Why Earth Matters at Bowdoin: Reflections from the Curator and the Co-Directors

Osodi-450x299On October 15th the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will open Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. Featuring the work of such leading artists as William Kentridge, George Osodi, Sammy Baloji, and Helga Kohl, the exhibition represents the vision of organizer Karen Milbourne, Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. “Looking through the lens of Africa, we get real insight into the human connection to the land below our feet,” Milbourne observed.

 After opening in 2013 to great acclaim at the National Museum of African Art, the exhibition traveled to UCLA’s Fowler Museum in Los Angeles. The importance of the exhibition continues to grow, taking on new nuance in each region of the country in which it has appeared. It has special significance in the context of Bowdoin College, with its strong commitment to the study of the natural environment. And the show resonates meaningfully in Mid-Coast Maine in light of strong immigration from Africa to our region in recent years. Above all, the exhibition demonstrates how art can frame critical and ancient human questions concerning our own relationship to the world around us politically, historically, and aesthetically. A major multi-author catalogue, an innovative multinational website, and interactive family guides will be included with the exhibition.

On the occasion of the opening of this exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Milbourne offered the following reflections:

Owanto-350x525We are living in a time increasingly defined by migration, territorial disputes, and debates over resource extraction and waste disposal. At the core of each of these complex issues is our human relationship to the land – where we want to live or where our families have lived and we define ourselves, what we want and what we want to give back… This exhibition looks at these global concerns through the lens of African art and artists. As a curator, I was drawn to thinking about these timely issues, but especially how Africa has and continues to be central to their consideration. I was also aware of the important literature that had come before me that provides insights into the history of earth shrines, earth based medicines or healing practices, and mapping arts but that hadn’t been connected. I was simultaneously interested in how these literatures related to one another, and to filling gaps – like the absence of Africa and African artists from the literature on land arts. I was curious as to what would happen if we told this art history another way. Fortunately for me, once I began this research, I found out how central this thinking was to so many artists from Morocco to South Africa. I learned so much from these artists and their messages are what is presented in this exhibition – I just had the honor of bringing them together. As a result, I hope that this exhibition will help each and every one of us think closely about the land beneath our feet – what history it contains and what futures we want to bring to it (and us).

 

Photographic captions from top to bottom:

De Money series no. 1, Fuji crystal archival print, by George Osodi (born Nigeria)

Sahel, 2001, by Iba Ndiaye

Where are we Going? 2009, c-print by Owanto

 

 

 

 

 

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