Maggic Cube - PHmuseum

Maggic Cube

Adji Dieye

2016 - 2019

“It’s natural that the person who provides you with food will also dictate

their will to you. Look at your plate, when you eat imported rice, corn or

millet. That’s what imperialism is.”*

* Speech by Thomas Sankara at the national conference of the Committee

for defending the revolution, 4 April 1986

Adji Dieye’s work is born out of this assessment. To the list of ‘imperialist

products’ she adds stock cubes, a banal commodity that hides however

a much darker truth. Wishing as a starting point to unveil and critique the

impact of goods imported to West Africa, she studies with irony these

‘magic’ cubes.

Today when one walks through a city such as Dakar, it is difficult to

conceal the shock experienced before the staggering amount of campaigns

that advertise the stock cube’s benefits. Motorways, simple little

streets, markets, corner shops, restaurants: all are branded with their

logos. The stock cubes enter violently, but in silence, into the daily life

of the Senegalese, in Dakar as in the country’s rural communities. The

entire city thus becomes a large publicity space from which it’s almost

impossible to escape.

Through her unposed and from-life photos, Adji interrogates streets and

individuals by focusing her lens on details which tell us the long history

of these cubes and their effects on the consumer. In doing so, she reveals

at once the Senegalese obsession with the different brands of stock

cubes and the obsession that these brands have with the Senegalese - to

the point that we ask who, in reality, is consuming who.

In Dieye’s studio photos, we see the backdrop becoming the unifying element;

a suffocating all-over, despite being bright and colorful, that is

the only environment within which the women photographed by Dieye

can take their places. It is saturated with the logo of the fictitious brand

created by Dieye, ‘Maggic Cube’, a parody of one of the most well-known

stock cube manufacturers, and with the simple advice ‘Add it to cooking’

(or is it an order?).

The choice of colors is not insignificant either; red and yellow are colors that,

when placed together, provoke a psychological reaction that gives the impression

of having an appetite. Indeed, it is not a coincidence that the biggest producers

of stock cubes and fast-food chains use this color combination.

If Adji photographs women in her studio, it’s because it is to them that these

brands speak. Their marketing is based on the image of the wife and the mother,

the giver of nourishment. Society has given them a role within which they can

find themselves trapped. It is such that the artist represents them enclosed in

the environment she has created. As our gaze can’t escape from the brand nor

the logo, we are led to wonder where these women are looking - maybe towards

new horizons of freedom?

In this project, Adji explicitly references the west-African tradition of portrait photography

and the work of photographers such as Seydou Keïta, Mama Casset, and Oumar Ly. However, the recurring naturalism and ambiguous gaze towards

the camera in their work disappear in Dieye’s images. These women now play

with the lens, adopting a pose and engaging in a different relationship with the

spectator’s gaze. The tender magic of intimacy and family narratives disappears

for a more disillusioned, aware and enigmatic look.

The pose and the compositions they adopt reminds us of a commodified image

of the west- African imaginary, that should be familiar to those who mingle in the

contemporary African art milieu, and it’s not a coincidence.

Here Dieye is clearly subverting the codes of the homogenous conception of

“African art” that the art market has tried, and is still trying, to create, sell, exploit

and speculate upon.

She refers intentionally to old school photographers that have supposedly been

“discovered” and “made artists” a posteriori by the western art market. A market

that, while justly recognizing their artistic and aesthetic value, was also clearly

looking for new “goods” to sell in a period of economic inflation. In so doing,

Dieye exposes the commodification and branding of art and of African identities

that is going ever so rampant since the end of the XX century.

Text by Niccolo` Moscatelli

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