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MATTEmatters: Black Up!

By Marcela Filomena

I've been flirting with this blog post for weeks now, gathering material without finding the specific way to bring it all together.  While skin color in Puerto Rico is a touchy subject, as it is all over the world, the subject is especially controversial in fashion; see Numéro's African Queen, Vogue Italia's Haute Mess, D & G's African Woman earrings, to name only a few examples. The aim this week is to explore representations of blackness in media, from sexual exploitation to Africa's youth culture movement. 

film - Heading South starts off in an airport in late 1970's Haiti, an older woman offering her fifteen-year-old daughter to a well-groomed black man in a suit.  The scene is disturbing, emotionally charged, and sets the mood perfectly for what's to come.  The film follows the story of four middle-aged white women who travel every year to a resort hotel in Haiti, looking for the sexual company of young black men.  In a twist on this week's theme Laurent Cantet explores the young black buck/sex-starved white woman stereotype, tenderly and intelligently portraying the complex exploitative relationship between the women and their prey.  Keep an eye out for the startling monologues from Karen Young and the eternally sexy Charlotte Rampling.

art - Born in Nairobi, trained in Wales and now a resident of Brooklyn, Wangechi Mutu is considered to be one of the most significant contemporary African artists.  Her work explores the dichotomy between the hyper-sexualization of black women and the African woman portrayed as tribal, ethnic and primitive.  Working primarily in collages, she draws the viewer into a discussion about colonialism, race, gender, beauty and consumerism

design - Of mixed Haitian and Italian heritage, designer Stella Jean combines impeccable tailoring and styling with African waxed fabrics in 50's and 60's ultra-feminine silhouettes. Quite consciously a daughter of the First Free Black Republic; she'll pair a European striped shirt with a studded gelé and a New Look skirt or slouchy pants with a Matrimonio all'italiana tee.  Recently, she has begun exploring waxing other fabrics, such as campy Hawaiian prints and Scottish tartans. 

music - Shabazz Palaces.  What can I say?  They're a Seattle-based experimental hip-hop collective whose rhymes recall Van Dyke Parks' haunting lyricism.  Incorporating muscular African rhythms into a lean and warped musical landscape, Ishmael Butler throws out traditional verse-chorus structures in favor of unpredictable movement and divergent chants.  This is the hip-hop we need, not fronting pseudo-gangster braggadocio.  Check out the video for Are You... Can You... Were You? (Felt). For a preview of their whole album via a short film, partly shot in Puerto Rico, click here.

item - With more than half the population in many African nations under 25, Okayafrica is a hub for Africa's New Wave; featuring music, fashion, film, news, and events.  Take some time and check out the boom in a youth culture that blends traditional aesthetics with a forward-facing lifestyle.