Tag: Dakar

How Senegal and its Astronomers are Helping NASA’s New Horizons Program Make Discoveries in Space

Outside Dakar, people got a look at the heavens last week through one of the New Horizons space program’s telescopes. (Credit: Tomas Munita for The New York Times)

by Jaime Yaya Barry and Dionne Searcey via nytimes.com

DAKAR, Senegal — When Salma Sylla was a little girl, she tried to find relief from Senegal’s steamy hot season by retreating to the roof of her home to sleep. Restless and overheated, she would lie awake staring at the stars.

The area where she lived outside Dakar, the capital, had no electricity, and the heavens sparkled. She tried to count the stars, realizing more shone on some nights than on others.

Ms. Sylla, now 37, was intrigued. But studying the stars in Senegal was not easy: High school courses were limited; libraries rarely had books on space; telescopes were few and expensive.

Not much has improved since Ms. Sylla was a girl; astronomy offerings are extremely limited in Senegal’s universities. But officials here hope to change that, as part of a mission to improve science, technology, engineering and math skills by bolstering the country’s university programs and building a science and research center.

The undertaking is part of “Emerging Senegal,” a broad development strategy by President Macky Sall that also includes plans for a planetarium.

The effort got a lift last week, when Senegal welcomed a team of more than three dozen scientists from the United States and France, part of NASA’s New Horizons program. The scientists fanned out across the countryside in hopes of observing the silhouette cast by an ancient chunk of rock orbiting beyond Pluto as it passed in front of a bright star.

The viewing was intended to help the team prepare for when the plutonium-powered New Horizons spacecraft passes by the object — nicknamed Ultima Thule (Beyond the Known World) — on New Year’s Eve. “This is the farthest exploration of anything in space that has ever taken place, by quite a lot,” said Alan Stern, project leader for NASA’s New Horizons mission. “We are way, way out there.”

For the scientists, coming to Senegal was a process of elimination. Most of the areas that offered the best viewing were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The other options — in neighboring Mali, for example — were in areas patrolled by violent extremists.

The countryside of Senegal is peaceful, parts of it do not have electricity, and many rural areas are sparsely populated. That was a bonus for the scientists, who wanted a clear sky, free of light. Still, Senegal was a risky proposition. The area is on the cusp of the rainy season, and cloudy skies threatened to block the event, which occurred early Saturday and lasted less than a second.

Scientists are still evaluating data from the viewing, but the skies turned out to be clear and they are hopeful. Senegal was an enthusiastic host. About two dozen Senegalese astronomers and scientists, including Ms. Sylla, accompanied the New Horizons team in the field and contributed to the viewing.

African countries have racked up their own space achievements. Moroccan astronomers have discovered comets, asteroids and planets outside our solar system. Ghana’s first satellite is now orbiting the earth. Students in Tunisia have organized public events to observe the sky, even though they do not have an observatory.

“Astronomy is virtually as popular in Africa as it is everywhere in the world,” said David Baratoux, the president of the African Initiative for Planetary Sciences and Space, who is based in France.

The biggest hindrance is money. The United States spends more on its space program than the value of Senegal’s entire economy. The 21 high-powered telescopes brought by the New Horizons team were nearly double the number of telescopes available in all of Senegal.

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ARCHITECTURE: The Forgotten Masterpieces of African Modernism

La Pyramide, Abidjan, Ivory Coast
La Pyramide, Abidjan, Ivory Coast. (Photograph: Iwan Baan)

field of triangular roofs pokes up above the horizon on the outskirts of Dakar, like a forest of wigwams that have been baked to stone under the scorching sub-Saharan sun. They sit on a triangular concrete plinth, from which bigger triangular pavilions protrude, accessed by flights of triangular steps from the dusty streets, along which triangular gutters jut out. It could be Toblerone Town, a city-sized hymn to the three-sided prism.

This mysterious complex, which looks like what might have happened if the Mayans had discovered reinforced concrete, is the Foire Internationale de Dakar, or FIDAK for short. It is a sprawling exhibition centre built in the capital of Senegal in 1975 to host the country’s biennial international trade fair – and trumpet the new nationstate’s presence on the global stage. Designed by little-known French architects Jean-François Lamoureux and Jean-Louis Marin, it is a project of obsessive and extraordinary detail. There are facades decorated with coloured pebbles and tiled mosaics, psychedelic sand art murals that evoke the rocky African coastline and its azure seas. Yet outside Senegal, this building is almost entirely unknown.

It is just one of the astounding projects documented by Swiss architect Manuel Herz, who has spent the last few years researching the architecture of African independence with his team at ETH University in Zurich. A period of bold structures and strident new forms, it is strangely absent from the recorded history of modern architecture. “There was an intense flowering of experimental and futuristic architecture in the 1960s and 70s, which the young African countries used to express their national identities,” says Herz, who has curated an exhibition of more than 80 buildings from sub-Saharan Africa, showing at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, until May. “But we simply don’t know about it. When people think of Africa, they think of poverty, misery and violence, while architects fetishise informality and focus on slum-upgrading. But we wanted to show this incredible cultural wealth that also exists.”

University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia
University of Zambia, Lusaka. (Photograph: Iwan Baan)

The buildings, a number of which have been beautifully shot by Dutch photographer Iwan Baan, portray a period of extreme confidence and political ambition. They are mostly the products of big, state-sponsored initiatives, from heroic parliament buildings and imposing central banks to daring universities and vast stadiums, many the pet projects of Africa’s “big man” leaders, built for propaganda purposes as much as anything else.

The Kenyatta International Conference Centre, whose pink cylindrical shaft towers above Nairobi, was initiated by the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, as a lavish new HQ for his ruling Kanu party. At 32 stories, it was by far the tallest structure in east Africa until the 1990s, a big column for Kenya’s big-man chieftain. Yet its great size can be credited to an accident of international intervention. In the midst of its design, the World Bank decided it would host its 1973 annual meeting in Nairobi, and the building was chosen as the venue, forcing a growth spurt. The tower almost tripled in height, while a magnificent auditorium shaped like a closed lily-bud was also added, and mirrored by an open flower form at the top of the tower containing a revolving restaurant.

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Fantasy Hollywood: Restaging Classic Films with Black Models

Black Hollywood Breakfast
Breakfast at Onomo’s, 2013. Photograph: Antoine Tempé

Back in the 80s, my classmates and I piled into Mbabane’s local cinema to watch Top Gun. We’d turn to each other, channeling our best version of Val Kilmer to spout “You can be my wing man anytime” – followed by intense laughter. Who doesn’t have a favourite line, an iconic moment from film lodged in our minds? 

Dakar-based photographers Omar Victor Diop and Antoine Tempé were counting on just that, the shared experience and ubiquity of film, when the hotel group Onomo International invited them to create a series of photographs using the hotel as a backdrop. They turned to the silver screen, to iconic moments they’ve held onto to and mined for their collaborative project, ONOMOllywood.

In 20 images that pay homage to characters such as Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, these reinventions begin with the a humble “what if…” A question looking to how popular global cultural translates to the local, what could it look like, and what new memories would it create. The project has created conversation, accolades and blowback, but in an interview with Another Africa, Diop takes it all in stride.

Black Hollywood American Beauty
American Beauty, 2013. Photograph: Omar Victor Diop

Missla Libsekal | Representational art usually puts artists in the hot seat, audiences tend to have strong opinions. For example Samuel Fosso’s self-portraits as famous political figures or Pieter Hugo’s Nollywood series. Mimicry steps on the nerve of nostalgia, the sacred or even challenges the status quo. What tale doesONOMOllywood tell and does it hit any nerves? 

Omar Victor Diop | ONOMOllywood is a celebration of cinema, as an artistic discipline and of the magic of a great movie. For Antoine Tempé (the co-author of the series who created 10 out of the 20 images) and myself, what makes a great movie is the fact that the strength of its characters, plot and scenes transcends all geographic, temporal and racial barriers. A great movie is more than a series of sequences, it becomes a moment that is lived across the globe by people who have very little in common, but who relate to extraordinary stories that allow them to dream.

The example I always give is the magic of a James Bond movie; back when I was a kid, I didn’t care whether Roger Moore was white or black, or whether I was a British citizen… to me, he was a hero I could impersonate. After watching A View To A Kill, I firmly believed my pajamas were a tuxedo and that my mom’s kitchen was actually some concrete jungle where I would chase after criminals… That’s what cinema has brought to me and it still somehow does, to my adult life. A great movie is a dream.

Black Hollywood Psycho
Psycho, 2013. Photograph: Antoine Tempé

ONOMOllywood did hit some nerves, especially in the US: after one of my interviews was published on CNN.COM. We were taken aback by the racial dimension of some readers’ comment. To my great surprise, I realised that this series could be seen by some as a sort of “revenge” of black people against a too “white” Hollywood. The “race war” in the comments section was quite epic! 

It was rather amusing to see the way some readers resolutely eluded the fact that this project is the product of a collaboration between a French-American photographer and a Senegalese photographer. It was “just some black dude painting Hollywood in black because the world looked better like this”.

I guess this can be explained by a set of contextual factors. The article about ONOMOllywood was published in late July 2013, after a heated debate over a series of race-related affairs like the Trayvon Martin case in the US, a series of blackface incidents in fashion magazines in Europe, etc. I guess people from both sides were already prepared to shoot at anything that could be seen as an attempt to see the world from a racial perspective… Interesting experience indeed, we’re glad this project started a conversation in other continents, that’s the purpose of art, even though for us, ONOMOllywood remains a celebration, a well deserved homage to geniuses of cinema, to timeless moments.

Black Hollywood Frida
Frida, 2013. Photograph: Omar Victor Diop

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