Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa opened at the Smithsonians National Museum of African Art
on Earth Day, April 22, and continues through to Jan. 5, 2014. Curated by Karen E. Milbourne, Earth Matters is the first major exhibition exploring the ways in which African artists and communities mediate their relationship with the land upon which they live, work and frame their days.
The exhibition investigates the intersection between art and knowledge and brings together approximately 100 exceptional works of art from the turn of the 19th to 21st centuries. It is divided into five thematic sections: The Material Earth, Power of the Earth, Imagining the Underground, Strategies of the Surface and Art as Environmental Action. A sixth section, Earth Works, is the first installation of land art by three artists to be assembled outside in the Smithsonian Gardens and on the National Mall. A separate sculpture by Ledelle Moe (part of section two of the exhibition) is also on display outside of the museum. These categories provide vantage points from which to examine the most poignant relationships that Africans have with the land, whether it be to earth as a sacred or medicinal material, as something uncovered by mining or claimed by burial, as a surface to be interpreted and turned to for inspiration, or as an environment to be protected.
We, each of us, make choices every day that relate to the land beneath our feet, said Milbourne. Where we come from informs who we consider ourselves to be. What we throw out affects what this land of ours will be in the future. These issues are not African; they are global, but looking through the lens of Africa we can all better understand the human relationship to the landscape and its significance to the history of African art.
The exhibition includes works by internationally recognized and emerging contemporary artists from the continent and diaspora who draw on the land for inspiration, including El Anatsui, Ghada Amer, Sammy Baloji, Wangechi Mutu, Allan deSouza, Ingrid Mwangi and William Kentridge.
Exhibition highlights include:
First installation of land art by African artists in the Smithsonian Enid A. Haupt Gardens
One-of-a-kind Punu reliquary from Gabon
Zigua/Pare healing figure from Tanzania
First time the National Museum of African Art is reuniting its rare Yoruba onile figure with its mate from the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal, Netherlands
Three legendary bocio figures by French collector Jacques Kerchache will be displayed alongside a painting by the Benin artist Tchif
More than 40 artists from 24 African nations
Milbourne has been a curator at the National Museum of African Art since May 2008. Her expertise includes the arts and pageantry of western Zambia and contemporary African art. Since joining the museum, she has curated the exhibitions Artists in Dialogue: António Ole and Aimé Mpane (2009) and Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira (2011). She also served as coordinating curator for the exhibitions Yinka Shonibare MBE (2010) and Central Nigeria Unmasked (2011).