Curatorial Projects > Free Chocolate (2006-07)

Free Chocolate - A Solo Exhibition by April Banks

December 6, 2006 - February 17, 2007
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

We love chocolate. As the world's largest chocolate consumer, the U.S. imported 729,000 tons of cocoa beans/processed products in 2000, ate 3.3 billion pounds of chocolate, and spent $13 billion on it. Yet, the majority of cocoa producers around the world struggle with poverty and, even after years of cultivating and harvesting cacao trees, many have never tasted a piece of chocolate. Based on research and travel to cacao farms in Ghana and Cuba and to the New York Board of Trade, Bay Area conceptual artist April Banks' first solo exhibition explores cocoa's global journey from farmer, to trader, to chocolate lover. This layered installation illuminates our desire for beauty, sweetness, indulgence, and intoxication within the context of issues of globalism, fair trade and sustainability. Tracing the complex way in which we participate in global economies, Banks juxtaposes the basic human need, desire, greed, and guilt that drive our structures of consumption.

Chocolate is nonessential food; it is a luxury. Like oil and gold, there is an intricate global economy driven by the constant demand for the production of cocoa. Cacao trees only grow in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, South and Central America within 20 degrees of the equator; The Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia are the three top producers of the world's cocoa. Cacao trees themselves are highly sensitive to disease and other growing conditions and must be carefully groomed and harvested by the farmers that cultivate and care for the trees. The work is incredibly demanding, especially in the tropical humidity and heat, and many villages and communities primarily subsist off of this work. Yet, the love of chocolate in many first world countries is what predominantly fuels the machine of global production. Chocolate first appeared in the ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America as a food for royalty and the gods. Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa seeds back to Spain and it subsequently made its way to European high society. Since its beginning, chocolate has been intimately intertwined with notions of royalty and desire, as well as being used as a form of currency. From the very early days of cocoa in 1000 A.D., the Aztec and Mayan peoples of Central America used beans as a form of payment. There is significant history linking desire for chocolate to larger contexts of greed and hoarding.

The intricate human web connecting a raw cacao pod to a finished, wrapped bar of chocolate is infinitely complex, and decisions made at each step of the way from cacao cultivation to chocolate consumption directly affects the livelihood for families around the world. For example, from 2004-2005 alone, the Ivory Coast produced over one million tons of cocoa. Although this accounts for over 40% of the world's cocoa supply, the Ivory Coast is still listed as a member of the International Monetary Fund's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department's year 2000 Human Rights Report acknowledged that some 15,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee and cocoa plantations in the northern Ivory Coast in recent years. Indeed, eating a bar of chocolate is more complicated than taste alone. Although we may still want to satisfy our desire for the taste of chocolate, we hope this exhibition illustrates the journey of a single cocoa bean to the bar available at your local store, and shows how personal cravings for chocolate are inherently interconnected to individuals and families globally. During the run of this exhibition, we have many opportunities to learn more about chocolate - from a chocolate tasting to a panel discussion about fair trade to a truffle making workshop. We hope you can join us to learn more about the complexities of this rich, varied, and innately global food.

- Kevin B. Chen