Fatimah Tuggar

Art & Public

While the expansion of cyberspace continues at breakneck speed, one tends to forget that, overall, less than 5 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet. The result is what critic Olu Oguibe has called a new set of “forsaken geographies” where the absence of computer technology, or the literacy to use it, is creating more rigid borders demarcating and further isolating whole populations—including most of postcolonial Africa. Fatimah Tuggar takes a similar idea of boundaries between haves and have-nots as a starting point, but rather than simply pointing out differences between so-called first and third worlds, she melds and meshes images of them to simultaneously accentuate and collapse those differences.

In this, her first one-person show in Europe, Tuggar presented thirteen large photographic works and her most recent project, a video titled Fusion Cuisine, 2000. The computer-assisted photomontages, which date from 1995 to the present, are pastiches of found images and her own photographs, which typically represent the domestic and quotidian activities of rural Nigerian women. The largest of these, Inna’s Recipe 1,1999, functioned as the show’s centerpiece. In it a woman wearing brightly colored clothing and a head scarf sits on the ground preparing an elaborate meal, surrounded by fragments of picture-postcard architecture (an Indian palace, Big Ben, an ancient Greek colonnade, the facade of a Gothic cathedral). Some of the buildings stick out of pots and bowls like mixing spoons and measuring utensils. In another, In Touch, 1998, a woman sitting inside a mud-and-grass hut intently studies a Koranic board, typically the privilege of men in rural societies; on the floor next to her are instruments of modem urban communication: a fax machine, electronic organizer, and Rolodex.

In her video, Tuggar combines archival television footage (mostly from the 50s) of propaganda aimed at convincing middle-class American women that a “technological revolution” was at hand, with housework soon to be aided by a myriad of electronic gadgets or accomplished by robots—a development that promised to change lives of repetitive labor into ones of perpetual leisure. Spliced and cut into the footage are contemporary scenes of women in traditional African dress who perform similar domestic tasks but without the benefit of such shiny, newfangled tools. In another segment, this time in black-and-white, a Western family uses its now abundant free time to watch a home movie: a color, super-8 rendition of another family’s gathering, a Nigerian birthday party where children and adults dressed in both traditional African and Western clothing circulate around a table filled with food.

Tuggar seems to use computer imaging not so much to mask the flaws in the pictures she chooses or hide her process (the cuts and pastes remain intentionally visible) but rather to underscore the fact that one’s understanding of another culture usually relies on a tightly constructed (and often ideologically tinged) version of the truth. She makes the case that technology, both high and low, in industrial and developing countries, is a tool used for basic survival and development but also to control, influence, distort, and reinforce the status quo.

Elizabeth Janus