– Autumn/Winter 2019

Blue, Bling: On Extractivism

Heather Davis

Otobang Nkanga, In Pursuit of Bling, 2014. Courtesy the artist and Galerie In Situ - fabienne leclerc, Paris

I have always loved a particular blue. It is a blue that hovers between royal and azure. A blue that appears almost luminescent, glowing, yet containing a certain depth. As Maggie Nelson writes, in relation to a slightly different hue, ‘That this blue exists makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it’.1 It is a blue that gives me a sheer, visceral delight. A blue with the power to arrest a gaze. Cobalt blue. It is a blue fundamentally of the earth, from inside the earth. Like indigo, it links us to soils, and under them, to mineralogical foundations. It is elemental; a terrestrial blue, it is different, but related to, the expanses of the sea or the sky. However, when you dig cobalt out of the ground it is not blue, but is rather shiny, grey, crystalline, with a tinge of dark chocolate. It looks like what comes immediately to mind when I think ‘mineral’. In order for it to become blue, cobalt is transformed from the chemical element Co, to cobalt aluminate and cobalt stannate – words entirely inadequate and clinical, too precise for the richness of feeling that they produce.

Cobalt is a startlingly pervasive metal, appearing infrequently as this particular

  1. Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Seattle and New York: Wave Books, 2009, p.3.

  2. One of the most coveted minerals in the world, the price of cobalt fluctuated from 20,000 to 26,000 US dollars per ton in 2016. Meanwhile, the average ‘artisanal’ cobalt miner in the DRC earns 1 to 2 US dollars per day. For an extended examination of the human costs, including the deaths of children, due to cobalt mining, see the excellent Washington Post coverage, including Todd C. Frankel, ‘The Cobalt Pipeline: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops’, Washington Post, 30 September 2016, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/ business/batteries/congo-cobalt-mining-for-lithium-ion-battery/ (last accessed on 19 April 2019).

  3. See ibid.

  4. Alberto Acosta, ‘Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse’, in Miriam Lang and Dunya Mokrani (ed.), Beyond Development: Alternative Visions from Latin America, Quito: Transnational Institute/Fondación Rosa Luxemburg, 2013, pp.61–86, available at https://www.tni. org/files/download/beyonddevelopment_complete.pdf (last accessed on 19 April 2019).

  5. Mary Mattingly, Own-It.US [website], available at http://www.own-it.us/html/about.html (last accessed on 19 April 2019).

  6. A. Acosta, ‘Extractivism and neoextractivism’, op. cit., p.62.

  7. Macarena Gómez-Barris, The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017, p.7.

  8. Ibid.

  9. See Donna Haraway, SF: Speculative Fabulation and String Figures, Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2011.

  10. Natasha Ginwala, ‘The Refusal of Shine’, in Clare Molloy, Philippe Pirotte and Fabian Schöneich (ed.), Otobong Nkanga: Luster and Lucre, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017, p.94.

  11. Philippe Pirotte, ‘Foreword’, in Otobong Nkanga, op. cit., p.9.

  12. N. Ginwala, ‘The Refusal of Shine’, in Otobong Nkanga, op. cit., p.89.

  13. Nicholas Mirzoeff, ‘Decolonial {R}evolution: Petrocracy and Geological Modernity from Detroit to Palestine and Back’, Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas, vol.3, 2017, pp.322–43.

  14. N. Mirzoeff, ‘Visualizing the Anthropocene’, Public Culture, vol.26, 2014, pp.213–32.