Danielle Dean: True Red Ruin

On view February 2 – April 15, 2018

Danielle Dean, True Red Ruin (Elmina Castle), video still, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Danielle Dean, a shoe, a phone, a castle, 2017, installation view. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth and Council. Photo: Ruben Diaz.

Danielle Dean’s solo exhibition, True Red Ruin, presents a contemporary story of gentrification and surveillance through a displacement of the historic Elmina Castle in Ghana. The oldest European fort in sub-Saharan Africa, the castle was shipped to the West African coast in pre-fabricated parts from Portugal in 1482, its construction destroying village homes and signaling the fatal encroachment of European powers in Africa. By the seventeenth century, the castle’s purpose had shifted from a gold trading post to a major port of the Atlantic slave trade. Dean’s two-channel video installation explores the postcolonial implications of this history.

The video True Red Ruin (Elmina Castle) takes place in present-day Cuney Homes, an affordable housing complex in Houston’s Third Ward. Dean plays the site manager of a new “Elmina Castle” development amid the existing Cuney Homes, while the artist’s sister and friends (who live in Cuney Homes) play the local residents. In recent years, the historically black Third Ward has experienced rapid gentrification as waves of “economic improvement” have displaced long-term community members. Alluding to historical conditions of Elmina Castle’s construction within this urban American context, Dean creates a fiction pointing to profound truths about histories of invasion and tools of oppression, including capital and surveillance.

Born to a Nigerian father and English mother in Alabama and raised in the UK, the artist draws from her multi-national background in exploring complex issues of identity and subjectivity. Her work investigates, in her words, “the colonialism of mind and body—the interpellation of thoughts, feelings, and social relations by power structures working through news, advertising, political speech, and digital media.” In much of her previous work Dean appropriated language from a variety of sources—advertising, news, revolutionary speeches, popular culture—using a cut-up method in which connections between text and context are abstracted and reconfigured. Through these works she examined how power structures operate via mediated images and rhetoric, co-opting persons and inscribing subjectivities to support a dominant ideology. True Red Ruin extends this focus to the built environment. Incorporating sculptural sets modeled on commercial point of sale displays and self-facing camera angles from cell phones, the work examines the multifaceted nature of social control, from its physical imprint to its economic and psychological implications.


Danielle Dean is an Alabama-born, London-raised visual artist, currently the Artist-in-Residence for Photography at Cranbrook Academy of Art. She received her BFA from Central Saint Martins in London and MFA from California Institute of the Arts. She has been a fellow of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program and a resident at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Core Residency Program (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), and Rijksakademie van Beeldene Kunsten (Amsterdam). Her solo exhibitions have appeared at Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles and Studio Museum in Harlem, among other venues, and she has participated in group exhibitions at institutions such as SFMOMA Open Space (San Francisco), Centre D’Art Contemporain Genève (Geneva), Sculpture Center (New York), Goethe Institut Nigeria (Lagos), Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (Atlanta), DiverseWorks (Houston), The Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), and Tate Modern (London).

Danielle Dean: True Red Ruin is curated by Ford Curatorial Fellow Robin K. Williams.

Exhibitions and public programs are supported by the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation and the MOCAD Leadership Circle. The Ford Curatorial Fellows at MOCAD are supported by the Ford Foundation.

Danielle Dean, True Red Ruin (Elmina Castle) video still, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.