Obsessive Consumer Behavior in Check

I feature this article by Odun Orimolade DEVOURING MONSTERS: THE COSUMERIST CANNIBALS OF MAY OKAFOR’S APPLE TRAY INSTALLATION, written for May Okafor’s exhibition Of Consummates and Cannibalism at The Revolving Art Incubator, Silverbird Galleria, Lagos. 

 

Beasts of desire…

The installation “…Of Consummates and Cannibalism” by May Okafor addresses a systemised infiltration of the Nigerian commercial environment and society by extension. Off the beat Okafor assumes the stance of a satirist observing and in very Nigerian fashion challenging our status as a nation that is cannibalizing our future. In this she traces the evolution of our desires that have led us to blatant consumerism and how this trajectory has led us to the state of recession we are confronted with in contemporary Nigeria. Also how our over dependence on foreign goods and services plays out in our current situation. Okafor decries how we as a nation hardly export anything to the countries that we bequeath our economic reserve by promoting foreign education, health, technology, entertainment, food, and all other plethora of minuscule needs or wants we may have.screenshots_2017-02-13-15-13-35

The Apple fruit is the case study subject for Okafor’s visual discourse. In this she engages current trends in the open Nigerian fruit market as reference point for other local goods and commodity markets in the society. The apple is a fruit that is entirely imported into the Nigerian local market and in Okafor’s words has “become even more common than oranges and other home grown fruits”. Everything about it then is alien and instead of being exotic, it is as mundane and common as home-grown fruit in its popularity. As such the apple-packaging product (which becomes waste in a country that also has challenges in waste management) becomes material and a metaphor for consumerism and cannibalism. The Styrofoam apple packaging crates as the main material of the installation addresses the seemingly careless disposition of the nation towards importation and consumption of foreign goods.

Strangely enough, a lot of these products have nothing to do with direct advertising. Instead, they are based on social orientation. Majority of the Nigerian citizens are still under the colonial chains. This is such that what comes from outside, no matter what it is, is perceived to have better value and to be trusted than the domestic ones. This Okeke describes as not allowing people to think. Here mass consumption of foreign goods is drowning mass production of local goods. This makes people complacent and germinates a continued dependency that incapacitates (Okeke 2015).screenshots_2017-02-13-14-59-52-1

May Okafor uses a visual that employs ideas of the insatiable anthropophagic to demonstrate how an archetypal metaphorical subject of cannibalism appears in Nigerian daily life. This she approaches in the critique of social striving for consumerism that is anchored in a want for foreign goods and services. She postulates an ethical decadence that damages national development through an orientation of blind consumerism in favour of non-Nigerian goods and services. The prevalence of this kind of consumption is projected in the spread and the movement of her site-specific installation. The installation connotes the depth of developmental handicap that lies within the apparatus of orientation that fuels this consumer idealism. The installation visualises a bewilderingly poor minded society that results from an illogical and unconstructive drive to consume and acquire. The installation could be apprehended as an intensely dismal allegory depicting wastefulness and denied gumption in the weaving of our post colonial history as a nation. In this the accomplishments, knowledge and understanding that wisps as part of our pre colonial history become fables of a different people. These qualities are inapplicable in our modern day development where we are largely dependent on external accomplishments and cultures while eating out avenues of progressive internal exploration. Through her work, Okafor presents a mirror that affirms we are cannibals of foreign consumerism. We have adopted a consumer culture of unconscionable appetite for imported items with the equivalent local ones suffering negligence and large scale derision.

The results are grotesque, much like the literal definition of cannibalism. In her work, Okafor links the object of the package to cannibalism through the consumption of the commodity. This she uses as a reference for all other consumables in goods or as services within the Nigerian market.

As a people, we succumb to the mental attitudes related to the phenomena of pleasure and euphoria that does not add up to satisfaction. We easily become addicted to things of vainglory rather than positive sociocultural/ socioeconomic things. This describes the counterfeit culture that is in fierce battle with self sustenance, sufficiency and self approval that revolves around the consumption of foreign produce huge quantities and cheaper prices. In this case the physical product not what feeds the need, rather it is the fact that it comes from outside the locality. It feeds the delusion of lack of self worth, while feeding into the concept of mediocrity and fuelling this hunger to ‘be like’ or elevate by adoption. The deception is that it only panders to the feeling of being better or attaining some elevation in the adoption of something foreign as an after effects of self loathing that may be accrued to demoralisation through the influence of a colonized mental state. These social challenges are associated with the arguments of decolonization.

screenshots_2017-02-13-15-21-06With her installations, Okafor highlights this self deception and beguilement by popular culture that has overrun the Nigerian market and by extension the society. This is a developmental wealth destruction that has a very parasitic effect on national development. As a nation, our craving for foreign goods have made us import items that we have better alternatives to in our local environment. Thus the gains are privatised and the loses entirely socialised as we embrace the negative aspect of our import consumer culture.

The physical installation imbibes a constellation of forms similar to that of tadpoles cut from the Styrofoam apple crates. This Okafor intimates that by nature tadpoles become cannibalistic when there is inadequate food or space. This trait is likened to the infiltration of imported goods in the Nigerian open market and how they completely overrun locally made goods. The organic swirls and turns of the installation echo the unpredictability of the corruption that fuels the spread and growth of the kind consuming products that beguile our populace out of miss-orientation.

Meaning is garnered from the very material of the apple tray itself as much as the development of form that Okafor pushes with action of cutting. This performative quality that is embedded into the process of the installation brings the closeness to the issue in individual experience of the activity. The action to disseminate through cutting or the development of new form from pre existing form advocates re orientation and re shaping of the value system and channelled thought processes concerning the issue at hand leaning to the idea of restructuring of dispositions to the ideas behind the actions that create the installation and the reference to contemporary Nigerian consumerism. The form here follows function and lends a subjected honesty to the generation of the resulting form. This is helped by the evidentiary quality of the material used. It adjuncts the plausibility that it does not just represent but the sensual experience navigates the audience through the experience developing new knowledge and reflection by interaction.

In relation of the material to the subject in itself the composition, it poses characteristics of that which does not degenerate fast. This reference lends itself to the strength of the orientation of the consumerist culture. On the other hand it is also has the characteristic of being a very highly flammable substance that would disintegrate and could likely expand in its reach of destructiveness. This speaks to the idea of eradication alongside concepts of adopted imported ideas that do not favour the development of the Nigerian economy. This is supported in Derrida’s reaction to the issue of material in the process of deconstruction and the value of its etymology and beginnings within the issue of the discourse itself. He was of the opinion that every structural phenomenon has a history and the structure cannot be understood without understanding his genesis. This brings us right back to the apple and its place in the Nigerian market as a position point for all other goods and services that occupy dominating positions in the flow of the commercial industry. Through the chopping, cutting and shaping of form, Okafor mixes cynicism with productivity to create an enlivening aura for the required reflection desired for re orientation. The installation ambiguously removes the tray object from its functional context at the same time retains a contiguous alley to that function in itself and the broader extensions of meaning and the realities that it highlights.

The site specific nature of the installation opens up for a fundamental condition of free-flowing intensities for expression; it also underlines the mutative quality of the issue being addressed in that it permeates a plethora of areas of commercial activity in the Nigerian society. The developed form is allowed to grow into any length to which its materiality can extend at the same time existing within the impetus of the artist as a communicative system where she can curb and puppeteer her visual narrative.

Okafor’s installation aims to cut and rework perceptions of what has gradually invented itself as a norm within our social culture. This she does by exposing its ferocity and generative qualities in consuming the hopes of progressive development and self approval within an over bearing pressure of influence through past colonial states, pop culture and systematic orientation. Her presentation of the blatantly apparent yet unseen evidences and reconstructing their manifestations in their occupation of local commercial space, forces a review and reflection of their means and access within our environment. The ruins of the deconstructed Styrofoam tray in the installation create avenues for new intensities of experiencing the mundane and apparent and challenge a notion of human agency that fortifies the monsters that we allow to feed on our society.

 

Bibliography

Cazeaux, C. (2014). Review of Beistegui, Aesthetics After Metaphysics: From Mimesis to Metaphor British Journal of Aesthetics 54(4): 499–504.

Dominy, JJ. (2015) Cannibalism, Consumerism, and Profanation: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the End of Capitalism. The Cormac McCarthy Journal. Vol. 13, No. 1 pp. 143-158 US: The Pennsylvania State University Press.DOI: 10.5325/cormmccaj.13.1.0143.

Brunette, P. and Wills, D. (1994) Eds. Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nicolaides, A. (2012) Globalisation and Americanisation – the hijacking of indigenous African culture. Global Advanced Research Journal of History, Political Science and International Relations Vol. 1(6) pp. 118-131Global Advanced Research Journals.

By Odun Orimolade, 2017

(This article was published with permission. Odun Orimolade is recipient of several academic awards, including the Prof. Y. A. Grillo award (1998), Nigerian Cards Ltd Award (1998), Rector’s Award for Academic Excellence (1998), Jeromelaiho and Associate Award (1998), Insight Communication Award (1998), Fasuyi Art Prize (1998) and Conrad Theys Bursary Award, South Africa (2011)

Sighting Nelson Overhead

It was a sunny afternoon in Maboneng

I passed by two friendly lovers

That mingled with the shades

Overhead loomed gigantic portrait of bare-chested Nelson

Poised as though ready to take on Amin

It was a beautiful portrait

But again, should I envy a man in his prime

After helping him regain his father’s throne,

Myself, a fellow prince?

 

To all casualties of Xenophobia, dead and yet living. 28/02/2017.

To Build, Work= Effort over Time

In this Q and A session, Mathijs discusses the purpose of it all, the mystical Louis Kahn, Russian Constructivism, of Hybrids, work in progress in a functioning library, and reasons (or not) To Build, among other things. 
AN: What is your sense of Structure and Space?
ML: Well in my opinion there is no such thing as ‘mere space’. We humans always, in one way or another, see space as having particular characteristics.  Space comes with rules, with identity, which a set of parameters what we perceive this space to allow us to do or not. And each space tells us how to behave in it.
AN: In this project at the library, your work seems to question these parameters.

You use space as though to counter the set rules? 
ML: Well in my opinion there is no such thing as ‘mere space’. We humans always, in one way or another, see space as having particular characteristics. 

Space comes with rules, with identity, which a set of parameters what we perceive this space to allow us to do or not.

Each space tells us how to behave in it
AN: In this project at the library, your work seems to question these parameters.

You use space as though to counter the set rules?
ML: Yes and no. I am aware this is a difficult answer to your question. The thing I am building in the library has really no purpose at all. And I think it is a good thing I am allowed the space in the library to do so. I could also get space at FNB (First National Bank) I think, if I would work them for some time.

But there it would serve a very clear purpose, it would be the same structure, FNB loves Art, but I would most likely be tool for their PR department; same story in Maboneng, where Art is instrumentalised for gentrification.

In the library I can do something without it being instrumentalised.

So the library itself is not really setting up many rules for how I should use the space.

I can build stuff there that will be mostly incomprehensible for viewers at first sight.

AN:  Where does your work seek a connection, then?

With your audience here, I mean.

ML: I want to build stuff that escapes the ‘question/ answer’ paradigm
AN: Create a void in the subconscious?
ML: I want to connect to my audience by building something of which they will think: this somehow suggests a purpose, but hell: we can’t figure out what purpose

But it clearly must be good for something this thing these people are constructing, because it is highly complex. There is tremendous effort being put into it. They work for weeks- it must be good for something, right? Otherwise, why all this effort and why this very complex design!
An: TO BUILD underlines the basic definition of Work. Work equals effort over time.

Internationally, what do you think about the architectural structures around?
ML: I love Louis Kahn (the American modernist architect)

When I was visiting a friend in Boston, the only time I ever was in the States, I visited one of his buildings- the Philip Exeter Academy.

There are some small similarities between how he handles geometric shapes and my approach.

His buildings are a sophisticated balance of simple geometric shapes.
AN: “A great building must begin with the immeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable”, he said.
ML: He’s a bit of a mystic in his speaking I think.

I never really understand the guy. But I do understand his buildings when I walk around in them.
AN: But surely you understand ‘Architecture is the reaching out for the truth’?
ML: What could that mean!

With Kahn I see a man that sketched simple geometric shapes, and then somehow, mysteriously creates order in them of the most fascinating quality.
AN: You said it- he speaks about the spiritual air of a building.

The Philip Exeter Academy has those crisscrossing lines similar to what you do in your work
MA: Yes.

I really recognize something in how he deals with space.
AN: What do you think of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture?
ML: I’ve never been inside any of his buildings. I know the images, but for my taste it is perhaps too organic.

I see the quality, and the buildings must be great.
AN: Ok. Your work emphasizes geometry.
ML: But I always like straight Modernism or Art Deco leading up to it more.
AN: Like the Bauhaus?
ML: I am very fascinated by Bauhaus.

Also, the hybrid they tried to make of all disciplines.

Russian Constructivism.
AN: Hybrids. I think that is what your installation/performance is all about
MA: I think you are right. I am not an architect, but people always ask me if I am one, or an engineer.
AN: Hybrid life in the 21st century
MA: What would that be- hybrid life nowadays?

The way I am handling that now is really new for me.

This is the first project that really puts the centre point of my project outside of the installation itself.
AN: The beauty will be to sync all into a ‘whole’ body of work.

Is there a possibility of relocating this work in other spaces?
ML: The system, the wood grid, can be done in many places. But the connection it makes with the location is site-specific. Not to say that the library location is completely unique and one of a kind.
AN: But it is
ML: Well it might be, yes.
AN: Because you can never replicate the library anywhere else, with the people flowing into the building, its location, etc.
ML: Exactly. There are similarities with earlier projects. The one in the shopping mall was similar, but certainly not identical
AN:  Of course, that shows a rhythm.
ML: It is difficult to find locations, as I want to use. I need a public place that allows for a mix of my work and the location. But I also need some sort of a retreat in that space- to be able to work in relative quiet.
AN: That precludes open spaces outdoors
ML: The problem with open spaces will be: my work will become a sculpture, or a monument.
AN: Apart from being created in a place of ‘too much’ external?
ML: I need some sort of intimacy for my work. Wide-open spaces don’t provide that.
AN: What is the duration of this installation/performance?
ML: We started on the first of February (2017), and the process will continue until the end of April- 3 months.

Building up the work, making it more complex, but also taking it away again. There will be no moment when the work is finished.
AN: Construct, deconstruct, show voids.
ML: It takes another breed of artist than me to make a piece that will stay where it is.
AN: Are you making any connections between the installation and the primary function of this particular space? The Library?
ML: Well… it is a very open place. There is the studio, which operates in the limelight of the library system. It is there, it is hidden a bit, it is not very official, but it is there. And it is open to society in the best way possible in that building (the Johannesburg City Library). Also, it is free-no entrance fee. Everybody can use a table to study there. I also like the fact that therefore access to my art will be free. It is a place to explore ideas, to encounter stuff you were not looking for but stumble upon when checking the books.
AN: Your work brings in ‘noise’. Do you think it does not detract?
ML: We are in a peculiar spot in the library. The big open spaces we use are ‘half there’. They are in-between the old library and the new parts built into it in 2012. We are strangely very visible but at the same time a bit out of sight. We do any noisy work before opening hours, or in a nearby studio. 
AN: Ok. The joining is done in plain view?
ML: Yes, but that is very quiet work. And we are in a very deep space. The people studying are not disturbed
AN: Your work is full of repetitions, of hexagonal shapes, crisscrossing lines

ML: Repetition it is, yes.
AN: Interceptions, and optical intrusion on space. What other elements play on what you are doing?
ML: The use of wood. That has its own will, and it is handwork. It is precise but not.
AN: Wood-organic and a bit pliant. It’s a very basic material to build with.

ML: More basic would be clay
AN:  Do you nail the joints?
ML: Everything fits together with bolts and nuts. We drill holes and fix parts together with bolts and nuts- like meccano.
AN: Will the structure be freestanding, or cling to the interior of the library for support?
ML: We will lift it, with hoists. I would prefer to connect with the library walls, but the building is very fragile. So I think it will be more or less free from the walls. But I will do my best to connect to the actual library building to avoid a structure that appears to be detached from it.
AN: Thanks, Mathijs. We are done for this set. 
From a chat on Facebook Messenger, 10am, February 16, 2017

The Unrepresented Grew Familiar, Closer

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At first they seemed like the opposition. Then they became the masses, then the line of separation was drawn. They were many; the unrepresented soon showed how they had become the ‘majority’. Though they stayed under, their voices soon started wearing recognizable faces in the din of mourning voices in the cities and villages. Suddenly, everyone knew the suffering ones by name- You, I and Theirs. We gathered together, soon we will become their nightmare. Soon after ours is gone with the dawn.

Lines of Thought, Colour Body

A work of art can have a line of thought that suggests, an energy that moves you. It is fleeting, like a lingering kiss from a waking dream. The work represents the body of an artist’s history, his ‘matter’ in a way that reflects all that he struggles with. It can be torture being so personal, unveiling before the same raping public. In brief moments of tranquility, one remembers that everything must pass away in time. Abstract art puts words to the deepest emotions in such a concrete way. The message is obvious to the extent of causing laughter. Such an emotion does not suit the moment of execution, of course.

Bloody Cattle, Bullshit System

Some months back, I promised a friend that the series A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills will be pushed till I have a thousand artworks! Not being the most meticulous person/ artist, I have not been counting. I could always stop at some point and ask anyone to also add the number of ‘cattle’ portrayed in the pieces as ‘individual cattle’! ‘They say the system works but we wont let it(sang Tracy Chapman) I am still looking for that system. There is a formal redirection towards a disintegrating world, where bedlam reigns and colour Red is the new Green. Reality is a horror movie of whirling beasts floating in space. Its all bullshit, really. Await another life, or wake up screaming.img_0115web

How Merry the lights?

What could be wrong with a Christmas that has more hangout joints than I can recall all my life? The groove is as close as downstairs from me! One of the new joints sells all sorts of pepper soup and drinks, and, wait for it- the best music on Planet Earth- Bongo Music!!!

I should be having a blast, right? Kim is keeping my feet warm on this balcony, and the sound and occasional sparks of exploding knockouts, fireworks add to the air of festivity. The thing is, the hangout joints are a bit empty. My house is empty, save for Kim.

There have been Christmas days when we would squeeze for room in the big building with 9 rooms! Now the rooms are silent, and echo a sadness that is heartrending. I cannot stop writing about the dullness of this particular Christmas without throwing blame at Buhari, and his government. We had some expectation for great days ahead. All we get daily is one day, more drama. Bad gets worse and revoking it will remain in the far future.

My friends that couldn’t make this Christmas are just missing the aura of anticipation hanging in the air. The Lakecity Film Festival had happened at the Crystal Lake Resort, Eng. Ernest Nwapa’s phenomenal, and spectacular holiday resort and hotel. Things are happening. One should get involved. After all, life is downstairs. Fantastic music. It will still be an awesome Christmas. The year has been quite fruitful. After the stocktaking, we look to cash in on the merits of the passing year.