Black Styles

 By Nicosia Smith

For me, there is something exhilarating, about being natural without apologies. And for that matter, the confidence to share that creative experience with your community and the world.

There is something wonderful when we can be unique – and there is a joy when I see the celebration of black styles. Living in Brooklyn, you see a lot of creativity, reflecting what is happening in our society.

Recently, I have seen somewhat of a resurgence of natural black hairstyles, be it, plaits or braids, cornrows or afros.
Hair weaving and styling natural hair, practiced for centuries across continents, is widely known and practice among black families. I always take second looks, when I see afro-centric dressing and styles. Because it is different and those often wearing it, to me, stand out.
And I love to see it.
Tennis Superstar Serena Williams recently sported a cornrow braids hairstyle at the May 19 wedding of the royal highnesses of Duke and Duchess of Sussex Prince Harry and American Actress Meghan Markle, at St. George’s Chapel Windsor Castle, near London.
It was quite refreshing to see Williams in her cornrow braids at this very high fashion wedding; and Markle, being the first bi-racial woman to marry into the British royal family. She stood out in a crowd that was so much unlike her, in her very long plaited braids.
I began to think back to the 1960s and 1970s, when there was a push for more black styles. And indeed a welcomed embrace from black society of that particular style. Notably, communities blending in, black designs and culture into their everyday lives. Of course there was a strong political tone to that era, with the ‘Black Power’ movement quite on its way at the time.
Last month at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture there was a reflection of that time with a large collection of periodicals, newsletters, pictures and pamphlets about the black struggle and style of the ‘60s and ‘70s. What I particularly like with the exhibit was the pride shown by those wearing ‘black’ themed styles and its use, at the time, to create economic vitality within the community.
It was also used to push for the creation of jobs from within the community, through its unique creativity. It is a nod to a period that explored a style that was unique and stood out. At the time this was quite radical, because it was shifting the very foundation of what beautiful is and promoting ‘love’ for that beauty.
So here is to black styles, dashiki and all.
While today, there are radical black designs, I must say it is on a much smaller level. In my opinion, we have moved, it seems, back from that black collective cultural push from the 1960’s and 1970’s to a more personalized approach.


Jamaican Ballet and Moko Jumbie

By Nicosia Smith

A story of folk songs, reggae and dancehall music is wonderfully told through graceful and skillful dancing.

When watching the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) you get an authentic, down-to-earth Caribbean experience through dance.

Choreographer Renee McDonald, ‘Into The Blue’ (2015), revised 2016, reveals a beautiful mixture of Caribbean integration. Nineteen dancers in blue danced as if the ocean pursued. It was a scene of battles lost and won at sea. Their fluid movements created a lot of waves that took you through the waters with them. The powerful dance moves, although distinctly Caribbean got a twist with official soundtracks from the movies ‘Gravity‘ and ‘Kung Fu Panda‘. To become a ballerina it takes years of training, some dancers begin at 4-years-old. But after seeing this piece these dancers have what it takes for ballet. I believe it should be the next step the company takes.

However, this will take more than just will but on the ground support.

Dance, culture and the arts must become more meaningful to the Caribbean populous. Our love for dance must transform our focus to demand more from our entertainment than street corner parties. It means we must support formal dance projects.

But back to NDTC.

NDTC co-Founder Rex Nettleford choreographed ‘Gerrehbenta’ an all traditional Caribbean folk piece. The folk singing, dancing and drumming in Gerrehbenta is charged with traditions, namely African ones. This piece showcase’s to its fullest that part of the Caribbean culture that was adopted from Africa.

It reminds us of a people brought to the Caribbean against their will. And reflex the content of their minds and the fight in their spirits to survive. I like that even the cloth around the waist and necks of the dancers were interwoven into the piece, as skirts flared and pants waist were tighten. In the center of this dance is a long moko-jumbie like character, with a cow-like mask a-top the colorfully clothed stick frame. The NDTC noted that the dance takes its name from two of the major traditional rites practiced in Jamaica, ‘gerreh’ in Hanover and ‘dinky-mini’ which uses the musical instrument, the benta, in St. Mary.

We have some ways to go to have the Caribbean’s distinct cultural dance styles achieve global recognition but certainly the NDTC is doing their part. And the audience last month at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College felt the same, judging by the thunderous applauding.


Libraries – read, dream and become

By Nicosia Smith

For some it is their favorite place, where words and images spring off sheets of paper and tug at the heart.

Inspiring and giving reasons to change.

It is where the international and local meet and communities are invited to join in.

And kids can dream.

There are very few places where you can get this escapism for free. But I am grateful for this mostly publicly funded oasis – the library.

I have personally discovered societies the world over through the library. Even though, television has played its part in my discoveries.

But at the library I could feel and touch a book. There, I am much closer to Europe, Africa and North America. And I love it.

At  the Library I dreamt about the places I would visit, before stepping unto dusty and unpaved streets in my small town.

The Public Library – A Photographic Essay,” by Robert Dawson published in April brought back all my early library memories.

This book tells the importance of libraries across America, from the smallest to the largest of them. It took 18 years to complete and involves Dawson’s, immediate family, that is, his wife and son. So in the rare book room of the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street, I listen to Dawson tell the back-story behind his book.

I wanted very much to know what was new on the public library scene. And more importantly the similarities and differences of the library experience.

“We have a lot that we share…that was one of the surprising things,” Dawson said he found. And I agreed when he said that libraries were more about communities and less about the books themselves. But he also warned that it is not to be taken for granted, because there are no guarantees we can keep the current library structure.

In this technological age, it is places like the library that one can still go for a human touch.

That is, speaking to a librarian or an assistant and most of all, engaging with another mind. In contrast, different from having our fingers clued on our cell-phones with our eyes firmly fixed in the same direction.

I hope that libraries remain for a long time, to remind us why meeting, reading and conversing is so important.




FiFa World Cup decision Sunday

Bellaggio, next to the Vancouver Convention Center, Canada Place, has a welcoming sign for sporting fans needing a place to watch the game. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Bellaggio, next to the Vancouver Convention Center, Canada Place, has a welcoming sign for sporting fans needing a place to watch the game. (Nicosia Smith photo)

By Nicosia Smith

Come Sunday sporting fans around the world will be glued to their televisions.

And for what, to see the crowning of the FiFa World Cup champion.

One month of agony and defeat for some and marvelous joy for others will come to an end.

This world-cup has brought much lamentation for the host nation Brazil.

Namely, a 1-7 defeat by Germany in the semifinals.

And having to watch Argentina in the finals against Germany cannot be easy for Brazilians.

But this World Cup has also showed us that a team USA slogan, “I believe we can win” push the team out of the group of death. And this hope produced a record breaking 16 saves by team USA goal keeper Tim Howard.

I have embraced this world-cup like I have done many others, but I have lamented it as well.

Not only because teams I have supported have lost, like Brazil, but also for football itself.

While I have seen some teams fight to the last drop, others have given up so easily.

Others have disgraced themselves by un-sportsman like conduct. And whole teams have been embarrassed by their federations.

Financial disgrace, that is. Some teams did not have sufficient funds to sustain themselves at the tournament.

I love football, but much more needs to be done for this sport by the governments of these national teams.

So many children have attended these games and many of them may become players.

FiFa should ensure that they reach a better sport, worthy of the love it is lavish with.

So which ever spot you find yourself watching the game on Sunday enjoy, enjoy! I will be watching too.


Vancouver Art Gallery Gumhead spike public interest

Passersby and gallery goers stick gum on Gumhead, installed adjacent to the Vancouver Art Gallery on Howe Street. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Passersby and gallery goers stick gum on Gumhead, installed adjacent to the Vancouver Art Gallery on Howe Street. (Nicosia Smith photo)


By Nicosia Smith

Whenever you chew a gum in public, in almost every case your next thought is where to stick it.

Well, Vancouver based international artist and writer Douglas Coupland has come up with an idea.

It is interactive and all it asks, is that you stick gum on a head – an image of the artist.

Now here is where it gets sticky, the gum-head head is located only at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

It is Coupland, Gumhead, a public art work commissioned by the Gallery.

No matter what your thoughts are about gum, it is intriguing.

This project makes you feel the need to explore in your head, how gum has served art.

And how exactly is gum serving art you are likely to ask?

Since this 7-foot tall sculpture only calls on passersby and gallery goers to chew gum and paste it on its head.

And that in it self, you can argue is art.

And here is another thought that was shared with me.

One gallery host explain that the public in many cases deface public art, so why not make their input apart of the art.

And a lot of people seem to agreed.  The public has not shied away.

For those of you who enjoy sticking gum in public, it is a dream art project.

For those that don’t, well there is the cringe effect.

Since it went on view May 31, this once plain black-head is now

Douglas Coupland: Gumhead, 2014 made from steel, milled foam, resin and gum. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Douglas Coupland: Gumhead, 2014 made from steel, milled foam, resin and gum. (Nicosia Smith photo)

sticky, multi-colored and almost covered with chewed gums.

I must admit I was not chewing gum and sticking it on Gumhead.

Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the numbers that came off the street to add to Gumhead.

Coupland, has described this work as “a gumbased, crowdsourced, publicly interactive self-portrait.”

Through September 1, the public can take part in this very unique work.

Coupland is also exploring the singularity of Canadian culture, technology and the power of language in Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. The artist is shedding light on what he terms “the 21st century condition.”

A glimpse of Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything exhibit, at the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Nicosia Smith photo)

A glimpse of Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything exhibit, at the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Nicosia Smith photo)


So my border friends go ahead, chew and paste if this takes your fancy.



Sotheby’s abuzz with British Guiana stamp


The 1856 One-Cent Black-on-Magenta on display at Sotheby’s York Avenue, NY, NY. (Sotheby’s image)


By Nicosia Smith

There is a buzz in the world of stamp collectors.

And this is why.

The British Guiana 1856 One-Cent Black-on-Magenta will soon go on sale.

And it is estimated to be sold for between $10M to $20M when it goes on auction June 17  at Sotheby’s (On display until Friday).

All by itself, the stamp takes center stage on Sotheby’s first floor, far right corner.

A very wired guard at the entrance of the exhibit keeps a keen eye, before you reach the descending few stairs to the stamp.

The significance of the occasion rests on you.


The verso of the British Guiana one-cent magenta stamp showing the initials and marks of some previous owners. (Sotheby’s image)

In a darkly lit room, there it was, a small florence-like beam shining on it.

While a very knowledgeable attendant nearby gives you a history of the very famous and rarest stamp in circulation.

Such a small object, but holding so much significant history. I took a moment.

According to Sotheby’s, in July 1850 British Guiana form an inland postal service.

And in 1852, British Guiana began receiving regular postage stamps, manufactured in England by Waterlow & Sons.

But in 1856, a shipment of stamps from England was delayed and threatened a disruption of postal service throughout British Guiana.

Colonial postmaster, E.T.E. Dalton, got local printers Joseph Baum and William Dallas, to print a contingency supply of postage stamps

Baum and Dallas were publishers of the Royal Gazette newspaper in Georgetown, British Guiana at the time.

They attempted to mimic the appearance of the Waterlow stamps and produced a series of three definitive stamps for the colony: the One-cent Magenta, a four-cent magenta, and a four-cent blue.

The one-cent magenta stamp is the sole survivor from its series.

I was told that the printing press for the one-cent magenta still survives in now Guyana, formerly British Guiana.

From Jukebox to Haitian Jazz

Emeline Michel speaking with fans after performing at the Brooklyn Public Library. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Emeline Michel speaking with fans after performing at the Brooklyn Public Library. (Nicosia Smith photo)


By Nicosia Smith

In great weather, what does an art and culture lover do, get out.

Howbeit my umbrella was necessary towards the end of the day.

My first stop was at the Schomburg Center in Harlem to view ‘Motown: The Truth is a Hit’. It was like treading on familiar territory.

Last year I attended Motown, the Broadway musical, which is the same name of the label founded by Berry Gordy Jr., in 1959. This exhibit traces, chronologically, the growth of the Motown sound, complete with songs playing in the background. While the musical gave a much wider spread of the events leading up to the creation of Motown, the exhibition gives snippets. Life size photos of the Supreme, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5, Mary Wells, the Temptations and many others told this Motown story.

However, the exhibit did delve into the latter years of Motown. That is, showcasing pop singers like Vanity and Lionel Richie. If you can, it’s best to see the musical and also view the exhibit which runs through July 26.

Then it was off to Brooklyn.

To an evening of intoxicating lyrics, that took me from the American Jukebox, to the Caribbean island of Haiti.

International Haitian Jazz singer Emeline Michel kicked off the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival at Brooklyn Central Library. Jazz is not her only genre; she combines Haitian compas and rara, in pop, samba and bossa nova.

Michel sings in French and Haitian Creole combining these rhythms to create her unique sound.

It is an intoxicating soulful infusion of instruments (piano, guitar, and drums) that gives a powerful yet smooth blues/jazz feel. This is complimented by Michel’s voice – that takes you up to a high or simmer you down low. And at times leaves you within yourself to contemplate. It’s the type of sound that makes you want to sing, dance and listen all at once.

And if you do not know Haitian Creole or French, no problem, you will feel as if you know what is being said. Michel is also very good at explaining the concepts behind her songs, which covers from the personal, social to the political. And moving to her lyrics comes natural, as I found out.

Both the Schomburg and Central Library have continuing events and I will be keeping my ears to the ground.

It’s a blessing when you can absorb your surroundings and learn from things around you.



Dressed for the Ball – NY Gilded Age

By Nicosia Smith

New York City today is known for its excesses.

A glimpse of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal will attest to this.

New York’s grand lifestyles are by no means recent.

Since, for centuries those with wealth have flaunted it. Whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

But whenever you are confronted with these over the top lifestyles, it has a shock value.

Remember New York’s Gilded Age. Or should I say, have you heard about the Gilded Age.

The Museum of the City of  New York has decided to jug our memories.

Exhibiting objects from the mid 1870’s to the early 20th Century of New York’s rich.

It was the perfect way to open the museum’s Tiffany and Co. Foundation Gallery. That is, what better inaugural show, for a gallery sponsored by Tiffany, right.

The Gilded Age, was a time of excesses so grand, that even publications frown on it.

This was so, I imagine, because as wealthy families flirted and splurged at grand balls, New York struggled with a large poor population.

This exhibit is a bold display of costumes, jewelry, portraits, decorative plates, vases and fine china.

Immaculate clothing with sapphires, platinum, turquoise, ruby and fine silk. And painted silk feathers, mother-of-pearl folding fans.

A bejewelled breath freshener case and perfume bottles engraved with gold are also among the trinkets.

And the love of jewellery is seen in the self portraits of the rich.

Like the exhibit at the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America, vouches to this.

In addition – a slide show outside the Tiffany gallery, shows images from extravagant parties. Like the Alva and William K. Vanderbilt Ball of 1883 at their 5th Avenue Mansion, Bradley Martin Ball of 1897 and others.

They dressed as kings and queens from Europe and as an Egyptian princess or Indian chief. Posing for photos in courtyards and gardens, fashioned after Versailles. These exhibits are a great way to learn about this era, in person. And there is still time.

While the New York Historical Society exhibit ends March 9, this City Museum exhibit goes until November.

So go, take a look.

Masekela Jazz meets Steel pan

By Nicosia Smith

It may well be an explosive combination, of steel pan and trumpet.

The juicy, racy and up tempo, steel pan music, with the jazzy, ethnic, sometimes blues notes of the trumpet.

In this case with an internationally renowned trumpeter.

South African Hugh Ramopolo Masekela has made a collaborative CD with Trinidad and Tobago, Petrotrin Siparia Deltones Steel Orchestra.

Over ten years ago at the San Fernando Jazz festival, he heard and fell in love with the sound of the Deltones. Hence the collaboration.

Now, carnival sounds is meeting the unique African cultural and ethnic take on jazz.

I have not yet heard the mix, but this collaborative effort was widely reported last year in T&T.

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (Nicosia Smith photo)

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (Nicosia Smith photo)

While he is a world-renowned trumpeter, he likes to play that down. I realized this when we spoke. He is also straight forward and speaks his mind. For example, he loan me his hat to take a photo with him, not wanting my hair style to get in the way.Joint works like these, I believe stretches the scope of music, and introduces audiences to new and innovative sounds. And this is important toward bridging the  musical and cultural gaps that currently exist.

For example, a younger generation is now introduced to the freedom songs and jazz of Masekela and he to theirs.

And the collaborations continued this year, as Masekela, told me on his way to T&T last month, from New York.

Masekela favorites are Bring him back Home, a song during the apartheid era in South African to free Nelson Mandela and Stimela (Cold Train).

So play on, play on  Masekela and the Deltones, let the trumpet and steel pan rhythm lead.

Rubin Museum explores photo alterations of the past

Rajasahib of Dhrangadhara, the then ruler of a princely state in present day Gujarat (India), photographer and painter unknown ca 1930. Gelatin silver print and oil paint. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Rajasahib of Dhrangadhara, the then ruler of a princely state in present day Gujarat (India), photographer and painter unknown ca 1930. Gelatin silver print and oil paint. (Nicosia Smith photo)

For those of us who practice photo shop there is a sense of gratification when we finally get the image we desire.

So what if you were royal. What would those alterations be?

The Rubin Museum of Art in its Allegory and Illusion – Early Portrait Photography from South Asia, showcased a delectable example of early photo alterations.

Images from South Asia in the 1800’s, showed photos of Royals being retouch with color, silk and whatever else they desired, as a statement of their authority.

This is the Portrait of a Royal, from the Photo art Studio Rajkot ca. 1900-1930. Gelatin silver print, oil paint, silk cloth,velvet cloth, sequins and gold-colored wire were added to his image. (Nicosia Smith photo)

This is the Portrait of a Royal, from the Photo art Studio Rajkot ca. 1900-1930. Gelatin silver print, oil paint, silk cloth,velvet cloth, sequins and gold-colored wire were added to his image. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Now of course, the changes being made for the Royals were approved before hand, I would imagine.

This was done by either putting the additions on a portrait photo (as seen left) or using the photo as a model to paint a portrait and adding the enhancements (as seen below).

So a painter would then add for example color, sparkles, silk and gold. Power and stature played a big roll in what was added.

This, it seem was quite common during those days.

A portrait painter, image taken at the Rubin Museum. (Nicosia Smith photo)

A portrait painter, image taken at the Rubin Museum. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Allegory and Illusion explores early portrait photography from India, Nepal, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Burma (Myanmar)  from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century.While there are many images of Royals and high-ranking members of society, there are also images of the ordinary, whose portraits have no alterations.

This exhibition goes through February 10.