Saro-Wiwa, Zina


Nigerian, b. 1976; lives and works in New York City and the Niger Delta, Nigeria


Comprised of a series of multi-channel videos, Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Table Manners (2014-2016) depicts different individuals – Ogoni men and women – eating a variety of customary dishes in front of the artist’s camera, evocatively rendering culturally specific aspects of Niger Delta life through an affective prism of art and politics.

Meditative and reparative, Saro-Wiwa’s performative moving image episodes are staged against colorful backdrops constructed from locally sourced materials, the camera lingering until the portrayed figure has consumed their dish fully, defiantly confronting the viewer throughout, who becomes, in effect, a dining partner partaking in the visceral pleasures of eating.

As a provocation and intimate dialogue on the racial commodification of food and culture – a riposte to colonial power dynamics, playfully interrogating complex notions taste and pleasure, Table Manners alludes to the historical disregard for local eating practices, and instead, with both humor and sincerity, emphasizes gestures of resistance and insistence and joy while asking pertinent bio-political questions about communal and collective acts of memory-making and diasporic imaginaries, geography, subjectivity and belonging.

Saro-Wiwa’s protagonists refuse voyeuristic impulses as they unapologetically gaze back at the viewer, consuming their meal on their own terms and according to their own individual, intricate rhythms. Each work is titled after the name of both the performer and the dish, and the place where the meal is taken, inviting the viewer to not only consume the language of the site, but also to confront their own prejudices, discomforts and desires. For Saro-Wiwa, Table Manners is about reclamation, place and power – an immersive act of re-inscription that restores her subjects’ relationship to an economically exploited terrain: in the artist’s words, reinserting them ‘back into a landscape that is very much theirs, despite repeated and often catastrophic intervention from outside forces.’

Text adapted from the artist’s website 


Artworks by Saro-Wiwa, Zina

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