The Gaze on Agbogbloshie: The misrepresentation of West Africa as dystopia


This project intends to explore the misrepresentation of Agbogbloshie and the resulting socio-economic reality. Agbogbloshie is portrayed as the continent’s largest electrical wasteland; in truth it is a functional, profit-making recycling network. The conditions are harsh and pollution is rife but its inhabitants manage to live, work and save money for their families. In the last decade, Agbogbloshie has received an influx of western media attention depicting the displaced African as an aesthetic. The area receives regular visits from European journalists, academic researchers and photographers who frame their works according to a historical distortion of the African identity. The young boys who reside on the site are the most exploited group in the informal hierarchy of the recyclers. Images, interviews and even blood samples have been obtained in exchange for help. However, the majority of these researchers do not return or contact the boys after the data has been collected. The alienation felt by the boys is cultivated through these researchers who present the cultural baggage of European idealism within their projects. Through an inquest of interviews, visual methodology and fieldwork, this exposition has attempted to challenge these misrepresentations. The western gaze, that which perpetuates the archetype of Agbogbloshie as a dystopia, has overridden the ethics of planned obsolescence embedded in digital commodities. The work intends to exaggerate these discrepancies creating an embellishment of the visual aesthetic whilst confronting our obsession with African poverty.


Nominated for Prix Pictet award, Space.

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"Ok. The White people also come, they will come here and say they will give you job, they will just organise you with something. They said they will find the job for you, so if you allow them to take you the picture, they will give you job so you allow them. Sitting down explaining to them, they tell us to explain everything to them and they will write it and go. They no gon come back. So they just come and tell you story and go. They be big liars!" (Issac H, 17)

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"You, white man, we don’t want you here" 

"Hey, don’t sign they will sell you to white people"

"You sign, you are a fool, you are a fool"

"You are a stupid idiot, I know why you are here, I know what you want"

"White man, give me dollars?"

"This girl is even a Ghanaian and she is here"

"I know your tricks we will be all over telly"

"They are coming to make money."

(Statements extracted from Field notes 19/06/14)

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“You know psychologically now they don’t trust because the journalists are always promising and all this affects them psychologically because the promise that they make they never fulfil the promise, so now the boys find it very difficult to trust. Because people see them like animals they also want to treat people like animals because of what other other journalists have done. You remember from the plastic department how they were behaving. They are behaving that way because of what the previous journalist that have been here, have promised, that made them to behave so. Its cause they lack trust in humanity” (William A, 28)
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TALK: LIFE OF ELECTRONICS  @ UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

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