Sign up to my new series of talks on the History and Theory of Photography . Starts in September and it's perfect if you want an intro...
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
"We teach girls shame..."
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about her latest book, Americanah in the Guardian at the weekend.
Americanah is "...the story of two Nigerian émigrés who love and lose each other across continents and years... It is a book about hair: straight versus afro; and discreet tensions, not just between white Americans and Nigerian immigrants, but between Africans and African Americans, between the light- and dark-skinned, between new and established immigrants, and its frankness – in particular on the subject of gender – has upset some people. "I knew that was coming," says Adichie. "I can't write a book like that and then go, 'Oh my God, they're upset.' But my intention wasn't to upset." She smiles. "It's just that I'm willing to if that's what it takes to write the book."
I like the fact that Adichie is very direct. She's direct about race, about skin colour, about the USA. She talks about her main character Ifemulu arriving in America and not being angry enough because she is African rather than African-American.; "I only became black when I came to America."
She also talks about Nigerian arrogance which was nice. I used to live in a house with a Nigerian who was a bit messy and used to say things like, "In my country you would be my servant and you would be washing my dishes," which always used to amuse both of us.
Since leaving, she has began to see what she calls the Nigerian swagger – the attitude that causes resentment in other African countries. "We're not popular in any part of Africa. And we're rather proud of it. If I wasn't Nigerian, I think I would understand why. There's a kind of Nigerian aggressiveness … 'Why shouldn't we?' We'll do it very loudly and without much finesse, but hey. Inside Nigeria there are different cultures, but this is Nigerianness – it cuts across ethnic groups. I don't know if it's from our large size, I don't know if it's because we never had white people settle and stay. So Nigerians go to Kenya and Tanzania and we think, why are you so apologetic?"
Adichie also tooks about gender and the criticism she received for having a strong woman who has a will of her own. That's where the motivational picture at the top kicks in. I showed it my daughter the other day and she asked what the last part means, the part about the "art of pretence". I told her and she instantly recognised what Adichie meant.
And that's why she's so good. Because she's direct and she says what is obvious to her, but at the same time recognising the business she's in. Americanah, she says, is ultimately a love story, because that is what stories are all about; love.
Why complicate things when they don't need complicating. And I think that is true of all great writers. They tell universal stories using universal themes. Love's the big one.
And isn't it the same in photography. Aren't there universal themes that great photographers touch on. Themes or elements perhaps. Emotion, the face, the body, the facade and the sublime. Isn't that what it all boils down to?
But not love. Not even on the Left Bank. There's no love in photography. Funny that.