Table Manners (2014-2016)
Table Manners (2014-2016) is a video series that sees individuals in the Niger Delta giving an eating performance for Zina’s camera. The viewer is encouraged to enter, sit down and enjoy the meal with the eaters. All the performers in the series use their hands to eat. At the end of each film the place of the filming is stated. This documentation simply serves to highlight that “an important ritual has taken place”. Saro-Wiwa states: “A powerful exchange takes place when one not only eats a meal but watches a meal being consumed. One is filled up with an unexplainable and potent metaphysical energy that we normally pay no attention to.” This work places a spotlight on and radicalizes this invisible force. The documentation of the meal and the place it was consumed forces the viewer to also ingest the names and cultural realities surrounding the oil production in the Niger Delta. Realities that are usually ignored or erased.
Although Table Manners’ provocative title speaks to colonially-instigated questions surrounding the manner in which Africans traditionally eat, the piece is, for Saro-Wiwa, really about place and power. The act of eating and consuming the food drawn from the land re-inscribes and re-insinuates the eater back into the landscape in a physical and metaphysical way, rendering a quotidian action into an act of defiance. The somewhat confrontational action speaks of agency, power, sexuality, ownership and stewardship. The performance is sublimated ritual and resistance. An act of insistence which takes on a particular resonance when considering the fractured relationship with the land that has been imposed on Niger Delta peoples over the last 100 years.
The work has been shown at Blaffer Art Museum, Houston; Tate Britain, London; The Walther Collection, NYC and Germany; Krannert Museum, Illinois, Prospect 4 in New Orleans and as part of the Landmarks Series at Austin University in April 2018, at Tiwani Gallery in London, at Art Basel Miami and at the Fowler Museum, LA amongst other institutions.