On Brown Goods

Karimah Ashadu, Brown Goods (Film Loop), 2020, courtesy of the artist


On Brown Goods

Karimah Ashadu Describes the Limbo Within Capitalism

What is wellbeing, if it is not accessible to everyone?

This is one of many questions that Karimah Ashadu tries to grasp with her video works. She is a British-born Nigerian artist living and working between Hamburg, Lagos and London. Her practice is concerned with labor, patriarchy and notions of independence pertaining to the socio-economic and socio-cultural context of West Africa. Some of Ashadu’s protagonists are migrants who have been forced to leave their homes due to economic and environmental crises. They have weathered the seas, traveling precariously across the Atlantic by boat.

Artworks like hers have, like social movements, political implications. They are an attempt – some softly, others with rage – to make us see beyond: beyond climate change, beyond borders, beyond resource depletion, beyond colonial relations. “Beyond”, wrote Homi Bhabha, fellow at THE NEW INSTITUTE, almost thirty years ago, “is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past.” If that’s where we are now, then we are completely disoriented in a world of sophisticated and well-orchestrated economies of conflicts and division.

The very presence of forcibly displaced individuals and immigrants in Europe due to economic and environmental crises today fuels the narratives of those in power. By allowing treacherous stereotypes to flood the shrinking common ground left with those on the other side of the war, new forms of racial and social discrimination are created. Nationalism is blocking us from de-escalating the anger towards everything that does not represent itself as “the West”, while prices keep working people hostage in an epistemic limbo within capitalism.

Brown Goods (excerpt), 2020. HD digital film, colour with sound - single channel. courtesy the artist

The video “Brown Goods” shows migrants who eventually end up in the free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg – its historical harbor regarded as a gateway to the global world of trade. At Billstrasse, old cars, fridges, TVs, even fire trucks are sorted and wrapped by the migrants to be shipped to their home countries in the Global South. “Brown Goods” is a widely used colloquial term for electronic consumables. The play on words offers insight into the film’s themes of race and value, population and pollution, growth and decay, power and oppression.

At this moment in time, when cultural differences are caught between our own projections and the caducity of exponential growth, desire and extinction, meaning and performance, transgression and abstraction, reality shows and the virality of war images, to go beyond is today’s kind of tourism. It is also our responsibility to change course. In the face of acts of epistemic violence, the arts are on the bastions of reflection.

Text by María Inés Plaza Lazo.

| stay informed | stay connected


What is happening at THE NEW INSTITUTE? Step inside by following our institutional newsletter, which ties together the work of our fellows and programs, where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.


We use cookies to measure how often our site is visited and how it is used. You can withdraw your consent at any time with effect for the future. For further information, please refer to our privacy policy.