When you turn on your TV, computer or smartphone, you are instantly connected to popular culture: your Beyonces and Rihannas, along with various Lil’s–you get the picture. What is more challenging to tap into is African-American fine culture, the type of culture found in the corridors of a museum as opposed to the nearest colosseum, stadium or garden. Books not found at your friendly neighborhood kiosk but reviewed and considered in the latest issue of the New Yorker.
That is where the modern-day icons Shala Monroque, Uzoamaka Maduka and Arielle Patrick come in. Even though they love popular culture as much as the rest of us, these three African-American trailblazers are also creators, consumers and purveyors of fine culture.
A graduate of Princeton and top New York City prep school Chapin, Patrick devotes a great part of her life to promoting the finer arts. Although her interests are diverse, she stands decisively at the center of the young fine arts scene in New York City. A former ballet dancer and currently a corporate and financial publicist at global firm Weber Shandwick, Patrick is now a member of the Alvin Ailey Young Patrons Circle.
“Being part of the Young Patrons Circle is such an honor,” Patrick said. “I mainly show my support with annual dues, spreading the word about the company and bringing my crowd to their performances.” She added, “The Ailey Young Patrons Circle was just founded last year. It was about time the company mirrored what other nonprofits like the New York City Ballet and Metropolitan Museum of Art have been doing for years–tapping into their influential youth for fundraising.”
Patrick’s appreciation for fine culture stemmed mainly from her parents. According to Patrick, her father “is an accomplished journalist and powerful writer whom I’ve always admired.” From her mother, a former singer, she got her love of music. Her love of fine culture was refined during her days at Chapin, where she “fell in love with foreign and ancient languages–French, Latin, Greek–and was president of the choral club.”
Another up-and-coming cultural icon is Nigerian-American Uzoamaka Maduka, who was recently on Forbes list of “30 Under 30.” Also a graduate of Princeton, she is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The American Reader. The American Reader, whose office is in the Harlem area, is a literary magazine dedicated purely to literature and literary criticism. It was founded to cater to the intellectual needs of young people in their 20s. (Patrick also serves as pro bono director of publicity for the publication.)
A good clue as to what drives Maduka is what she wrote in her column at Bullett Media, where she asserted, “Fiction–and art in general–structure our wildest and boldest beliefs about what is possible in this life.” She referred to fine art and culture as “honest art” and said that “it is for people who don’t want the easy way out of life, love, politics and society.”
It is for those who don’t want the flimsy substitutes people come up with for truth and beauty. The decision between interesting nonsense and honest art is the decision between having an easy but kind of sad existence or a sometimes wretchedly hard but ultimately gorgeous life.”
When asked how she feels about being in a position to shape the culture of her generation, she answered, “It isn’t so much that my co-founder Jac and I will shape culture for this generation, but rather that this current generation has shaped Jac and I. So many incredible, smart people in our generation identify with the vision of The American Reader, and that’s natural because, in a sense, they came up with it; we just said it out loud.” When it comes to creating a lifestyle that includes more fine art, she advised, “Try to avoid the bestseller table.”
St. Lucian-born Monroque was recently dubbed “the muse of a generation” by New York magazine. Serving as creative director of the iconoclastic Garage magazine, as well as creative consultant of The American Reader, she has also been called “the thinking woman’s style icon.” Indeed, in her review of the erotic potboiler “Fifty Shades of Grey” for Harper’s Bazaar, she tied in the anthropological research of writer Zora Neale Hurston to the escapades of the main characters.
But Monroque is just as widely known for her ties to the world of fine art as she is known as a trendsetter in high fashion. She is the former girlfriend of Larry Gagosian, one of the world’s most foremost art dealers, a darling of top designer Miuccia Prada, and is known for starting fashion trends. However, Monroque remains humble, playing down her influence, saying simply that she is just “happy to be part of the dialogue.”
For her, making the time to incorporate fine culture in her life comes down to just “putting down the phone sometimes and being present at the museum … reading a book, cooking a meal for friends.”