Guest Voices: Marc Lallanilla

Todays guest post comes from Marc Lallanilla. Lallanilla is a science, health and environmental writer and editor for  and For the Earth Matters blog, Lallanilla offers us some poignant thoughts on a the environmental impacts of war. Too often looked past in popular media, the environmental effects of war have a measurable impact on our lives. Also a talking point for Earth Matters artists Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh, Lallanilla’s thought provoking words are part of nuanced discussion of our relationship to the earth.

The Environmental Effects of War

By Marc Lallanilla

Centuries ago, the armies of ancient Rome sowed salt into the cropland of their enemies, making the soil useless for farming and ensuring the total conquest of their foes.

Using salt to ruin farmland was an early use of military herbicide, which would again be used to devastating effect in Vietnam, when Agent Orange was sprayed on the forests that provided cover to guerrilla soldiers. Between 1961 and 1971, an estimated 20 million gallons of the herbicide was used, decimating some 4.5 million acres of countryside.

These are just a few examples of the effects of war on the environment. Indeed, there are few human endeavors that can wreak near-total devastation on the natural world with the ruthless efficiency of warfare.

Beyond wholesale habitat destruction, war can help to spread invasive species, lead to the collapse of critical infrastructure like water treatment facilities, and cause widespread hunting and poaching of rare and endangered species.

While it may seem counterintuitive, some experts have argued that military conflicts often end up preserving the natural environment. “It’s one of the findings that’s utterly contrary to expectations,” said Jurgen Brauer, Ph.D, professor of economics at Augusta State University in Georgia. “The most preserved area in all of Korea is the demilitarized zone, because you have the exclusion of human activity.”

Indeed, experts have noted that despite the massive amounts of herbicide use during the Vietnam War, more forests have been lost in that country since the war ended than during it, due to peacetime commerce (such as logging and farming) and Vietnam’s quest for prosperity.

The blackened skies that erupted over Kuwait during the oil fires of 1991 provided dramatic visual evidence of war-related environmental damage. These oil fires, however, burned in one month roughly the same amount of oil burned by the United States in a single day.

Despite these facts, experts are quick to emphasize that this is not an argument in favor of armed conflict. “War is not good for the environment,” adds Brauer, author of War and Nature: The Environmental Consequences of War in a Globalized World.

Carl Bruch, co-director of international programs at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C., adds that warfare only delays the environmental damage of peaceful human activity and commerce. “It may provide a respite, but the long-term effects of war aren’t that different from what happens under commercial development,” Bruch said.


Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh (b. 1963, Egypt; b. 1963, Iran)

We Are Destroying Planet Earth, 2007

Charcoal, ink, collage, stickers, embroidery on paper

Courtesy Tina Kim Gallery, New York, and Kukje Gallery, Seoul

Guest Voices: Adejoke Tugbiyele

Todays guest post comes from fine artist Adejoke Tugbiyele. In 2013 Adejoke assisted world-renowned, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui with the installation of his sculpture “Ala”, in the Smithsonian Gardens.  As she prepares to show with artist Nnenna Okore at the Joburg Art Fair, Adejoke shares her experience working with El Anatsui in this week’s Guest Voices.

Working with El Anatsui

Working with El Anatsui was a dream come true.  It could not have felt any better to do so at The Smithsonian, National Museum of African Art. Before me stood, on the one hand, an artist whose reputation deems him an institution by himself, and on the other, an institution which promotes and preserves the legacy of artists like El Anatsui.  I do not come from a family of artists.  Like many children of Nigerian parents, I was encouraged to go into the medical field.  In fact, I went to college as a pharmacy major for two years right after high school. Clearly, that was not the role the universe intended for me.  I quit and eventually went on to study architecture.

Why is this significant?  It is significant because despite my telling him that I was graduate sculpture student at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), El kept introducing me to people as an architect. As any graduate student would, I showed him images of my work during one of our strolls through the Museum’s African art galleries, asking for a critique of some sort. A man of few words… he merely smiled.  Sure enough, and before I knew it, he was requesting detailed sketches and technical drawings of his pryamid installation for the Smithsonian Gardens. This task was not as easy at it sounds.  I often had to switch back and forth between a metric ruler to one in inches and feet, the latter being the system I’ve used most of my life here in the United States.  El didn’t care and remarked that our system in the U.S was “very colonial.”


Adejoke Tugbiyele

Water Go Find Enemy (2013)

Perforated metal (woven), palm stems, brass wire and copper wire

During the installation we became short on the mirrored plexiglass that was used in the construction of El’s pyramid, a delicate material which was meant to be inserted underneath of sheets of cassava graters in pre-specified areas. I sketched out a rough estimate on paper of the total number of existing mirrors and those needed, and sent them to Anthony Stellaccio, the project manager for Earth Matters.  We corresponded back and forth and a decision was finally made on how many more mirrors to purchase.  I was glad that my experience in design and construction management came in handy in supporting Karen Milbourne (curator), Anthony, and their team at the Smithsonian.

Over time, it became apparent why El valued my help.  While installing the pyramid in Washington D.C, he was simultaneously preparing for two other exhibitions in Amsterdam and London respectively.  That London project recently won him the prestigious £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award for his work, TSIATSIA – searching for connection, 2013.  El took several breaks to his hotel room to manage the London project from D.C. and he must have anticipated that he would have to do the same in Amsterdam.  I was thrilled when he said I could join him in Amsterdam as his assistant (or architect, I suppose) to manage the installation at ArtZuid.  This was paid work, whereas at the Smithsonian I was one of the four or five volunteer assistants selected by Karen Milbourne.  I should also mention that the South African artist and one of the artists in Earth Matters, Ledelle Moe, initially recommended me to Karen.  Ledelle was a professor of Sculpture at MICA and gave me very inspiring critiques in my studio.

I can’t thank the Smithsonian Museum enough for the wonderful opportunity of working with El Anatsui.  The volunteer program is very special and one that I highly recommend graduate students should take advantage of.  The exhibition Earth Matters is genius in its selection of artworks that represent a continent whose land has, and will, always matter.

-Adejoke Tugbiyele

photo-2    NMAfA_EM_GardenProject-0410

Adejoke Tugbiyele and El Anatsui                                       Doug Johnston, Adejoke Tugbiyele and El Anatsui


El Anatsui (b. 1944, Ghana)

Ala, Site-specific installation, 2013

Adejoke Tugbiyele

Master of Fine Art, Sculpture (2013)

U.S. Fulbright Student Fellow (2013-14)


From the Archives: The Aftermaths of Mining

Sluice boxes at Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria Ltd., a tin and columbite mining operation, Barakin Akaw, south of Jos, Nigeria. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1959. EEPA EECL 13032 Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution

Sluice boxes at Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria Ltd., a tin and columbite mining operation, Barakin Akaw, south of Jos, Nigeria.
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1959.
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

The massive scale of industrial mining on the African continent has, for the past several hundred years, yielded untold riches of natural resources while also leaving permanent scars on the landscapes (the deep recesses of the Kimberley Diamond Crater in South Africa, for instance). Whereas once the mysteries of the underground may have appeared limitless and suggestive of the powers of the ancestors, spirits, and divine, industrial mining turned them inside out and upside down. Increasingly, the underground has come to symbolize histories buried and resources lost.

Earth Matters explores how artists have dealt with this (literal) upheaval in great detail within the exhibition section, and book chapter, “Imagining the Underground.”  The scars of mining are ecological as well as ideological. The massive toll of mining has taken on the environment and the people who live in it is only beginning to be understood. The shear force of this change can be seen in this photograph by Eliot Eliofson, taken in 1959 in Nigeria at the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria, Ltd. Elisofson takes the viewer into the action as massive amounts of water pour through an artificial mining sluice used to draw out tin and columbite. At its peak in 1943, these mines on the Jos Plateau were producing over 15,000 tons of tin annually. The effect on the environment is becoming increasingly apparent, but has had lasting impacts.

African artists have not observed such degradation passively. Many have actively engaged with ideas of worldwide climate change, seek to protect the environment, and endeavor to bring awareness to their viewers.  Photographer David Goldblatt has tracked environmental change due to mining and dumping in his native South Africa, as well as elsewhere. His shocking image of blue asbestos fibers littering the ground, tailings dumped as byproducts is included in Earth Matters, is disturbing both for its beauty and its subject matter. Like Kentridge, George Osodi has created striking visual images but his photographs focus on the human consequences of mining. His unforgettable photograph, De Money series no. 1, depicts miners working under precarious circumstances at an illegal gold mine in Ghana.

The performance artist Nathalie Mba Bikoro makes the effects of mining deeply personal in her spellbinding performance The Uncomfortable Truth. In her performance at the National Museum of African Art (click on tab above to watch a video recording), Bikoro covered herself in gold leaf and dust, reminiscent of Osodiʼs image, while a screen behind her projected the names of her own family members who have been killed or gone missing as a result of violence and economic inequity in her native Gabon. Bikoro indeed reveals an uncomfortable truth: not only does the earth matter, people matter.

Guest Voices: Charles Okereke

Today’s guest post comes to us from photographer Charles Okereke. Based in Nigeria, Okereke’s world Once in a Blue World was featured in the Earth Matters exhibition. Charles was also feature earlier on our blog -

Now Okereke comes to us with his own words and meditations on his powerful and personal, world-conscious photographs. Be sure to visit Okereke’s blog for more works of art and news about this renowned photographer at

Earth, a Dying World?  


Charles Okereke


The Earth was made as a dwelling place for all creatures, which also includes man.

Of all the creatures dwelling therein, Man is the destroyer when he was otherwise crowned with sovereignty. This arrogant attitude indicates an excess of self-worth, and has made man a plunderer rather than a nurturer.

Human beings are the only creatures that have set rules apart for themselves and refuse to conform to laws that guide creation’s movement and sustenance. Man is similarly the only creature that is out of tune with the eco-system and plagued with a one-sided narrow intellectual outlook.

What is sensed and termed as catastrophes globally today are but a retroactive consequence of a misalignment of the forces of nature – mankind so to speak, has dug its own grave, like dying Worlds.

Hdramhindra Blasted-2010 copy

Hdramhindra Blasted (2010)

This period of recompense will be felt globally in every facet of human endeavor, not only environmentally or climatically. But it will likewise reflect in socio-political affairs, which can already be surmised in the upheavals that are perennial occurrences today.


Man has been living in an exclusively selfish mentality, devoid of the understanding of the powers which he uses daily, ignoring nature’s principles and adjusting thereby. Economic affairs are collapsing; nations are in conflict, and there is uprising everywhere.

Dis-integration-2010 copy

Dis-integration Cameo (2010)


These are visible reverse processes, as the system has to automatically be put back into orderliness by eliminating the inferior and the destructive, be they man or animals, worlds and planets, landscapes and mountains, rivers and oceans, man against man, nations against nations, economic shifts and the rest of them – all these are manifestations of the activities of the Lords of the elements, which man sees as warfare in nature, and perceives one-sidedly as cruel in their manifestations and activities.


Collapse of Andromeda Emperial (2011)

Even in routine designs, we know there is a designer with a purpose who strives to make his designs adaptable and useful to the original intention for its creation; how much more for an automatic pulsating life form like the Earth with her inherent regulatory system. Mankind can only learn by compulsion and   experiences in the coming years to adapt naturally.

My concern comes from the simple understanding that we are all connected and a part of the ecosystem, and by my sense of duty to maintain a healthy and natural world.

Saturn Anchored-2010 copy

Saturn Anchored (2010)


The work of the photographer of this generation becomes increasingly perilous as understanding narrows. As an artist, I use photography as a tool to highlight this observation and neglect, a state of inertia among the people and to bring about an awakening to consciousness, and of the need to be more proactive on issues that concern us as human beings.

Vasitha-2010 copy

Vasitha (2010)

My work speaks metaphorically, as I tend to perceive the images in a sort of tragic-comic innuendo, which if deduced based on surface perception will not reveal much, unless penetrated. I work as an artist not in a stark documentation of the assaulted environment, but from deductions which expose and interpret without being overly offensive or derogatory in presentation. I work to instigate a re-examining of hitherto traditional precepts which do not further, but hinder our species’ progress towards a healthy maturity.

Likewise, the Planetarium subseries, from my Unseen World series uses common objects littering my local environment to illustrate planets in stages of birth, development and disintegration – effects of the activities of the creatures dwelling therein. This places a grim picture before the people of earth illustrating the urgent need to care for Mother Earth and, perhaps, in this process, provide hope for a rebirth and rejuvenation.


Count Down Versuvus (2011)

The fight for a readjustment to the natural order is a constant shift in the consciousness of mankind, as this period is declared a compelling time for obedience, and can never relent to the wills of men, but of a final culmination of purification, which will not cease until there is a change. More is yet to come that will silence man, until he learns the true principles of adaptation.


Rebirth of Orpheus (2010)

In my immediate environment, I act more in the sense of an activist for a cause. My pronouncements and photography has marked me out as a crusader of sorts. But these are issues of intolerance which affect all regions, although it could be more heightened and perceived in some areas.

Paradise Utopia-2011 copy

Paradise Utopia (2011)


Hence I stand on my duty post armed with the potentials to perceive, deduce and freeze the moments through imagery.

By Charles Okereke, 2013


From the Archives: The Mbuti People and the Pongo

A group of Mbuti dance at edge of Ituri Forest, near Beni, Congo (Democratic Republic). Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1970. EEPA EENG 02397 Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution

A group of Mbuti dance at edge of Ituri Forest, near Beni, Congo (Democratic Republic).
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1970.
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

This lively photograph by Eliot Elisofon from 1970, shows a group of Mbuti men and women in the Ituri rainforest, dancing and performing drums and wooden flutes. The energy is clear and the sense of rhythm palpable. For Mbuti peoples of Central Africa, music offers more than entertainment; it is central to rituals, collective cultural memory, and the logic of the land. Rhythm, progression, and movement play an integral part in Mbuti musical and visual arts.

Mbuti polyphonic musical arrangements are renowned worldwide, as are Mbuti painted barkcloths, or pongo. These cloths, made from the inner part of a ficus tree and pounded until dry and supple, are then inked by women. The artists are guided by their sense of rhythm, making each cloth unique. Characterized by alternations between repeating designs and abruptly interrupted linear patterns, some pongo can also be read like maps charting both order and disorder.

Pongo patterns may have been used to demarcate the rainforest home of an Mbuti community and its distinctive makeup of hunting grounds, clearings, waterways, and camps. While the visual strategies of an Mbuti barkcloth may differ from Western notion of a map, each pongo could nevertheless convey similar information: it mapped their sense of here, there, and elsewhere. The appealing aesthetics of Mbuti pongo are matched by their ability to impart deep cultural understanding and knowledge, and an intricate sense of rhythm and motion.

Earth Matters includes a wonderful example of one such barkcloth. Its staccato markings, cross-hatchings, and repeating chevron and diamonds create a sense of movement similar to that felt in Elisofonʼs photograph. Indeed, if you look closely at the image, it appears that the dancers may be wearing barkcloth, reinforcing the close connection between the two. Visit the exhibit yourself to take a closer look at the pongo, and consider the ways in which you inscribe personal and cultural meaning to place and representations of place, visually and auditorily. Do your mental maps include landmarks or cardinal directions? What about the GPS on your phone? For you, what gives rhythm and meaning to the part of the earth you inhabit?

Guest Voices: Andrew Johnston

Todays guest post comes from Dr. Andrew Johnston, a Geographer at the National Air and Space Museum in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies Division. Recently, Johnston worked with another Smithsonian museum, the National Museum of African Art on a companion exhibition to the Earth Matters show. This exhibit, View of Africa, featured satellite imagery of Africa and an installation by South African Artist Jeremy Wafer. Below, Johnston talks about the show that is now on view at the National Air and Space Museum.

Views of Africa at the National Air and Space Museum

On August 9th, we opened Views of Africa, a new art exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum. In conjunction with the Earth Matters exhibition at the National Museum of African Art, it pairs satellite views of African locations with a new work of contemporary art.

South African artist Jeremy Wafer was commissioned to produce a work of sculptural art specifically for this display at the National Air and Space Museum. Wafer has long been inspired by views from maps and images from aircraft and satellites in his work. For this display, he planned a work titled Core, which would include dozens of cylindrical pieces representing soil core samples. In this way, the exhibition would include views of the land from below the surface, paired with views from above as seen by orbiting satellites.


A view of the earth “cores” by Jeremy Wafer and accompanying satellite imagery at the  Air and Space Museum

Wafer produced the pieces this summer at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. The “cores” were made of concrete and colored to give them the appearance of having soil layers. Wafer’s artistic partner Colleen, who also happens to be his wife, was there to help set up the “cores” at the National Air and Space Museum. Karen Milbourne of the African Art Museum also came by.

The installation of the pieces went very well. Wafer arrived at the gallery and made the decision to place the “cores” in a north-south orientation to interact with shadows and sunlight coming through the tall windows.

We announced the installation as a “Meet the Artist” opportunity for the public. Many visitors asked questions of Wafer while he worked. Wafer was happy to speak with people during breaks. Many visitors understood what the pieces represented. During the installation, at least 20 visitors asked, “Are those soil cores?”

Wafer had planned 54 “cores” to represent the number of independent African nations. He made a few extras in case of damage. This turned out to be a good decision, as one of the “cores” broke into two pieces. We kept that one nearby to show visitors what the “cores” looked like on the inside.

– Andrew Johnston, National Air and Space Museum


Andrew Johnston, Jeremy Wafer, Richard Bentham, Colleen Wafer, Karen Milbourne

Views of Africa will be on display until February 16, 2014 at the National Air and Space Museum. Link to the Museum’s web site: