In an article posted just a few hours before this post was written it was announced that “Trees sewn with particles of gold excite Australia’s mining industry“. On a first read of this title one might suppose that there is going to be a rush to start mining trees for gold, and that, despite our environmental concerns about deforestation, there will be yet another incentive for cutting down of trees en-masse. The article states. however, that the amount of gold contained in trees is so minute that it would take hundreds of trees to produce enough gold for a wedding ring. Instead of being a source of gold, the trees’ only potential is as an indicator of where gold deposits might be found beneath the surface. On the one hand, this news might grant us a sigh of relief, with hundred’s of trees now spared by the mining industry.
One should not forget, however, that mining of any kind has enormous environmental impacts. In a 2010 article the Washington Post reported on the severe impacts of gold mining in particular. For example, while it would take several hundred trees to produce enough gold for a wedding ring, mining the earth for the same amount of gold could produce as much as 20 tons of ore and waste rock. This is because, as the article states, “a ‘rich’ (gold) mine might contain just a few tenths of an ounce of gold per ton of ore; a ‘poor’ one would have a few hundredths of an ounce per ton.”
While the scale of the impact of gold mining is probably difficult to imagine and unknown by most people, one of the artists in the Earth Matters exhibition is all too familiar with it. Here I am referring to Gabonese artist Nathalie Mba Bikoro, whose performance “The Uncomfortable Truth” was featured in the exhibition and on the Earth Matters website (http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/earthmatters/bikoro.html). In this unnerving performance, Bikoro lays bare the suffering endured by so many Africans, and so many people close to her, that was inflicted by the mining industry’s hunger for land and profit. You can also hear Bikoro talk about her work in a recent interview on aadart.com.
Nathalie Mba Bikoro’s performance of “The Uncomfortable Truth”
National Museum of African Art, April 22, 2013
Photograph by Franko Khoury