Zina Saro-Wiwa

Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion
500 East Peabody Drive, MC-592
November 17, 2016–March 25, 2017

Zina Saro-Wiwa, Barisuka Eats Roasted Ice Fish and Mu, 2014–15, digital video, color, sound, 5 minutes, 22 seconds. From the series “Table Manners,” 2014–15.

Questions of ecology lie at the core of Zina Saro-Wiwa’s exhibition, though her approach to the subject includes more than addressing the natural environment. The show features works produced by the artist since 2013, when she moved from Brooklyn to her birthplace of Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Her photography and videos represent a reconnection to and an exploration and celebration of her homeland, even as it suffers dramatic environmental degradation from rampant oil extraction. Karikpo Pipeline, 2015, a multichannel video presented across five LCD screens, envelops the viewer in the verdant lusciousness of Ogoniland, a landscape riven by signs of an industry’s rapacious intrusions. Masked dancers lunge and flip their way toward the camera in a performance of Karikpo, a whimsical acrobatic masquerade that’s a mainstay of Ogoni festivals. An antelope-horned visage leaps through the video like an avatar of local cultural tradition that calls forth a future where the welfare of Africa’s people and land are considered inseparable. These intersections of nature, technology, and cultural tradition are exemplary of the artist’s boundary-blurring examination of environmental issues in the Niger Delta.

Another multichannel series of videos, “Table Manners,” 2014–15, demonstrates the simple act of eating as one such point of collision. Shown across eight televisions radially aligned amid a pile of periwinkle shells, the piece achieves a quiet grace by simply displaying footage of Ogoni men and women as they eat. Their stares, which meet our gaze with wordless potency, draw us into an everyday reality in which identity can be articulated through small variations in the straightforward consumption of food. These seemingly insignificant gestures beckon the viewer into an intimate bond with the eight diners, an alternative relationship based on more than what we can extract from their world.

— Dan Jakubowski