered
homes set ablaze mercy lost.
Innocents made casualties in a matter
they know nothing about. My arms are too small, my feet feeble but my voice will scream your pain to the heavens
my pen will record your groans, my books will carry your grief, my lens will collect your tears And one day
when pain and war are no more
we will lift an altar to your sacrifice
And at its base will be inscribed
No more death, no more pain, no more loss.

Black Panther: Black Empowerment Beacon, Catalyst For Change Or Just A Movie?

 

Whether you live under a rock in the Dead Sea or on Kilimanjaro’s peak, you must have heard that this weekend is the Black Panther Premier. Anticipation for this day has been building for close to a year. Black and brown people the world over have voiced their glee about being represented, feeling empowered, and feeling seen.

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Along with that excitement, positivity, pomp, has come an opposing school of thought who have criticised the hype around Black Panther and decried the sheer fanatical fevor it has attracted.

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The critics of the black response have endeavoured to remind everyone that Black Panther is fiction. They have argued that it is just a dream world, far removed from the everyday struggles of people of colour; unable to create change.

But that is where they are wrong.

Black Panther maybe an Afro-futurist science fiction movie set in the mythical land of Wakanda but it is the kind of fiction that inspires humans to dream and change.

Humans are notoriously resistant to anything that alters their habits and threatens their status quo. To create a change, one must do a few things that Black Panther does excellently.

Interest
With the range and scale of entertainment, both free and paid, one of the challenges of anyone with a message is getting and audience. How can I get people to spend scarce consumer minutes and engage with my art?

That is an important question for many artists but for Black Panther, that was a freebie. Riding on a market rife with underrepresentation for people of colour and stereotypical stunted stories, Black Panther enjoyed instant interest. Without knowing much about the story or plot, Black people identified Black Panther as something they had wanted for ages. Excellent advertisements including multiple demographically sensitive and stunningly beautiful posters kept the anticipation building. Now Black Panther has the interest of the entire world. People all over the world are a gains with the story, the characters, the fashion and the message. Interest has been secured.

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Entertain
As of today, it is still difficult to get a chance to watch the movie. People who weren’t a part of the avalanche of pre sales are finding it difficult to secure seats. The privileged ones who have watched the movie already are nearly unanimous in there praise. Summary: this movie delivers in its promise to entertain.

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When people are entertained, they are open to new ideas. A famous writer said entertain people and you can get away with anything. Entertaining art is engaging. It makes people look beyond their past and present, it makes people think, it makes people feel.

Inspire
When people are able to think and feel differently, they can change but one thing makes that easier, that is inspiration. Black Panther inspires. The collective mood of all the black people that watched it one of gladness, hope and possibilities. Children are dressing like the characters, young adults are practicing Wakanda handshakes, but more importantly, black people are asking themselves important questions: What if Africa can chart a new course? What if black people can unite to create a better nation? Can the African Union be more? Do more?

Naysayers have scoffed at the venerated tones in which the movie has been described reductively string that it is “just a movie” “a white man’s construct”
“a waste of time.” I disagree.

I believe that any art: book, movie, poem or song that is able to capture the people’s imagination in this way is more than just a movie. I think that most of the great things man has ever accomplished came from thinking, feeling inspired people. Once, the car, phone, aeroplane and computer were just dreams. Once Holland did it exist and neither did Israel. A movie like Black Panther, a place like Wakanda might just be make believe today, but it is planting seeds for change in the hearts of millions that will fruit in thousands of ways.

Some where, a little boy has decided to be a great, passionate leader of his people. Some where, a little girl has made up her mind to be a brilliant military tactician. Somewhere, an intersex kid is dreaming of a model for a strong prosperous developed Africa.

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And right here, right now we have the gift to be alive while the most advanced Afro-futurist movie of all time premiers. Ignore Black Panther if you can, but do not look down on those who see beyond its imperfection to its possibilities, because that is the only way things have changed from what they were to what they could be.

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So, is Black Panther a beacon of black empowerment, a catalyst for change or just a movie? The answer is, it can be any of these things or even all three, you get to decide.

 

Should You Say Yes When A Doctor Proposes?

Should you say yes when a doctor proposes?

If you are strong of mind, steely of soul unsettled by blood urine vomit and gore

If stories of pain and hurt make you wish there were ways to help and you could do more

If you are accustomed to Valentines spent on telephone, Christmas spent working, many a lonely night

If you are never tired of hearing about suffering, cancer, Zika, Lassa, Ebola and mosquito bite

If you have experience waiting for things the Patience of Job, the calm of kings

If you know how it feels to hope for cures that may not come

Of you are wealthy enough for two an astute manager, administrator too

If you are contented, at peace, not one who dreams for the moon and sun

If making do with what you have is your strong suit, a hobby of yours

If sacrifice is your middle name and economics your favourite course

If you know how to water visions like palms, day and night though they seem to stall

If you know how to ease away stress and importantly, how to dress!

If you have nursed sick things to health or helped them up from a fall,

If you are a good listener, unmoved by words you do not understand

Then by all means, as the doctor kneels, gladly take their hand.

Celebrate Your Valentine Without A Dime

Hold her/him/them/it
in your arms
talk, about the way they have changed you
the joy they bring to your life
how happy you are to be with them.

Write their name on paper,
sand, a tree trunk or the sky
in a bed of hearts.

Take photographs of them smiling
eyes closed, lifted to the light
save, title it: My Beating Heart.

Listen to them breathe

Rub their feet
Hold their hands
Look into their eyes

Say: I would never want to be without you
Never want a world where you are not there
You are my everything.

 

Can You Tell A Story In A Sentence?

Storytelling is hard, or easy, depending on who you ask. Traditionally stories were told by mouth, around a fire, by the moonlight or on the way back from the farm. The average folk tale would be the length of today’s short story, approximately 1500 words or less. With the advent of printers and the pay per word culture, story telling exploded into long epic tales with many chapters and even volumes. The average novel is about 70-80,000 words long. For some stories, a single book is not enough, volumes and sequels are needed– Harry Potter, Song of Fire and Ice (Or Game of Thrones Series).

But while stories have grown longer, they have grown shorter too. The Internet and the use of phones as e-readers have provided an opportunity for people to read things ‘on the go’, in the time it takes to finish a drink, wait for a train or ride to a bus stop, one can read and enjoy a complete tale.

These ‘shorter short’ stories have gone by many names, but the most common one seems to be flash fiction. Flash fiction is said to be any story 1000 words or less. Within this class there are many other shorter/smaller stories still:  there is short flash usually between 300-500 words, micro-fiction below 300, drabbles at 100 words, 50 word stories, and any number of words below.

( I have seen calls for 17 word memoirs, 10 word stories, six word stories and even four word stories)

Some other people classify their flash fiction by characters, so there are 280 character stories, 160 and even 140 characters. These were designed to take advantage of the character limits on SMS and Twitter, while giving a satisfying flash fiction experience. The emphasis being brevity and completeness.

The one sentence story is a twist on the theme. Can a story be told not only with a few words but with a single sentence?

A literary magazine, The Monkey Bicycle, is exploring this space. The magazine is currently taking submissions for their ‘One Sentence’ category which they hope to post every week.

A few stories are already up and the possibilities hinted at are endless. While some stories there are less than 17 words, others extend beyond 50 words. The test is in being able to keep the story going for as long as possible while delivering a pleasant reading experience.

Since I saw the challenge, I have been thinking about one sentence stories a lot. What can be done with the form? What sort of stories would flourish best in it? How can I use the form to create a pleasant experience?

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I will definitely explore the possibilities. For now, enjoy today’s offering

 

Village Rendevous

When Abel promised to show us a good time in the village we believed him, it would be a weekend filled with palmwine, bushmeat, and beautiful women, we thought; we weren’t ready for the gunshots that rang out that night and sent us running into the bush, or the severe malaria, diarrhea and rashes we had, in the days that followed.

 

Hope you liked my one sentence story. Now share yours in the comments or send to me via mail or send it to The Monkey Bicycle for a chance to be published.