Guest Voices: Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter

Today’s guest post comes from a pair of artists known collectively as Mwangi Hutter, who were featured in the Earth Matter’s exhibition. True to form and to this pair’s sensitive and poignant work, today’s post is a poem, or, more correctly, a poetic reflection on our relationship to planet Earth.

The sound of the world

Mwangi Hutter

The sound of the world has changed

it surrounds us with its deafening call

defeat

to repeat

to change

to blame

there is nothing I can do but listen

and watch while my tears blur the painful images

while I shake my head in disbelief

knowing I must believe.

if I don’t, who will listen to the screams to make them go away?

who will take them, engulf them, transform them

what can I do? I swallow the images that burn my memory.

I am dazed. I cannot allow

I allow it to happen

I am part of it

I don’t want to have any, any part in it

resignation marks my face, repulsion, sadness

and again disbelief

and again the questions arise

what can I do

do I do

do I do enough?

there is never enough done

until it stops

until the images fade to leave light

until

hurt is blinding me

making me numb

I need not judge nor care nor wonder

it is as it is

‘violence is a part of human nature’

I want no part of that part

I have to decide. Am I here to be within myself

or do I want to stand beside me and let them beat

kill the mother

whip the child

teach him to hold a gun

gun them down

download their useless

leech the bleeding earth

run from

hide through

never feel resposible

blame

justify

repeat

defeat humanity.

I will need to scream

to turn the inner scream outwards

to aim it

to kill the killers killing

but softly and strongly

need to believe that

if we don’t, I don’t know what will happen.

Image

Dandora Pool
video, 2012
Image
The View
video, 2012
 fdfd
Single Entities
video installation, 2013
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Guest Voices: Rick Potts on the Life and Times of Our Early Ancestors

Today’s guest post features paleoanthropolgist  Rick Potts,  Director of the Smithsonian Human Origins Program, and Curator of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History.  Potts sheds light on his  recent  dig at the site of Olorgesailie in the southern part of Kenya.

Africa is known as the cradle of humanity.

The reason is the amazing collection of fossils and archeological finds dug up in the layers of sediments on the African continent. These discoveries tell us about the long distant past as the human ability to walk upright, make tools, and create art came into being. Nearly all of the important developments in human prehistory, spanning the past 6 million years, took place in Africa. I visit this huge continent every year because it’s the best place to search for clues about how our species evolved.

My team of excavators and researchers do our work in Kenya. For nearly three decades we have dug every year in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa at the site of Olorgesailie, in the southern part of Kenya. Here the record of remains left behind by early ancestors stretches back 1 million years. Our digs tell us about the era of simple stone handaxes, and later on about when our ancestors began making more complicated tools.  We also learn about the time when the ancestors who look like people today originated: our species, Homo sapiens.

Olorgesailie is famous for the thousands of stone handaxes accumulated in ancient stream channels between 1.2 million and 500,000 years ago. The handaxe shown here is about 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) tall. Early human ancestors made these kinds of stone tools for more than a million years.

Olorgesailie is famous for the thousands of stone handaxes accumulated in ancient stream channels between 1.2 million and 500,000 years ago. The handaxe shown here is about 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) tall. Early human ancestors made these kinds of stone tools for more than a million years.

This fossil discovered by my team shows the eye sockets, the brow ridges, and the forehead of a species of early human known as Homo erectus, who lived and made the handaxes at Olorgesailie 900,000 years ago. The white scale bar at the bottom is 1 centimeter long.

This fossil discovered by my team shows the eye sockets, the brow ridges, and the forehead of a species of early human known as Homo erectus, who lived and made the handaxes at Olorgesailie 900,000 years ago. The white scale bar at the bottom is 1 centimeter long.

Early humans lived in the Olorgesailie region starting around 1.2 million ago. The area today is inhabited by the Maasai people, who live by herding cows and other livestock. Our excavations at Olorgesailie allow us to find out about the habitats and animals that much earlier humans encountered, as well as the handaxe tools they made and the climate challenges they met.

The landscape of the Rift Valley of Kenya where I work. The many layers of sediment show the changes that occurred in the environment as the layers of dirt built up over time. Study of these layers by geologists tells us of fluctuations in the lake that once occupied this area, and when it eventually dried up. Ash layers from nearby volcanic eruptions can be dated, providing a time line for changes in climate, plants and animals, and the ways of life of early humans.

The landscape of the Rift Valley of Kenya where I work. The many layers of sediment show the changes that occurred in the environment as the layers of dirt built up over time. Study of these layers by geologists tells us of fluctuations in the lake that once occupied this area, and when it eventually dried up. Ash layers from nearby volcanic eruptions can be dated, providing a time line for changes in climate, plants and animals, and the ways of life of early humans.

In September 2012, we began an unusual project that led us to bring heavy machinery to Olorgesailie in order to drill into the ground and extract a long cylinder from beneath the surface. The goal was to obtain an undisturbed record of ancient climate preserved in the underground layers over the last several hundred thousand of years. After a lot of effort, we succeeded getting the long cylinder, or drill core, that reached 162 meters underground (almost 2 football fields deep). Our research indicates that the core very likely represents the past 500,000 years of climate in that part of the world – East Africa – that gave rise to our species and to all people who live on Earth.

We set up drilling equipment in the southern part of the Olorgesailie region. The layers of sediments underneath the drill reached 162 meters deep. The specialized drill brought the core to the surface in segments 3 meters long, which allowed us to pack up all the portions of the core and bring them to the U.S. for study. Our team carried out drilling in both the day and night (below).

We set up drilling equipment in the southern part of the Olorgesailie region. The layers of sediments underneath the drill reached 162 meters deep. The specialized drill brought the core to the surface in segments 3 meters long, which allowed us to pack up all the portions of the core and bring them to the U.S. for study. Our team carried out drilling in both the day and night (below).

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Twenty-two researchers from around the world participated in the Olorgesailie core workshop in 2013. Our research team collected samples from the core so that we can conduct many different kinds of environmental analysis, including study of ancient pollen grains and chemical indicators of changes in rainfall and temperature over time. Our first analysis suggests that the core represents African climate from the past 500,000 years.

Twenty-two researchers from around the world participated in the Olorgesailie core workshop in 2013. Our research team collected samples from the core so that we can conduct many different kinds of environmental analysis, including study of ancient pollen grains and chemical indicators of changes in rainfall and temperature over time. Our first analysis suggests that the core represents African climate from the past 500,000 years.

Conclusion:  In our study of the Olorgesailie core, the big question is whether our species emerged in a time of strong fluctuations and uncertainty in the environment or at a time of relatively stable climate. Our answer to this question may help us understand the capacity of our species in the future to adjust to new climates and environments that will inevitably arise.

Earth Matters Around the Web

800px-Venezia_veduta_aereaVenezia, view from air (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, news of the 55th Venice Biennale has dominated the art world. And African nations have been front and center in the coverage of the biannual art festival, celebrating the newest and most dynamic artists and ideas from around the world.

  • “It’s viva Africa,” declared Zimbabwean curator Raphael Chikukwa, as Angola took home the prestigious Golden Lion for best national participation with its first ever showing at the Biennale – learn more about the frenzy surrounding the Angolan pavilion, among others hailing from Africa, here.
  • Learn about some of the best offerings to be found this past week in Venice, according to the Huffington Post, which heavily featured African nations including those from Kenya and South Africa.
  • See Ireland’s contribution to the Biennale, featuring Richard Mosse’s photographs of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and learn more about the unique infrared process Mosse uses to make these arresting, colorful images.

What have you heard about this year’s Venice Biennale? What pavilions and artists did you think put forward the best showing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Get a look inside the Angolan pavilion above, and hear from its curators Paula Nascimento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera – and don’t miss more videos from the 2013 Biennale’s excellent YouTube channel here

Earth Matters Around the Web

800px-Dallol-2001(photo via Wikimedia Commons)

How do you interact with the earth? What do you picture it as? How does the earth affect you – and how do you affect it? All of these themes are addressed in Earth Matters. This week, around the web, many of the same themes  in the exhibit showed up in news around the world.

  • First up, find about a bit more about the exhibit’s five themes by checking out what WETA had to say about Earth Matters and the issues it addresses.
  • Earth Matters explores the ways in which African artists have connected to the endless world underground throughout the ages, often through rituals and rites honoring the dead in “Imagining the Underground.” Watch how Paa Joe, the Ghanian master coffin-maker is bringing his own art of honoring the dead to the attention of Great Britain here.
  • Through “Material Earth,” the exhibit asks the question: what is earth? How is the definition the same – or different – from person to person? Salt is one answer – get firsthand look at the unique landscape created by salt in these spectacular photos of the salt trade in Ethiopia.
  • Artists’ active responses to climate change  make up a central theme in Earth Matterslearn more about how the members of the Maasai culture are responding to similar changes while trying to maintain their traditional culture.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/63318388″>For Many Maasai, Climate Change May Mean the End of Traditional Ways</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pritheworld”>PRI's The World</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Watch the full story above.