We associate chocolate with celebration, comfort, romance. But do we ever associate it with the farmers – and often children – who literally make the product possible? West Africa produces almost three quarters of the world’s cocoa, 70% of which is consumed in Europe and North America. More than 2 million child labourers work on cocoa plantations in Ghana and the Ivory Coast alone. Who are these children and why do they do this work? BITTER Chocolate Stories sheds light on these questions. Combining portraits of 15 former child labourers and interviews with the children and other actors in the industry, the exhibition and book provide an insight into the complexities of a product many of us take for granted.

BITTER Chocolate Stories tells the stories of Bassirou, Valerie, Augustin, Sarata, Mohamed, Cedric, Ghislain, Issaka, Bèbè, Kassoum, Laeticia, Alexis, Cathérine, Josias and Edyon, who all worked as child labourers on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. Originally from Burkina Faso, the children now live in a shelter and training centre in the capital Ouagadougou, where Joana Choumali (Ivory Coast, 1974) photographed them in an improvised studio. The result is three portraits of each child: one from the front, one from the back and one of their hands. Journalist Marijn Heemskerk (The Netherlands, 1980) interviewed the children about their experiences on the plantations and their dreams for the future. She also spoke to other actors in the industry in order to present a nuanced understanding of the many factors that lead to child trafficking and child labour.

Tony’s Chocolonely and Paradox created and developed BITTER Chocolate Stories to raise awareness about child labour in the cocoa industry. Everyone in the chocolate chain – cocoa farmers, chocolate companies, retailers, governments and consumers – has a responsibility to tackle child labour, according to the organisers, and informing a wide public of the problem is the first step to achieving that.

Authors

Joana Choumali (1974) is a visual artist/photographer based in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast. She studied graphic arts and worked as an art director in an advertising agency before embarking on her photography career. She works on conceptual portraits, mixed media and documentary photography. Much of her work focuses on Africa and what she, as an African, learns about the innumerable cultures around her.

In 2014 Choumali won the POPCAP 14 Award and the LensCulture Emerging Talent Award. In 2016 she received a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund and the Fourthwall Books Photobook Award in South Africa. Her book HAABRE was published in Johannesburg in 2016.

website

Marijn Heemskerk (1980) is a lawyer turned award-winning freelance journalist. She began investigating human trafficking, or modern-day slavery, as a lawyer and continues to do so as a journalist. She prefers to address this complex topic through personal stories. In 2016 Marijn won the Sex and Media Prize from the Nederlandse Wetenschappelijke Vereniging voor Seksuologie.

website

Platforms

Valerie, 18 years old.
Valerie, 18 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Valerie, 18 years old.
Valerie, 18 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Issaka, 17 years old.
Issaka, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Edyon, 18 years old.
Edyon, 18 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Ghislain, 17 years old.
Ghislain, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Ghislain, 17 years old.
Ghislain, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Kassoum, 17 years old.
Kassoum, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Laeticia, 17 years old.
Laeticia, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Laeticia, 17 years old.
Laeticia, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Cedric, 15 years old.
Cedric, 15 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Cedric, 15 years old.
Cedric, 15 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Joanna Choumali at work at the improvised studio in Burkina Faso
Joanna Choumali at work at the improvised studio in Burkina Faso
Mock up exhibition BITTER at Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam.
Mock up exhibition BITTER at Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam.
Design: Tiago Rosado
Mock up exhibition BITTER at Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam.
Mock up exhibition BITTER at Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam.
Design: Tiago Rosado

BITTER Chocolate Stories

The exhibition will run from 13 October to 23 November 2017 in the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. The portraits and stories of the 15 children will be displayed in the middle of the Exhibition Hall. These will be accompanied by the slogans of major chocolate brands, providing a sharp contrast between the pleasure of chocolate consumption and the harsh reality of its production.

Around the edge of the hall, a timeline will take visitors through the history of cocoa and its development as a global commodity. The design of the exhibition is intended to reflect the complexities of the industry in the physical space: the children are literally ‘stuck in the middle’. At the same time, by exposing visitors to the world behind their chocolate bars, the exhibition aims to highlight how their consumption choices impact an industry and, in turn, the lives of countless children.

Book cover BITTER Chocolate Stories
Book cover BITTER Chocolate Stories
Design: Kummer & Herrman

Photo book with interviews and background information

The accompanying book features background information, infographics and interviews that expand on the themes presented in the exhibition. The book is available in Dutch and English for €30 in the Beurs van Berlage, Tony’s Stores, Tony’s Chocolonely web shop and the YdocStore. For every book sold, €5 will be donated to the Tony’s Foundation, which supports projects in cocoa-growing communities in West Africa including the training centre in Burkina Faso.

  • Title: BITTER Chocolate Stories
    Author: Marijn Heemskerk
    Photos: Joana Choumali
    Design: Kummer & Herrman
    Production: Paradox & Tony’s Chocolonely
    Language: Dutch & English
    Price: €29,50

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General Credits

Tony's Chocolonely, Kummer & Herrman

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