Ndidi Dike’s “Commodities of Consumption” part of Goethe’s “Echoes of the South Atlantic” project

Ndidi Dike has emerged one of 11 artists selected for the Echoes of the South Atlantic project by Goethe Institute tagged “Carnival in the making”.

Her critically acclaimed 2020 “Commodities of Consumption and Sites of Extraction in the Global South Installation” exhibition (click to read review) has not only continued to reverberate in the art circles but has also gained traction with everyday art enthusiasts. Her inclusion in this project by the German cultural organisation is another clear indication of how far reaching the works showcased in the said exhibition have been.

Goethe invites those interested to “explore the dynamic play of similarities and differences through these connections linking the projects”.

An excerpt from the Curatorial Statement notes that: “We imagine a virtual holding space, suspended in time, an unabashed counter-museum of unfinished projects, performances, films, installations— throbbing with the expectation of being reimagined, reframed and realised—some day. Jottings, doodles, scribblings, footage, half-hummed melodies, shuffling feet. A carnival in the making, which exhales the reverberations of an unforeseeable but hopeful future across the South Atlantic, and beyond.”

Ndidi Dike toes this line in her works where she posts a question:“My question then is, while we consume these products, how can we remember the inhumane conditions under which they were acquired or produced? Do we remember the atrocities committed during the extraction process?”

Her 3D digital installation takes consumer products connected to the transatlantic slave trade – along with current global commodity markets – and highlights their materiality as potent metaphors.

Four key products are addressed in the work, each engaged through bespoke cake stands dedicated to a particular product: Gold, Cotton, Indigo and Vanilla.

This work, she states, speaks both to the coloniser and the complicity of the colonised by examining the dominant economic and political power structures derived from the transatlantic slave trade.
“Key here is the reality that it was not only about the sheer number of people enslaved and forced to migrate, but also about the kinds of impact such movement had on the meaning of objects that became resources and commodities during this dark history. It is about the geographic spaces, too that became sites of extraction, not only of people but of goods,” Ndidi Dike says.

She deploys the three-tier cake stand and paper doilies that are commonplace in British high tea ceremonies as recurring modes of display in the work. The cake stand metonymically symbolises colonial powers in the transatlantic space, and their stacking of resources used to prop up and feed European industrial economies.

“In my work I connect these devices and metaphors with the materiality of the products from some of the seaports and ‘sites of extraction’ along the West African coast, commonly referred to as the Gulf of Guinea. The ultimate effect is such as that visitors are able to meander through the installation, experiencing at once the actual products, natural resources, and the photographic representations of these objects through imagery detailing their production (from raw to processed), geographic sites of origin, and movement throughout the world. The movement of the visitor’s body, their gaze, throughout the installation works to model the specific linkages between sites and ports, from beginning to end. Each stand rests on tables carefully covered with tablecloth imprinted with evocative bodies of the infamous Brooks Slave Plans, which impresses the point that commodity production and consumption, historically depended on the labour and land of the enslaved,” the artist states.

Each resource-cake stand unit within the overall installation depicts the varied stages and life of the processes that eventually become the commodities of consumption. The stands are situated within a tableau of hanging photographic transparencies, each similarly dedicated to one of the four products or natural resources. These hanging transparencies feature layered photographs, collages, reworked imagery and symbols, derived from both the artist’s personal archive of images assembled through research and site visits, as well as imagery publicly available online.

Ndidi Dike says that her interest in cotton farming stems from its agricultural history and cultivation viewed as a luxury commodity that also turned human beings into mass consumer commodities during the transatlantic slave trade.

History records that these are two of the products that laid the foundation for industrialisation, and the rise of modern capitalism in the world as promoted by imperial powers in the global North.

Of gold the artist shares that many enslaved subjects taken from Elmina castle from Ghana to Brazil were known and selected for their expert gold smithing skills.

“Although, gold is commonly spoken about as a product of slavery, I took a particular interest in the history of this resource during my trip to Belo Horizonte in Brazil in 2017. There I learned about a historically disused gold mine called Ouro Preto (meaning black gold), which was founded in 1698 in a mineral rich city in the state of Minas Geras, a former Portuguese colony in the eastern part of Brazil. Our guide informed us that a large majority of the enslaved population specifically came from Ghana, and were chosen by the Portuguese, because of their previous knowledge and history of gold smiting traditions, which could be used in Brazil’s mining, excavation, panning and gold smiting industry,” she states.

The gold stand introduces viewers to material narratives that focus on the solid mineral and mining industry of this resource, which is one of the most profitable minerals on the planet; the world’s largest deposits are found in South Africa, Ghana, Mali and Congo (DRC).

Indigo, a dye from Africa, an organic blue substance extracted from a plant (leaves) known as genus Indigofera and imported processed vanilla beans, complete the installation.

The artist says the time-consuming and extremely labour-intensive indigo process went through many stages as slaves that planted, tended, weeded and harvested the crop, were different from the highly skilled slaves who actually produced the dye.

The indigo stand displays the dried pounded leaves of the indigo plant, which have been shaped into balls for future storage.

Vanilla — perhaps the world’s favourite aroma and flavour — is often associated with a pleasant taste of ice cream, or the taste of a beautiful fluffy and light vanilla cake and its wonderful aroma. The largest producer of vanilla in the world, Madagascar, a small developing island found of the southeast coast of Africa with a population of over 26 million people opposite Mozambique. The West’s unprecedented taste and desire for vanilla leads to wars, death and extra-judicial killings, and significantly, deforestation where trees are felled to make way for lucrative production of vanilla farms, consequently damaging the already fragile ecosystems.

The cake-stand showcases imported processed vanilla beans inside bar-coded glass test tube containers and other vanilla-infused products.

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