Still from Economy of Love (2015) by Melanie Bonajo. Image courtesy of Foam

Sex, drugs and gardening

A wild trio of films from photographer and Erik Kessels protégé Melanie Bonajo looks for ways to fix our world

Many in Europe and America are beginning to wonder whether our current economic and political systems best serve our needs. So could Amazonian drugs, feminist sex workers and guerrilla agriculture point the way towards a better future? 

It may sound rather prescriptive but that’s the suggestion behind Night Soil, a trio of films by the Dutch artist Melanie Bonajo, on show together for the first time at Bonajo’s solo exhibition in Amsterdam’s Foam photography museum, from 16 September.

Bonajo, a former employee of Erik Kessels’ advertising agency, Kessels Kramer, was also included in Kessels’ 2014 Rencontres d’Arles photo exhibition. Although she majored in fine art and photography, Bonajo has recorded music, staged performances and created installations. Her art tends to dwell on the problems thrown up by recent western progress, or, as she puts it “how technological advances and commodity-based pleasures increase feelings of alienation within the individual.”

Since 2012 she has been working on her Night Soil films, which examine how marginal, often illegal practices and communities might be able to offer us solutions to our problems.


Night soil1

The first film, Fake Paradise, examines Ayahuasca, a strong herbal hallucinogen, in use among Amazonian communities for centuries, and finding favour with some western adherents who believe it has beneficial healing effects.

The second work, Economy of Love, looks at group of female sex workers in Brooklyn who regard their work as a way for women to regain power within a male-dominated sphere of society, and reorder existing sexual conventions.


Still from Economy of Love (2015) by Melanie Bonajo. Image courtesy of Foam
Still from Economy of Love (2015) by Melanie Bonajo. Image courtesy of Foam

The third, Nocturnal Gardening, which receives its premier at Foam, examines radical and innovative ways to produce food.

Sex, drugs and gardening certainly sound like unorthodox solutions to the perils of globalisation, yet with so few answers coming from conventional political sources, could it be time to give Melanie’s subjects a hearing? 


Melanie Bonajo
Melanie Bonajo

Find out more about the show here; meanwhile for more photographic fun that meets the Erik Kessels’ seal of approval order a copy of Failed It!, here, and for more outside-the-box future solutions, take a look at The World We Made.