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Sumayya Vally

Grains of Paradise

Grains of Paradise by Sumayya Vally is inspired by Bruges' rich commercial history. The installation comprises a series of blackened pirogues, laden with herbs and spices, arranged side by side on the Minnewater Bridge.


Sumayya Vally found inspiration in Bruges' trade history for Grains of Paradise. Reaching its peak in the 14th and 15th centuries with the import and export of goods, remnants to this past can still be found in the streetscape today, ranging from the nation houses to the hoisting beams on the waterfront and the rich collection of objects in the recently restored Gruuthuse Palace. Mustard pots, tapestries, and dyes serve as tangible reminders of the exotic spices, precious stones, and pigments that once traversed vast distances to reach Bruges.

The historical connection between the Hanseatic city and the African continent inspired Sumayya Vally to research the relationship between the two from a non-eurocentric perspective. Delving into the specifics of the goods exchanged between these distant lands and the ensuing social and economic ramifications on Africa became a focal point of her research.

Grains of Paradise stands as a striking assembly of fifteen pirogues, positioned in unison near the Minnewater Bridge. Together, they form a collective platform for exchange and commerce, referencing the past and the present, and connecting the north and south.

Their charred appearance lends an ethereal quality, evoking a sense of haunting beauty amidst the bustling tranquility of the Minnewater. The rough and varied formal language of the boats references the floating markets made from hollowed-out tree trunks found in Ganvie (BJ), Lagos (NG) and along the Congo River.

The boats are filled with bright plants and herbs, including the lesser known melegueta pepper of Afromomum legueta, a spice imported en masse from the Gulf of Guinea. In these regions, it was nicknamed the "grains of paradise" or "paradijskorrel", because of its unique taste and medicinal qualities. These vessels carry stories of Bruges' Golden Age, where spices, ivory, and pigments intermingled in a tapestry of cultural exchange. Grains of Paradise serves as an invitation to transcend the Western narrative, encouraging critical reflection and enriching our experience of history and heritage.

Portret Sumayya Vally Lou Jasmine
© Lou Jasmine

Sumayya Vally (b. 1990, Laudium, ZA) lives and works in Johannesburg. In her design, research and pedagogical practice, Vally searches for expression for hybrid identities and territory, particularly for African and Islamic conditions – both rooted and diasporic.

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