A collaboration between the National Museum of African Art and Smithsonian Gardens
In a first-ever installation of land art on the National Mall, three artists have been invited to create site-specific earthworks in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Strijdom van der Merwe of South Africa, El Anatsui of Ghana and Nigeria, and Ghada Amer of Egypt have each turned to the land as a canvas to explore such diverse and interrelated issues as memory, history, and land use; spirituality, materiality, and environmental sustainability; and gender and the interconnections between hunger and political corruption. These works also challenge the absence of African artists from the discourse on land arts and reinforce awareness of how the earth works as a medium and as a message.
Watch artists El Anatsui, Strijdom van der Merwe and Ghada Amer creating their earth works for the "Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa" exhibition. Earth Works, is the first installation of land art ever to be assembled outside in the Smithsonian Gardens and on the National Mall. A separate sculpture by Ledelle Moe is on display outside of the National Museum of African Art.
Strijdom van der Merwe
b. 1961, South Africa Land Reform
What is important to me as a land artist is that your work only exists because of the surrounding area in which you put it.-Strijdom van der Merwe
As the African continent's only full-time land artist, Strijdom van der Merwe has created small-scale personal works that might be as ephemeral as fallen flower petals arranged around a tree to large-scale manipulations of the earth's surface. Here, the artist has pushed back the grass to reveal the history hidden beneath its surface. Holding back the grass with oversized map pins, van der Merwe explores the spice trade that united Asia, Africa, Europe, and America and gave rise to the Cape-Malay culture of van der Merwe's South African home. The links that connect Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States can also be found in the museums and structures that surround this installation
b. 1944, Ghana Ala
You should always be aware of relating to the environment.-El Anatsui
Internationally celebrated artist El Anatsui has been working in the landscape since 1984. Though born in Ghana, the artist has lived in Nigeria for more than 35 years. 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.
b. 1963, Egypt Hunger
There is a physicality of the city as well as the space and culture where a garden is . . . I work with this.-Ghada Amer
Known for her embroidered canvases and sculptures that challenge the representation and position of women in the arts, renowned Egyptian artist Ghada Amer began making gardens in recognition of the role gardens have played in women's lives out of doors. Her garden installations explore themes of love, and the political and social issues that trouble her.
In Hunger the artist has planted a garden of edible rice, a staple crop throughout Africa, Asia, and much of the world. The growing season for rice, from seedling to harvest, is six months, at which time the artist will harvest the rice and then plant and harvest kale.
In a time of tense elections in Egypt, the artist hopes to draw attention to the connections between poverty and electoral fraud. All too often the hungry have their votes bought with food. Alleviating hunger is an important step towards building democracy worldwide.