Todays guest post comes from Ross G. Kreamer, the Assistant Deputy Administrator at the Office of Foreign Service Operation, who shares his experience of the exhibition Earth Matters with us.
Earth Matters at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art
I very much enjoyed the thought-provoking exhibition Earth Matters at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. My observations are perhaps narrowly defined by my overseas career in agriculture. Having recently returned from a tour at U.S. Embassy/Pretoria as head of the Office of Agricultural Affairs, my thoughts on southern Africa and regional agricultural issues, e.g., food security, employment, trade & investment, the environment and sustainability, informed how I viewed the installation of the show. I saw, for example, the rice plot (spelling out ‘hunger’) in the garden only after it had been attacked by birds. The pest-damaged rice looked out of place in such a manicured setting, but crop loss is all too often what happens to rice farmers in Africa. Certainly the artist, Ghada Amer, addresses the very real issues of hunger that afflict many communities around the world, often the result of population growth, natural disasters, and failed policies. Hopes of a good harvest can be greatly reduced, and with it the specter of food insecurity. Having done graduate research in Ghana on cassava processing (into gari), I greatly enjoyed artist El Anatsui’s creative use of cassava graters in fashioning a structure that seems to rise and disappear at the same time. Throughout my overseas postings in Ghana, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and South Africa, I have often remarked upon the centrality of agriculture to cultures and communities. No wonder so many beautiful utilitarian objects & rituals are inspired by the agricultural cycle, in Africa and around the globe. Balancing the use of the earth’s resources to meet the food needs of a growing population is indeed a very serious matter.