“Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!” yells Violet Beauregarde’s mother in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as Violet chews a stick of Willy Wonka’s magic gum. In an iPhone selfie printed on tarp (Off-Colors, 2020), on view in Giulia Essyad’s exhibition “Chocolate Factory,” the young Geneva-based artist depicts herself as Violet, her dark hair rippling like that of Botticelli’s Venus. Her skin is colored a purplish blue, her silhouette digitally accentuated. Referencing the iconography of “Violet fetish” kink (and sexualized obsession with body inflation), the gesture destabilizes the humor of the transformation of the character—who was cast as slim and white in the 1971 and 2005 versions of the film—into a bulbous blueberry.
The fourteen 3-D printed models of the artist’s body as an Oompa-Loompa in Dolls, 2020, further critique the racism found in the classic children’s story. In the first edition, published in 1964, Dahl noted that Oompa-Loompas hail from the “very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle.” They are indentured laborers in Wonka’s factory, and the fairy tale is, in certain ways, an apologia for the exploitation and dehumanization that sustains global labor arbitrage. By melding her self-portrait with the image of the Oompa-Loompa, Essyad shows that contemporary grammars of representation perform similarly. The dolls are mounted on another work, a plaster-frosted cake decorated with glacé cherries (Cream & Butter, 2020), which deconstructs sugar as an index of taste, refinement, and desire: a substrate that preserves colonialism as fantasy. The exhibition digests the visual fallout of the factory and the plantation, wherein, to echo bell hooks, the other is not only seen, but eaten.