Updated: Mar 21
Côte d'Ivoire or the Ivory Coast's second capital, its economic capital-- Abidjan, has art infused in its walls, streets, waterfronts and greenery. It has healing for she or he or they who will listen.
West Africa knows. Some of Africa know. Parts of Europe know. And in the world, they say if you know, you know. But I think more people should know and so heres a blog with my thoughts about it.
It's the food. Organic. Flavourful. Healthy and filling. Nourishing. The phrase I am, perhaps looking for, is dutifully phenomenal. You can smell it before it hits the dining room table, you're salivating as you walk past the makis (street foods stalls), and you're paying an arm and a leg for it-- "it" being the boeuf n'damla with a side of aloco at any one of the city's exciting new or legacy restaurants-- but it's worth it. Highly recommend placali, attieke, and garba.
It's the art. Every night of the week boasts an exhibition, live music, a paint and sip, candle making workshops, fashion shows, the opening of a gallery, fine dining at a concept store, a benefit gala, street performers, and more.
There's the beach. There's Assinie (just outside of Abidjan, about a 1.5 to 2 hour drive). It promises you lush and ecological architecture made from its country's back, delicately complimenting her figure. The Atlantique, clunky warm and wet sand, and a lot of fresh fish to dip in a variation of pepper sauces.
There's history. There's Grand Bassam (right outside of Abidjan, about an hours drive). Ivory Coast's first capital, Bassam, is a picture of fractured once decadent 19th and 20th century homes. It's kinda pretty. Home to the N’zima fishing village alongside colonial architecture marked by functional houses with galleries, verandas and gardens-- it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site-- because they think its 'important' (their words not mine) to preserve European colonial cities. What are your thoughts? I think its wonder-world type of pretty. Exploring it gave me haunting feels... but some serious hope for the future. Thanks to hipster millennials, it could become the country's next art hub over the coming ten years. Let's see.
Every bit of Ivory Coast healed me. But, I found the most haven in my hotel-- Lepic Villa. Formerly home to Abidjan's first governor, it now doubles as an artist residence. The Lepic Villa is in the heart of Abidjan's old money residential neighbourhood-- Cocody. And so you'd expect the lively and vibrant nature of the city to blare in through your room window, but it does not in the least. It was mostly the silence of my breath painted by the chirping of the birds, and the still of nature.
The Lepic Villa is at the end of the road's cul-de-sac, nestled in a jungle like garden. It's only fitting that two majestic peacocks walk its grounds and spread out their feathers every early evening as I'm dressed in my grand boubous from one of the city's concept stores, and strolling out into my Yango (local Uber brand) to go for dinner/gallery/out with friends. The Lepic Villa is known for its natural, earthy and beautiful villas-- but they have also somehow managed to make the rooms feel like villas too. I stayed in room number 9 and it became home so quickly. Perhaps it was the fresh fruit served with every meal, or the Thursday night club hosted in the hotel's garden-bar playing amapiano, coupé-décalé and afrobeats-- an African city trend. Or the ethereal blue-green pool surrounded by its own jungle of trees that felt like shelter from anything bothering me that day. Lepic and Abidjan alike gave me the best of the globe-- the beating panting chest of a metropolitan city-- cities that speak of family, climate change, jobs, identity, food, migration, culture and art.
I found a bit of Sierra Leone, a lot of Senegal, lathers of Ghana, bits of South Africa. A strong French imperial presence in the service sector, the best of Beirut's food and shisha bars in Marcory and Bietry, the best of industrialisation in II Plateaux, and the love of nature and greenery for cities that one would see in Nairobi or San Francisco.
I almost attended an exhibition of leading African artists who also happened to all be women (spoiler, it was done on purpose), before I tested positive for Covid-19 and spent 3 nights lying in the softest Lepic Villa sheets and reading photo essay books by Malick Sidibe and Flash Abidjan instead (curtesy of the boutique Lepic Villa Library of selected pan-black-Atlantic art literature). I also tried to read Nikou magazine. The issue with Naomi Campbell on the cover. I found the magazine underwhelming in the way that it achieved exactly what it explicitly stated it didn't want to do-- pander to the European gaze. In fact it was made in the exact tenants of whitism. But I find Abidjan also, sadly, does quite a bit of that. Perhaps this is also something that our millennials will also change for us?
Nevertheless, Abidjan has art, history, the future and the present infused in its quite polluted industrial air. It has nature and healing in its yoga cafes and reiki centres. It has healing in the smiles and laughs of literally everyone-- who always seems to have time to crack jokes and chat with you. It has art and healing for anyone-- she, he or they who will listen.