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:


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