Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is Pieter Hugo's work maturing?

It’s like the tide of a highly polluted sea has fallen back, leaving behind the detritus of a defunct technological civilisation. The empty shells of computer monitors are positioned face-down and like entwined threads of seaweed are piles of tangled webs of wire cabling. The assortment of broken, chipped and weather-beaten motherboards and hard drives that are strewn haphazardly around the landscape look like they have been damaged by a violent sea that has pounded them against rocks. A broken keyboard lies half-buried in the soil, like the skeleton of a dead fish. The people who wander along this uninhabitable locale wear dirty, threadbare clothing. They are like victims of a shipwreck who, deposited on some foreign land, must learn to adapt if they are to |survive.

This scenario might be the stuff of a sci-fi maritime fictional yarn but it is real:  it is the Agbogbloshie Market in Accra, Ghana, where tons of the West’s digital waste is dumped each year in an effort to bridge the digital divide between the First and Third Worlds. The community that scrounges for a living off this dump site burns these disused objects to extract copper – a process that pollutes and destroys the natural environment. Thus, in quite an obvious way, Hugo’s series of photographs of the Agbogbloshie Market demonstrates not just the skewed relations between the West and Africa but the duplicity of Western benevolence.