Guest Voices : Georgina Owen

In March 2013, The National Museum of African Art built a collaboration with the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital that was centered on the Earth Matter’s exhibition. This collaboration resulted in an Earth Matters’ themed segment in this year’s annual festival. Also born from that collaboration is this week’s guest post, which comes from Georgina Owen, the festival’s Associate Director.

 

The Environmental Film Festival collaboration with Earth Matters

 

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In the summer of 2012 the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital was invited to collaborate with Earth Matters to develop a series of film programs as part of the 2013 festival that would herald the opening of Earth Matters at the Museum of African Art.  Through long-time EFF partner Jeffrey Stine, Chair and Curator in the Division of Medicine and Science at the American History Museum, who represented the NMAH on the Earth Matters Project Team, we were introduced to Karen Milbourne and Anthony Stellaccio.    As they described the exhibition I was struck with the amazing complexity of the exhibition and yet the elemental importance of its message – the significance of the relationship between humans and the earth we stand on.

The result of our programming was a rich and varied group of films that formed a major theme running through our 2013 festival.  The films were presented in collaboration with four different Smithsonian units and two external partners.  The films ranged from documentaries on mud masons in Mali, on the effects of climate change and drought on onion farmers in Niger, to an inspiring portrait film on Jane Goodall, and to a Gabonese produced family adventure film involving lions and stolen tribal artifacts.  Special guest speakers included Claudine André, who spoke about her work rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tony Huston, who presented classic films by his father, legendary film director John Huston, exploring the influence that filming on location in various parts of Africa had on his work.   The last film in our series was an intimate portrait of El Anatsui, one of the artists invited to create a land art piece in the Smithsonian Gardens for the Earth Matters exhibit.

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Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui

Credit: Icarus Films

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For the Best and For the Onion

Credit: Icarus Films

The success of our Earth Matters film series was a natural precursor to a new pan-Smithsonian collaboration for our 2014 festival, which will take place March 18 through 30.  This year we will be working with the Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia on “Living in the Anthropocene: The Age of Humans.”  Films we are planning to include are The Last Call, that revisits one of the most controversial environmental books of all time, The Limits To Growth, and redelivers its message that growth must be responsibly managed to avoid a global crisis.  We will also show Extreme Realities, narrated by Matt Damon, a new episode of “Journey to Planet Earth,” that explores the links between climate change, extreme weather and national security.  Other films will examine how man has reshaped the natural world – our landscapes, our rivers, our oceans, our atmosphere – even outer space.  The relationship between humans and the earth we stand on matters in unprecedented ways.

Georgina Owen
Associate Director
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital

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Sand Fishers

Credit: Sand Fishers

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The Future of Mud: A Tale of Houses and Lives in Djenne

Credit: Icarus Films

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The King’s Necklace

Credit: The King’s Necklace

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The African Queen

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Earth Matters Around the Web : 2,370 Irreplaceable Places

Last Wednesday, scientists released a list of 2,370 “irreplaceable places.” The purpose of this list is to prioritize habitats essential to the  rare wildlife, to develop protective measures for these habitats, to make the management of those habitats more efficient, and to curb extinction. A full list of the 2, 370 locations is available at the following link: http://irreplaceability.cefe.cnrs.fr/search?

Out of the 2,370 entries, there are hundreds in Africa – a reminder of the continents many natural wonders and its remarkable wildlife. However, the need for protection is also a reminder of the sever fragility of Africa’s ecosystems and the many threats that it faces. From mining to poaching, Africa has many problems to solve before it can achieve environmental sustainability. One of the biggest problems Africa faces is poverty. Dr. Emeka Polycarp Amechi at the University of Lagos in Nigeria makes this point explicitly in a recent essay entitled LINKING ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND POVERTY REDUCTION IN AFRICA: AN ANALYSIS OF THE REGIONAL LEGAL RESPONSES TO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION. In fact, in the opening of the essay Polycarp states that the “New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD- EAP) identifies poverty as the main cause and consequence of man-made environmental degradation and resource depletion in Africa.” Polycarp also quickly points out that while poverty breeds environmental degradation, environmental degradations, in turn, breeds more poverty, creating a viscous cycle.

For proof of the links between poverty and environmental degradation, one need look no further than the stunning images of the Agbogbloshie dump site outside of Accra, in Ghana. This site, a dump for electronic waste from developed nations, has become a home for the impoverished, who rummage through and burn the “e-waste” to pilfer materials that can be sold and recycled. One of the most poignant images of the Agbogbloshie dump site was made by Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo and is featured in the Earth Matters exhibition at the National Museum of African Art. Of course, there are many images of many such sites and there are many more sites that are yet undocumented. But the juxtaposition of this powerful image of poverty and environmental degradation and the serene images of Africa’s grandest nature belong together, for they are inextricably linked.

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Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo

b. 1978, Burkina Faso

Untitled, from the series The Hell of Copper

2008 (2013 exhibition print)

Chromogenic print

 

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Tsavo East National Park, Kenya

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.

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Dandora Pool
video, 2012
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The View
video, 2012
 fdfd
Single Entities
video installation, 2013

Guest Voices : Candace LaRocca

Today’s guest post comes from Candace LaRocca, one of the docents at the Smithsonian, National Museum of African Art and a great friend of the museum. During the years of preparation for Earth Matters, LaRocca has been involved in numerous aspects of the show, most notably helping to translate for our artists from Francophone Africa. In the following post, LaRocca gives a warm and personal account of her experience with working with two artists from Morocco, Hassan Echair and Younes Rahmoun.

From time to time, docents are asked to help out in other areas in which we have a special interest or skill.   I was asked if I could do a rough translation of the one-hour interviews that Karen Milbourne, curator of the Earth Matters exhibition, had taped with the artists Hassan Echair and Younes Rahmoun in Morocco.   I saw this opportunity as a “win/win” situation; it would allow me to brush up on my French at the same time that I would  get to know the artists’  work,  which would assist me in giving tours of Earth Matters!

By accepting this assignment I was able to become very familiar with their work.  The honor of transcribing Dr. Milbourne’s interview required listening to the audiotape a multitude of times!!!.  The benefit was that I felt that I actually was “on location” with her and the artists in Morocco!   I could hear birds chirping in the background during Echair’s interview, I could hear other conversations and work going on during Rahmoun’s interview, and these details made a powerful impression that transported me to Morocco and the artist’s studios. It was amazing to see how much they covered during their one-hour conversation: upon transcription, each interview would be about 14 typewritten pages!

While Echair was unable to come to Washington D.C. for the installation of his work, Anthony Stellaccio (the Earth Matters Project Manager) arranged for the installation of his work to be handled via “Skype,” another first-time opportunity for both me and the museum. We started at 8:00 AM.  The installation site was set up as a mini movie set.  I sat in a corner while the screen was focused on Echair’s work. I interpreted while he worked with our design team for the installation of “Ascension.”   I was quite relieved to see him smiling, drinking a cup of Moroccan mint tea and holding his little girl on his lap in his living room. It seemed such a nice family setting and so relaxed and charming. I shared with him that I was concerned for his personal well being since he had spoken so emotionally with Dr. Milbourne about his work and concerns.   His response was “Yes, my work is not a joy; but someone has to represent these people.”

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Gallery shot of Hassan Echair’s Ascension

Bamboo, quartz, cord, paint, installed at NMAfA in 2013

Photograph by Franko Khoury

I was able to meet Younès Rahmoun personally during the opening of the exhibition; he was equally kind and caring.   As soon as I introduced myself, he wanted to let me know that there was another French- speaking artist who might need some help.   I recalled that he and Dr. Milbourne had discussed the work of Wolfgang Laib during their interview and let Younès know that Laib’s Wax Room was on display at the Phillip’s Collection (a museum of Modern Art in DC).   He managed to see the work prior to his return home and commented that it was “awesome.”

As a docent, I now have the opportunity to add a personal perspective to my tours as a result of my meetings with these artists.  Both Echair and Rahmoun are very deeply involved in their work and committed to expressing the needs and concerns of the people they represent.

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Gallery shot of Younes Rahmoun’s Kemmoussa

Plastic bags and compressed nails, installed at NMAfA in 2013

Photograph by Franko Khoury

Guest Voices: Peter Wheeler

Today’s guest post comes from Peter Wheeler of the Nature Conservancy. Taking leave of this planet, to gain a new perspective on our planet, Wheeler gives us a moment of pause to reflect on the iconic Earth-rise photo that was taken during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. While filing through the many issues that concern us here on earth, this legendary photo altered are perception of the planet by showing us what it looked like from afar. Here is an apt moment to reconsider this image, our planet, our role upon it, and how Earth Matters from an entirely different vantage point.

The Dark Side of the Moon

“In 1968 Apollo 8 went to the moon…”

What more exciting first line of a story could there be for any earth dweller? To boldly go… three men aboard, among our billions, setting off on the ultimate adventure. Only 11 years after the first man ever, Yuri Gagarin, escaped the earth’s gravitational field briefly to orbit the earth, just once.

Think of that. What were you doing in April 2002, just 11 years ago? Imagine the progress!  On the day they went, a HP12-C pocket calculator cost more than $500 which in real terms (today’s money) would  be almost $3,500.  The total computing power on board the Command Module was less than what you have today in your smart phone. At number 3 in the UK music charts was I’m an Urban Spaceman by the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah band. Earlier in that year, 1968, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Richard Nixon had just defeated Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election, but Lyndon Johnson still occupied the White House; the War in Vietnam was in full swing, as was the resistance movement, boiling over into the Summer of Love.

And yet these three were going to travel over a quarter of a million miles to circumnavigate the moon, just to show that it could be done. And to prepare the way for the ultimate Giant Step For Mankind, taken by Buzz Aldrin three missions and just nineteen months later on July 20th 1969 . Three years after that, Pink Floyd would release their best-selling album, The Dark Side of the Moon, opening propitiously with the ringing of cash registers over a jumpy bass guitar line, ‘Money…’

Then this happened: after circumnavigating the moon, being the first men to see for themselves the dark side of the moon, that cold desolate monochrome place, those same three men saw something quite remarkable, more remarkable even than the lunar landscape they were flying over. They saw earth, rising above the stark atmosphere-less horizon, not a full earth but a waxing earth, half in light, half in shadow, but beautiful, blue green and white. Our planet. Earth-Rise.

 

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Wiliam Anders took this photograph on December 24th, 1968.

The film made of this event is stunning. The impact of the image seen for the first time comes across in the joyous outburst by the crew. Even at mission control in Houston, engineers gazed amazed at their monitors.

Back in 1948, the British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle predicted that when spaceflight enabled us to see the whole Earth from space, the view would change us forever. He was right.

I saw this film first, projected onto a huge screen erected in the Rajasthan desert, on September 23rd 2013. With around 100 others, I saw it beneath the stars and, yes, the moon. In the 45 years since that amazing moment, many of us were experiencing it for the first time. No man has trodden on the moon since 1971, so we can safely assume that going there is of no great import. What clearly was of great import was seeing Earth this way for the first time.

Four years before the Apollo 8 mission, Adlai Stevenson addressing the UN had used these words,

“We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave—to the ancient enemies of man—half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all…”

Now ‘Spaceship Earth’ really meant something.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_EeaqiHDeE

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7797439.stm

The second time I saw this film, I was sitting in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in DC among 240 trustees of The Nature Conservancy, and the film was introduced by Colonel Ron Garan, a retired US Airforce Pilot and NASA Astronaut, who had participated along with two Russian Cosmonauts on the 50th anniversary mission on a Soyuz TMA-21 launch vehicle spending 13 months on the International Space Station.

When Anders took his famous Earth Rise photograph, Garan was 7 years old.

 

 

Guest Voices: Chelsea Ellsworth

Today’s guest post comes from former NMAfA intern Chelsea Ellsworth. Having joined the NMAfA team at one of the busiest and most crucial times – during the install of the show – Ellsworth got a first hand view of all the work it took to execute this ambitious exhibition. One of the most ambitious pieces, perhaps, was Moroccan artist Hassan Echair’s site specific installation Ascension. Not only was it one of the most ambitious pieces, it was also the first artwork at NMAfA installed via skype, with the artists supervising the installation in DC all the way from Morocco. Below, Ellsworth gives us an account of some of her experiences with this work and with Earth Matters.

My name is Chelsea Ellsworth and I worked as an exhibits intern at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.  I helped the exhibits team to install the show Earth Matters from January to April and had the opportunity to work specifically with one artist in particular, Hassan Echair.  Hassan Echair created a piece entitled Ascension that was to be reproduced for this exhibition at NMAfA but, as he was located in Morocco, we had to prepare his piece for him remotely.

At the start of my internship, I was asked to source and purchase materials for Hassan to make this piece here at our museum.  As time went on, I was assigned additional projects in the preparation of this piece.  As I worked on these projects, I had many questions for Hassan that I sent via email.  Some of these were translated using an online translator but others were so complex that I sent them to some friends who spoke French so that they could translate them more accurately.  Despite the language gap and the physical distance, Hassan and I were able to communicate in order to prepare his piece for the exhibition.  Eventually, Hassan notified us that he would not be able to come and install the piece, leaving its completion to us.  As a result, I had the exciting opportunity to create and oversee this piece while working with the Exhibits installation team.

As the rest of the team was busy working on other aspects of this exhibition, I took responsibility for this piece and got to work preparing all of the components for assembly.  My supervisor, Kevin Etherton, and I worked together each day to assemble this piece and to prepare it to show to Hassan.

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Kevin Etherton and Chelseal Ellsworth installing Ascension

 

We continued to communicate via email with Hassan but we got to a point where photos and emails were no longer enough to get this piece completed.  We then scheduled a day when we could have a French translator and a Skype connection with Hassan in Morocco.

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Artist Hassan Echair supervises the installation of his work via skype

 

That day was very interesting as I was able to communicate with Hassan directly for the first time and see his reaction to what we had done with his design.  I was anxious to hear his feedback and worried that he would find something terribly wrong, but I was glad to hear that he loved the work we had done and was pleased with how his piece had turned out.  He gave us some minor alterations here and there and then sat down with me on Skype and demonstrated how to properly tie his bamboo poles together, something that would have been very difficult to figure out through email.

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Hassan Echair (b. 1964, Morocco)

Ascension, 2006, Bamboo, quartz, cord, paint

 

I loved working on this piece and I am glad to say that we completed Hassan’s piece and he was pleased with the results.  I loved having the opportunity to speak with Hassan and to see his reaction to our weeks of hard work and I am glad that we were able to create this fantastic work of art together.

Guest Voices: Marc Lallanilla

Todays guest post comes from Marc Lallanilla. Lallanilla is a science, health and environmental writer and editor for LiveScience.comAbout.com  and ABCNews.com. 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.

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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