Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo

Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo
Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo, from the series, The Hell of Copper, 2008

From dawn to dusk, dozens of young Ghanians, from 10 to 25 years of age, exhaust themselves seven days a week. Their mission is to disassemble the old computers and burn certain plastic or rubber components to cull the precious copper, which will then be resold. Everything is done by hand or with iron bars, makeshift tools found among the refuse. They have neither masks nor gloves. There are not even any functioning toilets,1 Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo.

The photographic series The Hell of Copper documents the 10 square kilometre electronic graveyard of the Aglobloshie Market in Accra, Ghana where thousands of computers and electronic goods are shipped from Europe and North America. Children and young people dismantle old computers and burn the plastic or rubber components to reveal the valuable copper. This metal is then resold to Nigerians or Indians who rework it to make mostly jewellery that is sold cheaply in Europe. This economy of waste has dramatic consequences for the environment and the health of the workers who handle them.

Using their bare hands, the young workers are exposed to lead, mercury, cadmium and PVC plastic which are incredibly toxic to the human body. These chemicals have seeped into the nearby canal and also contaminate the grazing land for cows and sheep. Ouedraogo’s imagery of the sprawling landscape filled with computer carcasses and the individuals engaged in this dangerous work demonstrate the profoundly troubling consequence of the constant search for the latest phone, fastest computer or new electronic gadget.

1 [accessed 17 May 2012].


Born in 1978 in Burkina Faso. Lives and works between France and West Africa.

Trained as an assistant to Jean-Paul Dekers in Paris, France.

Recent solo shows include: Galerie Particulière, Paris, France, 2012; 9th Rencontres de Bamako: Biennale Africaine de la Photographie, Bamako, Mali, 2011; Children of Bahia, Angers, France, 2009; On the Spot, Paris, France, 2006 and Contemporary Wheeling and Dealing, Morocco, 2004.

Recent group shows include: 9th Rencontres de Bamako: Biennale Africaine de la Photographie, Bamako, Mali, 2011; Prix Pictet, Paris, France, 2011 followed by an international tour; Climate Change, Mexico, 2010.

He was the winner of the Union Européenne Prize 2011 and Fondation Blachère Prize, 2011. Other awards and prizes include being shortlisted for the Prix Pictet 2010; La Planète Manche International Prize 2010; Coup de Coeur Prize for the Bourse du Talent 2009 and 2010.

Works in Show

The Hell of Copper 2008


Courtesy the artist


Martin Barlow, curator of the exhibition Moving Into Space at the National Football Museum talks about the exhibition.

Barthélémy Toguo, Lucy Azubuike and Nnenna Okore, three of the exhibited artists, talk about their work and their interest in using materials which reflect the lifestyle and experience of the people of West Africa.

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Street life, dazzling dress, social commentary and a riot of sensuous colour interweave in a rich assembly of West African art, writes Charles Gore in the Times Higher Education

Nine countries show off their talent as five city venues link up for a summer celebration. Helen Nugent in the Guardian