In the Niger Delta, oil turns the rivers rainbow. Surrounding communities are engulfed in the emissions from constant natural-gas flaming. Generations that used to survive on fishing are now jobless and wandering — some have joined local militant guerrilla groups in an attempt to defend their land against the pillage of the oil industry. Ed Kashi has documented all this destruction in his stunning photographs, currently on view at Exit Art‘s exhibition, The End of Oil, part of a series called Social-Environmental Aesthetics (SEA).
The most striking thing about Kashi’s images is the visual effect the oil industry has on the landscape. A village bustles in the shadow of an oil refinery. The bodies of two workers glisten with petroleum. A young girl strolls across several lengths of pipeline. Even without being able to smell the burning gas or taste the oily waters, we’re given a strong impression of the force of the industry.
The Niger Delta has been a site of resource struggle and conflict since the 1950s, when it first began development for oil. Although the region produces some 2 million dollars in oil revenue a day, local tribes subsist on low incomes and suffer the repercussions of a destroyed landscape. Nigeria was temporarily expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations after executing activist Ken Saro-Wiwa on what many believe to be politically motivated charges.
The politics, battles, loyalties and social layers of the area are complicated to explore. Performer Dan Hoyle created a show called Tings Dey Happen based on interviews from the region. Ed Kashi’s photographs have appeared in The Independent Magazine, the book What Matters and are available in their own volume, The Curse of the Black Gold.