Monthly Archives: April 2015

Gratitude: Mansa K. Mussa, artist and photographer

Photograph by Mansa MusaPhotograph by Mansa K. Mussa, 2014.

Just after I handed the book manuscript over to the publisher for the last time, a tiny bit of chaos ensued. The digital image selected for the cover was old, and was not enough megapixels to work. But, that fan created by the artist Ben Jones was a perfect fit for that cover. Ben suggested that I contact New Jersey-based photographer, Mansa Mussa, to reshoot the fan. Mansa saved the day.

Since that time, I have been very fortunate to have made a new colleague and friend in the field of Afro-Atlantic arts and cultural expression. Mansa K. Mussa’s photography and artwork is exceptional. Above I include one of the images that he shot at a fashion show in Havana, Cuba, in the autumn of 2014. This model’s performance on the runway, holding a gold, Akan-inspired-sculpture-turned fan, wearing a yellow-gold dress, is fabulous. The references to the deity Ochún and contemporary West African fashion in Havana is pivotal to understanding contemporary attitudes to African Diasporic expression today.

More of Mansa K. Mussa’s work from that 2014 fashion show can be found here:

Mansa Mussa

José Quintero, religious artist

José Quintero (c. 1960 – 2013) was an extremely demanding collaborator with regards to my research in Havana. He was a child of Ochún and an Oba-Oriaté, among the many titles one might give him.

José Quintero's spirit altar

Picture 1 of 7

Quintero’s home was in the Lumumba district of Havana. However, as a religious artist and leader he was everywhere in Havana. Regularly hired to construct altars, he needed to source items from all over—including asking me to bring items to Cuba. To be honest, all of the travelling in circles around the city drove me a bit nuts. But, he wanted things to be just so, and his work was proof that an altar had to be created, and maintained, to certain specifications.

His spirit altar to ‘Ta José shown at the start of the slideshow above is particularly interesting in its representation of one of his guiding spirits. You’ll notice that the spirit is shown to be wearing relatively contemporary clothes, a guayabera shirt, and holding a cigar. Nearby in the altar, a Native American spirit complemented Quintero’s retinue of spirit advisors.