Brownbook’s 50th Issue


Natasha Stallard


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Wrinkles, grey hair and worldly wisdom are the subjects of this issue of Brownbook, as we dedicate its pages to ‘The Elders’. It’s a fitting theme for our 50th issue – Brownbook’s golden anniversary. As we begin to inspect our own editorial crow’s feet in the mirror, we’ve realised a few things about ageing: life is longer than you think.

For those readers worried about turning 40, 30, or even 20, there’s inspiration to be taken from the six ‘elders’ we interview, who continue to live with grace and gusto well beyond their 70th birthday. Fun fact: some didn’t begin their award-winning careers until their mid-30s, others their loving marriages until their mid-60s.

Gerontology, the study of ageing, revealed many pleasures during our research, too. In Korea, for example, the traditional ‘hwangap’ celebrates a 60th birthday with the same excitement as an 18th. In Ecuador, meanwhile, the elderly shamans of the Huaorani people are believed to have magical powers, including occasionally transforming themselves into jaguars.

From ballerinas to bodybuilders, you’ll find more than a few miraculous jaguars in this issue of Brownbook. At 93 years old, composer Halim El-Dabh is still as spritely as in his heyday, and continues to experiment with music every morning before breakfast – six decades after he created the first piece of electronic music at a radio station in Cairo.

Likewise, our other interviewees have refused to embrace retirement: Diane Rehm, who began her career at WAMU radio over 40 years ago, still commands one of NPR’s most popular chat shows (with 2.6 million loyal listeners) at 78, while in Istanbul, on the eve of his 80th birthday, legendary Turkish poster designer Yurdaer Altıntaş is still inspiring young graphic designers to embrace the avant-garde.

Elsewhere, Lady Yvonne Cochrane Sursock, the 93-year old grande dame of Beirut’s Sursock Palace, looks back on a life of aristocracy and her own refined brand of rebellion (photographed by one of our favourite fashion photographers, Bachar Srour), while Magda Saleh, the legendary Egyptian Prima Ballerina, gives her insights into a peculiar nodule of history: her time dancing for Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. Last but by no means least, Muhammad ‘drink milk’ Shahada offers us his health and fitness tips – advice worth listening to, coming from a 76-year old Palestinian bodybuilder still pumping iron in his one-room gym in Jenin’s refugee camp.

As much as Brownbook’s 50th issue looks towards the past, we also welcome images of the future. Over in Dakar, young fashion designer Selly Raby Kane has created a collection inspired by the future extraterrestrial invasion of Senegal, photographed by the wonderful Omar Victor Diop, while in Dubai, the ‘Museum of Future Government Services’, dedicated to futurist technologies, advises that the ‘future belongs to those who can imagine it.’

With that in mind, we round off our 50th issue with Brownbook’s ‘Manifesto for the Future’, a philosophical handbook for the upcoming generations, including sage advice from our past and present interviewees.

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