(I really love alliterative titles a little too much). Some random thoughts …

1. If anyone knows a good biography of Mansa Musa I would love to hear about it. I have the children’s book Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali but I’m interested in something with a little more meat to it. I first came upon this important figure while researching the Muslim Middle Ages when I was teaching grade 4 about 5 years ago. I wanted to expose the students to more than the regular Andalus and Salahuddin narratives (though we did a lot of that too) and was wowed by the story of Mansa Musa, his hajj expedition and the education center of Timbuktu. And all the time I had thought Timbuktu was a fabled land – such is the power of the lack of exposure to the history of diverse cultures in public education. On speaking to my father later, I found out just how important the scholarship at the universities of Timbuktu were. So I want to know about more than just Mansa Musa’s extraordinary pilgrimage to Mecca – which is what is so commonly known about this West African leader.

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Something about the adobe mosques of Mali calls out to me. I think it could be the seamless interplay between the natural environment and human construction. I can get into a real long spiel about the way that there doesn’t seem to be any destruction to the environment in this architectural style – similar to the adobe buildings of New Mexico – but I have to be honest and say that I also like the aesthetic element of these mosques. Lots have been said about the aesthetic simplicity of Japanese culture (which I’m very partial to as well); and there is definitely a sense from critics and connoisseurs alike that their minimalistic approach to art signifies higher order thinking (the less is more theory or what you edit and what you leave in a space sparsely says a lot theory), but I say let’s apply the same principle to the beautiful art of the so-called “indigenous peoples”. Because, to be frank, when I look at Japanese architecture and when I look at Mali architecture, the same things strike the artist heart in me: the flow of line, the balance, the use of natural materials in austere, subdued fashion with their organic, aged elements apparent (in Japanese art called wabi and sabi) etc, etc. So how is it one culture’s aesthetic is held aloft while the other’s is viewed as “quaint” and “anthropological”?

This is a rattling point with me and has been for a long time. How come art is Art from some cultures and art is trinkets, cheap souvenirs, crafts from other cultures? The first Art I bought on my own came from a street Artist in Mumbai. It was a bicycle twisted from wire. As a thirteen year old avid cyclist, I marveled at the beauty and detail of it. So if a 26 year old OCAD student made it and presented it sparsely on a white podium with a spotlight aimed at it in an empty room in a chic gallery, it would suddenly be ART because he put a lot of thought into it? And the street “vendor” didn’t put a lot of thought into it? Basically, they might have had the same overwhelming thought: I hope people like this enough to see the value in it enough to purchase it/be interested in it enough to help me make my living as an ARTIST.”

So I promised to avoid a spiel and then I delivered it. I’m still trying to learn the principle of wabi (the beauty in austerity).

3. I’m loving my Mac so far (got it in September). I especially love the dashboard feature with its bank of widgets – my favorites of them are the sticky notes and the dictionary/thesaurus field. I have a mighty mouse – which I bought accidentally, mistakenly believing that you could only use an apple brand mouse for a mac (an expensive mistake) – and because it works in tune with the dashboard feature, all I need to do is click the scroll and it summons the dashboard on top of anything I’m working on. So if I’m reading something and I want remember a bit of info. from it, I click and there’s my sticky notes awaiting the important tidbits. It’s a great feature if you’re prone to using real stickies as I am; right now I’ve got virtual stickies all over my virtual desktop – but, thankfully, they’re hidden until I need them. I love my Mac.

P.S. Here’s two links to collections of photographs of the adobe mosques of Mali: Number 1 (this one has thousands) and Number 2.

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