“Reframed Cocoa and Colour” by Ghanaian-American photographer, Joshua Kissi solo exhibition aims to contribute to shifting the narrative ascribed to West African cocoa farmers by showcasing the unique personalities and stories of several partner farmers based in Ghana and Ivory Coast who are part of Tony’s Chocolonely’s open chain model.
The exhibition showcases 13 photography works and is sponsored by LagosPhoto, Tony’s Chocolonely and Siza Consulting, and runs till this weekend. In Tony’s open chain, people are all connected, from the cocoa farmers in West Africa to the serious friends who buy our chocolate. “We know everyone by name. We build serious relationships and love to share the unique personalities, skills and stories of the people we work with,” he said.
Kissi’s use of the colourful frames seeks to frame the farmers as agents of power, positivity and progress while symbolising the openness and different perspectives of his subjects.
At the opening ceremony in Lagos, Oluwajare Fola-Bolumole, Chief Executive Officer, ChocBoy; Princess Odiakosa, founder of Kalabari Gecko; and Sanne Steemers, founder, My 36 Chocolates, talked about their foray into chocolate production in the country, their challenges and how they have been able to course through.
Up-and-coming musician, Idris King, thrilled guests with a surprise performance of three of his singles. Project Manager, LagosPhoto Festival and curator of the exhibition, Ngovereu Ahoa, said Kissi went to Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to shoot some of the farmers that produce chocolate for Tony’s Chocolonely.
The owners of Tony’s Chocolonely, during their stay in these two countries, encountered the challenges faced by these farmers and workers such as child labour, physical and sexual abuse of these people, and decided to bring their plight to the world and see how these sufferings can be stopped and produce chocolate that is completely free from these problems.
“The exhibition highlights the stories of cocoa farmers working in an open chain, from the inside out. The colourful frames depict the openness and different perspectives of the people in Tony’s open chain. The artist met Sarah, Jérôme, Eugénie, Didier, Martin, Assata, Emmanuel, Gaah, Romeo, Faustina, George, Daouda, Abraham and Stephen, and was inspired by the successful and vibrant people working in cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast. They are ambassadors for a more equally divided cocoa chain without illegal child labor and commercial exploitation.”
She said Tony’s Chocolonely was needed in the cocoa industry, for “Illegal child labour and force labour are manifestations of the industry’s profit maximising business model in which direct and equal relations between producers, purchasers and consumers have disappeared. Big chocolate multinationals buy cocoa at the commodity market, without traceability. This non-transparent way of doing business leads to the quiet acceptation and preservation of inequality, exploitation and extreme poverty.”
She enjoined other chocolate companies to emulate Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch impact company making chocolate, to follow their open chain model with full traceability of cocoa beans and direct, equal business relationships with partner farmers who they pay a higher price. This way, cocoa farmers could achieve a living income and could hire adult labourers to work in their farms.
For Oluwajare Fola-Bolumole, Nigeria has moved from being the distributor of imported chocolate to manufacturers of chocolate made with Nigerian ingredients, “The whole idea is to look for manufacturers in Nigeria that are concerned with how cocoa is being produced and ensuring that there is no form of social injustice on these farms.”
In the same vein, Princess Odiakosa, disclosed she produced chocolate using locally sourced ingredients thereby reducing the importation of foreign chocolate in the country. She recalled that she hadn’t seen child labour on Nigerian farms, rather children who helped their parents to work on the farms.