Guest Voices: From the Curator

George Osodi (b. 1974, Nigeria), De money series no. 1, 2009

Today, our guest post comes to use from a very unique perspective: that of the curator for Earth Matters, Dr. Karen E. Milbourne. As you’ll discover below, Dr. Milbourne worked for years to make Earth Matters happen – below she shares her experience of finally seeing the show open to the public here at the National Museum of African Art:

It’s a funny thing to be a curator when an exhibition opens.  It’s both thrilling and nerve-wracking to see the works of art and ideas all come together: do they fit together as I envisioned?  Will the artists be pleased?  Will the ideas translate to visitors?  With Earth Matters, one of the most rewarding aspects was having 18 of the artists choose to participate in the opening events. Nathalie Mba Bikoro gave a performance that moved viewers to tears; Ingrid Mwangi burst into song; and Georgia Papageorge asked us each to think about what was our individual and collective responsibility toward the earth.  This exhibition speaks to issues that affect us all – whether in Africa, the United States, or elsewhere – and these artists are remarkable in their ability to help us understand our human relationship to the land upon which we live, breath, and frame our days.

ImageA crowd looks down on Hassan Echair’s piece, Ascension, at the opening of Earth Matters (via Twitter)

I first began work on this project 4 years ago when I wrote my first grant that helped fund part of the research.  The research has involved traveling to Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Gabon, Angola, South Africa, and Kenya.  The issues and their expression are bigger than one place.  It is my hope that  by beginning to understand the different materials of the earth, what they can and have meant, where they come from, how the land has been interpreted, and how we protect it, we might better understand ourselves so that we can in full consciousness choose how we want to move forward in drawing upon the earth’s  resources and disposing of the things we no longer use.  It is a show about choices, and I hope that you will choose to see it.

Head over to Twitter to see Dr. Milbourne’s answers to last Friday’s Earth Matters Q&A, and leave your thoughts in the comments. Make sure to check back next Monday, and every Monday after that, for more unique perspectives on how the Earth matters to all of us.

Today! Live Twitter Q&A with Curator Karen Milbourne

Have questions about the new Earth Matters exhibit that opened this week? Curious about how the show all came together? Join us for a live Twitter Q&A today, Friday, April 26 at 12pm EST with the exhibition’s curator Dr. Karen Milbourne, who will field questions about the exhibit, its themes, and its inspirations. To participate, just include either @nmafa or #earthmatters in your tweets. Visit us at:

Earth Matters Around the Web

File:The Blue Marble.jpgvia NASA

On Monday, the National Museum of African Art celebrated the opening of Earth Matters with a variety of informative and inspiring programs. These included a well-attended exhibit tour with curator, Dr. Karen E. Milbourne, a roundtable discussion including many of the artists featured in the show, and a visually stunning, deeply moving performance piece by Gabonese artist Nathalie Mbo Bikoro of her work, The Uncomfortable Truth. (Keep checking this blog for photos, stories, and links forthcoming from these events.)

The opening also inspired some buzz around the web. Check out:

  • A great review of the show from the Washington Post’s Lonnae O’Neal Parker.
  • A discussion of the show’s environmental focus on the BBC World Service (from 00:36.32-00:40.50), featuring interviews with artists attending the opening, including Georgia Papageorge and Jerry Buhari.
  • A video from the Smithsonian’s Around the Mall blog featuring Earth Matters curator Dr. Karen E. Milbourne discussing the earth art installed around the Mall, a first for the Smithsonian.

Scenes from Zimbabwe, © JackyR, Wikimedia Commons

Earth Day was also discussed around the web with stories about real environmental action in Africa and around the world:

  • Read about how African farmers throughout the continent are reconsidering their connections to the land and how they can help save it.
  • YouTube spotlighted some of Africa’s most awe-inspiring natural landscapes.
  • Check out how restaurants in Ghana are looking to local ingredients to revamp the restaurant scene and celebrate West African cooking.

We hope you get the chance to stop by and see all the ways the National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian is celebrating the Earth. Until then, keep checking back here every Wednesday for links to more timely,  interesting, and surprising Earth matters around the web.

Guest Voices: Secretary G. Wayne Clough


Happy Earth Day! Here at the National Museum of African Art, we will be celebrating and exploring the earth with the opening of our major new exhibit, Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa.

To open this landmark exhibition, today on this blog we have a very special guest post, from the Smithsonian’s Secretary, G. Wayne Clough:

Earth Matters, a first-of-its kind exhibition of African art on the National Mall in our nation’s capital, is a perfect example of what the Smithsonian is uniquely able to offer America and the world—a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and timely exploration of our planet. Our scholars tell us we live today in the “Anthropocene,” or the age of humans. Through these colorful and compelling works, African artists invite us to explore what that means. What could be more relevant to us all? Especially in this time of global change, we all need to think about how we touch the Earth: what we take from it, what we leave on it. Earth Matters is a cross-disciplinary effort at the Smithsonian involving the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Gardens, National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. It is supported in part by our Consortium for World Cultures and our Consortium for Understanding the American Experience.

Secretary Clough

Secretary Clough (Photo Credit: Carl C. Hansen, Smithsonian)

My boyhood home was Douglas, Georgia. I grew up exploring and fishing in swamps like the Okefenokee. I paid my way through college working as a surveyor for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company out of Knoxville, Tennessee, travelling up and down the line from Cincinnati to Atlanta. It was hard work, but I learned to love the land even more. As an earthquake engineer, I have long marveled at, and respected, the power of Mother Nature. As the Secretary of the Smithsonian, one of the many joys of the job is seeing the world through new eyes, those of scientists, historians, educators and artists.

These African artists have much to show us. I invite everyone to explore and engage in all the Earth Matters programming here in our nation’s capital and also online. There is much to see and do. We have a wide variety of fun and educational offerings for learners of all ages. And we all need to learn more about our planet so we can protect it for this and future generations to enjoy.

Please join us all day today for free events celebrating Earth Day and the opening of this landmark exhibition at the National Museum of African Art.

And keep checking this blog for new guest posts every Monday, as well as insider looks at our archives, behind-the-scenes photos, and updates on the many exciting events and programs the National Museum of African Art will be hosting throughout the exhibit. We hope you will join us!

(Photo Credit: © Gryffindor, Wikimedia Commons)

Join Us for the Opening of Earth Matters!

Many of the artist featured in this landmark show will also be in attendance – drop in for a chance to meet Jide Alakija, Nathalie Mba Bikoro, Jerry Buhari, Christine Dixie, Anawana Haloba, Helga Kohl, Ledelle Moe, Ingrid Mwangi, Charles Okereke, Owanto, Georgia Papageorge, Dawit Petros, Thabiso Phokompe, Younès Rahmoun, Tchif, and Strijdom van der Merwe.

All events are free and open to the public.