In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwe finds himself displaced as colonizers introduce a new church and form of government, paving the way for the extraction of capital from his land and community. New markets emerge, selling palm oil at previously unheard-of prices, while both subtle and violent tactics assert the colonizer’s dominance. Okonkwo despairs the destruction of the old ways, of his community.
The allegory of capitalism over community persists in modern life. London’s Elephant and Castle mall, at the centre of a minority ethnic and underprivileged community, faces redevelopment. That they rely on the mall to meet social, cultural, and economic needs is irrelevant, a mere inconvenience, for there is profit to be made. Capital continues to drive judgment about who is worthy, who belongs, and who holds power.
A new temple to commercialism will rise, just as a new church with a new god rose in Umuofia, and its wares will be out of reach for current residents. The latter-day colonizer is ushering in a kind of social cleansing, ridding the area of people and practices deemed inferior and in the way.
Through a series of photographs including my own, I depict the role of the mall within the community, the subtle and overt violence exacted by neglect and demolition, and contrast these with marketing images of its future state.
The tragedy of both Okonkwo’s community and that at Elephant and Castle is that, while things fall apart, they don’t always have to.
A modernist re-telling of Chinua Achbe’s Things Fall Apart, featuring the Elephant and Castle Mall, London, UK. Featured music is George Martin and His Orchestra’s Elephants and Castles, 1968.