Reflecting on the Role of Socialist Movements in Africa
Using archival images and posters altered through photomontage and painting, Adji Dieye looks to explore the spread of socialist political ideologies throughout Africa and the traces they have left on the continent today.
Juxtaposing the real and the false, tampering with history itself, artist Adji Dieye gives us the possibility to look at this moment of history - too often absent from the main narrative - with fresh eyes, as if it was something coming from a parallel reality. The leaders and dictators become phantoms of themselves; not forgiven, but often forgotten by the West, they leave space for an orthodox ideology from which they usually distanced themselves. Soviet blocs in the jungle, constructivist towers and monuments in the middle of the savanna seem to describe a peculiar retro afro-future imagined 50 years ago. A possibility that never came to realisation but, perhaps for the precise reason that it never came to be, still fascinate us.
With her images of a past and an imagined communism in Africa, Dieye presents and preserves the last dream of a polycentric world where everything doesn’t have to pass under the surveillance of the neo-liberal (meaning “capitalist”) West. In this sense, it is not a case that the series opens with the portrait of a young Otto Huiswoud (above), the first black member of the American communist movement, blinded by two patches of red colour. A seer, he foreshadows the importance of leftist/Marxists ideas in the fight for the rights of black Americans and for the independence of African countries. At the same time, an image of the Bandung Conference, one of the first steps towards the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement, already shows us the fragility of this dream through its inexorable distortion.
While not idealising nor cleansing in any way the history that comes with the red fever, we have to note that the idea of choosing our own political system - and alignment - is today becoming more and more difficult to imagine, making this project ever more relevant.
Dieye continues to enquire into the possibility of a system-world without a monolithic structure through images of monuments and statues produced by North-Korean firm Mansudae Art Studio found all over the African continent. In this silenced and surreal relationship between the Hermit Kingdom and 16 different African countries, we find the contradiction of our post-westphalian world condition. Defying all agreements with the United Nations, countries like Namibia or Mozambique kept profitable accords with North Korea, becoming de facto a ring in a chain that moved money from the UN to the Pyongyang regime.
Only traces of this socialist genealogy of Africa, these monuments, red and flattened, open a discussion about the political power of representation and its impact over the construction of the identity of a people. Not shying away from a critique, Dieye points out the absurdity of the propaganda these monuments spread through their statements, putting them side by side with an almost playful and paper-like version of themselves.
The connection between these African countries and North Korea is also a sign of the ideological affinity between manifestations of the red fever and totalitarian regimes. Painting over images and posters of propaganda picked up from different contexts, Dieye strips them away of their specificity and makes us see them all through the same blurred naively coloured lens. No longer country-specific, the propaganda exposes itself for what it simply is: the universal language of deception used by totalitarian regimes to keep control over the population.
In a way, based on the modus operandi of the artist, we could say that this series is a work on propaganda and totalitarianism. In fact, the idea of editing past images to change and influence the present narrative has always been, amongst others, a soviet speciality - we just need to look for images of Lenin and Trotsky together or group photos of Stalin to realise that. This kind of operation undermines the unchecked association we all blindly accept between documentary images (i.e. photos) and truth, and so between documents and the writing of history. Using the same tools, even if more technologically advanced, the artist seems to finally warn us about the malleability of what we call “truth” and its influence over our view of history.
Pictures by Adji Dieye, with words by Niccolò Moscatelli.
Adji Dieye is an Italian-Senegalese artist based in Zurich. Her artistic practice is an attempt to investigate the archetypes and social symbols that constitute African visual cultures. Delving into the relationship between propaganda and the construction of precarious national identities, her work presents the political paradox of images. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.