Earth Matters

George Osodi, De money series no. 1, 2009

Mining and cutting into the land. Despite the dangers to their health from mercury exposure and damage to the environment from land degradation and water pollution, jobless youths and their families continue to search for gold, or “The Money,” in Obuasi, Ghana. Osodi frames aesthetic, alluring, and often shocking images that challenge viewers to consider real and troubling issues from very human perspectives.




Helga Kohl , Family Accommodation/Portfolio Kolmanskop, 1994, photography

Sands of time. A town once thrived around the diamond mines of Kolmanskop, Namibia, but when its riches were exhausted, its residents abandoned their homes, hospital, offices, and shops. These structures are slowly being returned to the earth as the surrounding sands swallow them. Returning repeatedly to this ghost town, photographer Helga Kohl commented (2007), “I transformed myself into the past, and in so doing saw a life which somehow brought profound understanding to the present. . . . One day I knew I was ready to capture the beauty once created by people and taken over by nature.”




Berry Bickle, Sarungano, 2001, Mixed media on mild steel

Healing history with salt and sand. Ten sheets of mild steel have been burned, rubbed, and added to until they take on a patina of weathered earth. Inscribed into this surface are the words of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66, which countless Zimbabwean children were required to learn. Berry Bickle juxtaposes Shakespeare’s words concerning moral and social injustice with spoons, shoes, and other personal effects of the type found on graves in Zimbabwe. She filled these items with salt to acknowledge the pain her compatriots have suffered and sand to help with their release from earthly suffering.



Christine Dixie, Even in the Long Descent I-V, 2007, Etching and mezzotint on paper

Buried or forgotten underground. The skylit landscape occupies less than one-fifth of this five-part work because the artist chose to focus on what is hidden in the blood red earth below. Christine Dixie describes how she was inspired while traveling around Grahamstown, South Africa, where she lives. Aware of the violent history of the Xhosa Wars (also known as the Cape Frontier Wars, 1779-1879), she imagined “a family buried far beneath the ground, like a memory that sometimes wants to surface but the weight of the earth presses down.”




El Anatsui, Ala, 2013, site-specific installation

The title of this work comes from southeastern Nigeria. Ala is the earth goddess in the Igbo-speaking region. In Ala, Anatsui has chosen to work with rusted graters once used to shred Nigeria’s staple crop of cassava in combination with mirrors. Metal comes from the earth and through the process of rusting returns to the earth. Glass is formed from silica, found in the sands that cover much of the earth. Drawing upon the pyramid, a form found in many farming practices, Anatsui plays with the tensions between industrial and natural, sustainable and unsustainable, and material and immaterial. The artist combines and reorients surface, structure, and surrounding environs in this expression of pure form and commentary on resource use and distribution.




Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa

Looking through the lens of Africa, Earth Matters focuses on the very creative and visual ways in which individuals and communities negotiate complex relationships with the land beneath their feet and the earth at large.

The works of art included within these galleries reflect the ideas and issues of the artists’ choosing and range from 1800 to today. More than 40 artists from 24 of Africa’s 55 nations have employed media as diverse as ceramic, textile, film, drawing, printmaking, photography, wood, and mixed-media sculpture and installations to explore

  • what is meant by the word earth,
  • how the earth serves as a home to the ancestors and as a source for sacred and healing powers,
  • how the earth’s underground and surface spaces have inspired numerous, compelling metaphorical associations, and,
  • the ways in which the arts can effect positive change on the earth and its environments.

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