“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 product that hides however a much darker truth. Wishing as a starting point to unveil and critique the impact of products 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 and their adverts enter violently, but almost in silence, into the daily life of the Senegalese, in Dakar as in the country’s rural zones.
The entire city thus becomes a large publicity space from which no one can escape. Thanks to her unposed and from-life photos, Adji shows us with neutrality the reality experienced by the local population. She interrogates streets and individuals by focusing her lens on several details, always different, which tell us the long history of these products 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. Adji explicitly references the 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 the work of these photographers disappears in Adji’s studio photos. These women surrender themselves to Dieye’s lens, adopting the pose that they feel fits them best and engaging in a new relationship with the camera. They are disillusioned, sometimes snobbish. All of the magic has disappeared.
The unifying element of this study is without a doubt the backdrop; a suffocating all-over, despite being bright and colourful, that is the only environment within which the women photographed by Adji can take their places. It is saturated with the logo of the fictitious brand created by Dieye, ‘Maggic’, 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 colours is not insignificant either; red and yellow are colours which, 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, like fast-food chains, use this colour
Text by Niccolò Moscatelli
Maggic cube investigation by Andrea de Georgio PDF