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
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