The water drop that makes the difference

Article published on April 5, 2012
Article published on April 5, 2012
By Joëlle Verstraeten The conceptual artist Sam Hopkins presents his latest exhibition ‘Dead insects in my parents' pool’ (2010), curated by Samantha Ripa di Meana at Roots Contemporary in Brussels. Through an installation of light boxes, he explores the absurd situation concerning water resources in Kenya.

When you see images from Kenya, often children are portrayed with swollen bellies or people in need. Off course those images are reality but there are many other images too. I’m interested in broadening that narrow bandwidth of images.’, says Sam Hopkins.

How is Africa represented in Europe? As the artist spends a lot of time between Germany, England and Kenya, this question preoccupies him. Sam Hopkins spent his childhood in Kenya. For most of the population water is both scarce and a luxury. But for families like Sam's, water was not an issue; they had enough to swim in, let alone to drink. Looking back on that time, the artist's insights into mortality were extended to the drowning insects which he would try and save in the swimming pool.

Today, those insects play a key role in investigating a whole development discourse. Those bugs are casualties of too much water, while most of the Kenyan population does not have any. Symbolically speaking they are a powerful reflection on the extremity and absurdity of the wealth gap. The focus on the drowned insect as metaphor is reinforced by the presentation; the 28 insects are displayed almost as scientific specimens, positioned in the centre of a square image on a backlit light box made of acrylic and aluminum. At first sight, they’re taken out of context. If you take a closer look, you’ll see the tiles that remind you of a swimming pool.

Sam Hopkins works in various media, sometimes on projects such as Slum TV, that take several years to build and have a tangible political impact. Other works, such as this, are intended to work on a more provocative and metaphorical level. As he says, it is a work intended to ‘Acknowledge your position’. Businessmen and NGO workers, Kenyan and European; many of the upper middle class have extreme privileges in Kenya. They don’t have to worry about water, which is piped to their door. Whilst, perversely, the majority of the population pay five times the price of piped water for a container of water to be hand-carried home. It is nothing new that rich and poor exist in the world, but the sheer distance between these two worlds is what this installation seems to try and visualize.

Sam Hopkins returned to Nairobi in 2006 having completed his post-graduate studies. Irony, humour and provocation are central to his work, as he says ‘It’s another way to tell the story.’ The Goethe Institut Nairobi recently published a monograph of his work in the series Contact zones NRB.

Every Saturday (14h-19h) you can visit the exhibition at Roots Contemporary in Collegestraat 33 (Elsene) until the 20th of May. The 14th of April the curator awaits you with drinks.

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