In an era characterized by its identification with materiality, one tends to dissociate the material from its larger cultural and historical nexus and instead focus on it as commodity. The sculptures and installations of Bili Bidjocka (Douala, Cameroon, 1962) explore materials, objects, and things in their entirety, starting from the basis on which they exist, or for which they were made to exist, and ranging to all the properties and relations associated with these objects. Bidjocka’s ruminations on objecthood are in line with those of Arjun Appadurai in The Social Life of Things, wherein he proposed that things and people are not necessarily distinct categories. Twenty years later, in “The Thing Itself,” Appadurai announces that “all things are brief deposits of this or that property, photographs that conceal the reality of the motion from which their objecthood is a momentary respite.”
In Bidjocka’s cosmology, the idea is the form, and vice versa. Words, like thoughts, are at the same time containers and content. In Do Not Take It, Do Not Eat It, This Is Not My Body … (Berlin, 2014), Bidjocka explores how the biblical word becomes flesh in the form of bread. In writing and through images of his body parts, Bidjocka calls out a long history of objectification of the black body at the same time as he references a concealed history of cannibalism in religion. In a variation on Do Not Take It, Do Not Eat It, This Is Not My Body … (Dakar, 2016), the work calls on the ghosts of the venue, the former Palais de Justice, using earth as a symbol for a complex nexus of histories, meanings, and auras.
By working with chess for his documenta 14 commission, Bidjocka addresses the game as object and concept. He narrates the knowledges that chess (as a game and as a philosophy)has incarnated in its 1,500-year history, as well as the various epistemologies it has distributed as it moved through the subcontinental Persian, African, and Arab worlds into Europe and on to the Americas. Chess is figured as the epitome of the repressive eras, strategies, regalia, and structures still yearned for, as we slip from one political and economical power system to another. With his habitual sensitivity to the poetry of materials, Bidjocka composes a chess mise-en-scène behind curtains that both stage the scene and impair our vision of it.
—Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung