Listen to the news today and you will notice how many of the reports focus on territorial disputes or how best to access resources within the land or to protect the environment. These are issues that shape our times and they lie at the heart of this exhibition. 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. 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.
Dating from approximately 1800 to the present day, these artworks document changing relationships to the land from the time that international slave trade was illegalized, voluntary international travel became increasingly possible, colonization began, and the mining practices that fueled the Industrial Revolution intensified. The reverberations from these changes can still be felt and seen today.

Pictured above:
George Osodi
b. 1974, Nigeria
De money series no. 1
Fuji crystal archival print
National Museum of African Art, museum purchase, 2011-16-1

Enter exhibition

Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa is organized by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Major sponsorship for Earth Matters provided by the government of the Gabonese Republic. Additional support received from the Smithsonian Institution, Consortia for Valuing World Cultures and for Understanding the American Experience. The Earth Works portion of the exhibition is also generously supported by Paul Neely and Georgia-Pacific.


Mud Masons of Mali at the National History Museum
Views of Africa at the National Air and Space Museum.

And, look for the special bed of African medicinal plants at the United States Botanic Gardens

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