Danielle Dean

My work stems from my experience of the political landscape that has largely articulated who I am. I grew up with my mother in a working class town in England and only recently met my father who is Nigerian. He was the son of a tribal leader who had 12 wives. Despite my father having gained a Masters in accountancy in Alabama, where I was born, he still remains a taxi driver in Houston, TX. The political in this narrative can be traced to colonial histories, and the focus of my practice is to investigate post-colonialism as a political space to question hegemonic social narratives. I am concerned with the imperialism of countries such as the U.K. and the U.S., which I approach through a critique of capitalism. I collaborate with real people in my life, using my family and friends as actors to explore the naturalization of ideology in our society. 

Working in video, performance, installation and drawing I use language from advertising, news and popular culture as material. I use words from these sources in a cut-up method, developing dialogues as assemblages. The videos I make seek to clash with expectations: I try to frame how culture interpellates us into being through media, advertising and political speech, all of which are orientated around power structures. I am interested in how we are articulated in language in relation to what Stuart Hall calls “floating signifiers”: layers of meaning historically placed onto objects, people and places. These signifiers are separate from actual phenomena and have a potential to be rearranged – my work explores this potential for socially constructed narratives, such as racism, to be retold. 

The video installation “No Lye” features a bathroom full of women of different ethnicities engaged in what appears to be the making of a bomb, while performing a script assembled from political speeches and adverts; David Cameron speaking on immigration is mixed with adverts found in Ebony magazine. Both these sources, the aspirational language of advertising and the contemporary politics of border control, draw rhetorically from neoliberal myths of capitalist freedom. This exclusionary rhetoric utilizes a binary rationale traceable to the Enlightenment: anything outside of this rationale is evil, over– or under-sexualised, different and feared. The relationship of the political language and the advertising spoken by these women portrays a rift between the women’s presence and the words they utter. This ‘in-between’ opens an uncertain potential: like the energy contained in a poison or a bomb. 

The arbitrarily linked sentences and words deconstruct narrative flow and the assumed roles of the characters. As an ‘abstract material’, language can reveal problematic ideologies at the same time as it can reclaim the imagination of the viewer. I take queue from Brecht’s use of estrangement in theatre to alienate the audience from empathic feelings, which can shroud meaning in ideology. 

“BabyGirl” was shot in Alief on the outskirts of Houston, TX, and is based on the narrative structure of a soap opera and Nollywood films. The piece moves through Houston into an empty apartment room in Alief where my sister, my father, and myself perform a scripted dialogue. The script is a montage of text from various sources including the film Baby Boy, CNN Africa and Radiohead. My sister and father rewrote parts of the script, which were montaged within the found text. In this work, I wanted to discuss the social and political issues that surround my sister growing up in an underprivileged area of Alief (‘the hood’), and my father’s relationship to America and Nigeria. By using found sources and our own words, a viewer can never settle and fully identify a character or naturalize the words. I wanted the work to resist encapsulating a finite identity for my family and their context, shifting the focus to the delivery of what was being said itself – with a space between the characters and the words.