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.”

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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

NMAfA_EM_GardenProject-2345

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)

Website: www.AdejokeTugbiyele.com

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From the Archives: Graters of Cassava

Cassava

Cultivated plot, near Jos, Nigeria.
Photograph by Edwin R. and Emily Dean, 1966.
EEPA 2002-120042
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

  

The Earth Matters exhibition features, for the first time, three earth works installed in the Smithsonian Gardens (SG) on the National Mall. This monumental undertaking was detailed in an earlier post by SG supervisory horticulturist Jonathan Kavalier, but the works began in conception long before they ever materialized in physical form. The artists, Ghada Amer of Egypt, Strijdom van der Merwe of South Africa, and El Anatsui of Ghana and Nigeria (and Ledelle Moe, whose outdoor sculpture has also been installed outside of the National Museum of African Art), each came to visit walked the gardens before they even began the process of creating, getting a feel for the unique spaces of the garden and beginning the thought process about what shape and material form their earth works would take.

El Anatsui, for instance, looked to challenge conceptions of what an earth work might be made of in his work, Ala, named for the Igbo earth goddess. The pyramid of mirrors and rusted metal that ultimately emerged seems deceptively industrial when first viewed.  But Anatsui says that he “settled for something that just rests [on the ground], something which is light but has allusions to the earth—because the material I am going to work with is rusted metals. Metal is from the earth, as are the reflective sheets. Glass is silica, which is soil, so I am still using the earth. …” (personal communication with curator Dr. Karen E. Milbourne, Sept. 10, 2012).

But for Anatsui, in this and past works, each metal sheet references a very specific usage of earth. In a standing arrangement with manufacturers from his home base in Nsukka, Nigeria, Anatsui asks that used cassava graters be given to him.  He leaves them in his studio yard for months or years so that they rust and take on different patinas. Made from discarded galvanized iron oil drums and punctured with nails to create a surface upon which tough cassava root can be grated, these graters signal, for Anatsui, the intersection between nature and human intervention in the form of agriculture and food cultivation. Anatsui’s earth work shows us the common ground shared by nature and industry.  

Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a staple crop in western Africa, particularly in Nigeria where Anatsui continues to live and work today. High in carbohydrates, this common plant is cultivated throughout the world in sub-tropical or tropical climates due to its high resistance to drought. In this photo from 1966 by Edwin R. and Emily Dean, taken in Nigeria, a cultivated plot of cassava can be seen in neat tidy rows. Here, we can see the crop as it looks when growing, although the true value of cassava is not in view – the tough roots are where the nutritional value is, necessitating the use of the tough galvanized-iron-and-metal graters that Anatsui utilizes.

Today, Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, and farms tend to look different today than they do in this photo from over forty years ago. Though the neat rows remain, farms tend to be much larger and the crop is useful in that it can serve as a cash crop during good harvests, but can also feed its producers as a hardy, nutrient-rich subsistence crop during leaner times. Where does agriculture fit into your conception of the earth? Do you consider it “natural,” or does your definition of earth differ?

Guest Voices: Strijdom van der Merwe, Earth Works

Today’s guest post comes to us from Strijdom van der Merwe, Africa’s only dedicated land artist and one of three artists who were selected to create earth works in the Smithsonian Gardens as part of the exhibition, Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. A contemplative artist, van der Merwe gives us a peek into the thoughts behind his work.

The British artist Richard Long once made the statement when he said “the ground is the beginning and the end of existence, whether in terms of clay, canvas or the fabric of the mind. The place you start from, where you make your first mark, there is always a starting point which effects the outcome of your undertaking.”  As a land artist myself I believe that the land must always have greater impact on you than you on the landscape. When following the disciplines and rules of the cycles of nature and observing its beauty and fragility you became aware of how and where you fit into this natural world. No work in the landscape can begin without a proper meditation process and understanding of that space, the reason for its existence and where it is going and were it is coming from. Once this knowledge has been obtained, only then can you start to sculpt the land according to what the site allows you to do or the message that you want to bring across. But first was the land, always the land.

ImageRichard Long (b. 1945), Small White Pebble Circles, 1987, Tate Modern (photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

As an artist that predominantly does work in Africa you are aware that Africa is a multiplex of cultural marks that have been left behind by generations. First was the San people that trekked through the landscape leaving drawings and engravings on the rocks, then came the tribes from north Africa who built stone walls and dwellings, then came the settlers from Europe and they build telephone poles and roads. All of these leave marks and imprints on the landscape as explanation of different needs and purposes. As a land artist, whenever I touch and work the land all of these become part of my thinking process. How much does history and culture influence my work, how deep a mark do I want to leave behind or do I only want to leave behind a reminder of an individual that has altered and changed the natural material into geometric forms in order to create an art work, an art work that is only for the moment and will disappear again within the cycles of nature.

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IMG_6528Earth Works by Strijdom van der Merwe

Guest Voices: Earth Works at the Smithsonian

Happy Memorial Day! We at the Smithsonian hope you are enjoying a happy and relaxing day with family and friends.

Our guest post today features Jonathan Kavalier, a supervisory horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens, who was integral in making the Earth Works happen in conjunction with the Earth Matters exhibit. This partnership marks a first for the Smithsonian – never before has land art been installed on the National Mall. Learn about the process of making this amazing feat happen – with 30 million visitors to the nation’s capital looking on. 

merwe 1Strijdom van der Merwe’s piece, Land Reform, on Independence Ave. in Washington, DC – photo courtesy Jonathan Kavalier

As a horticulturist, I don’t often have the opportunity to participate in art exhibitions. So when museum curator Karen Milbourne approached me with an idea for a collaboration between the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) and Smithsonian Gardens, my interest was piqued. I met Karen when she attended a talk I gave on building gardens in Madagascar, a country I had the immense pleasure of living in for two years before joining the Smithsonian. Since I was already emotionally invested in Africa, the idea of collaborating with NMAfA sounded great, and definitely supported Smithsonian Gardens’ mission to enrich the Smithsonian experience through exceptional gardens, horticultural exhibits, collections, and education. What came out of many discussions was an idea to commission earthworks from several African artists in some of the Smithsonian Gardens.

moeLedelle Moe’s outdoor sculpture piece, Land/Displacements, outside the National Museum of African Art – photo via Pinterest

Now two years later, this idea has finally come to fruition. My job was to manage the logistics of installing these very different earth works involving sculpture, living plants, and earth moving. Add to that the challenge of working around existing garden infrastructure and the 30 million visitors that come through the Smithsonian annually, all without compromising the artists’ visions. I am very happy to say that the earth works have all been successfully installed, and some rice planting finally happened a few weeks ago for Ghada Amer’s piece, Hunger. We’ve actually been growing rice in our greenhouses for the past two months, eagerly waiting for the warmer weather to arrive so we can plant the rice into the Earth Works exhibit.

The most challenging, and rewarding, part of coordinating these installations was working around the visiting public during what is the busiest time of year for Smithsonian Gardens. Lots of time and effort were put into ensuring the public’s safety during the course of the work, but the reward of observing visitors witnessing the creation of these exhibits was priceless.

merwe 2Looking down Independence Ave. along the folds of van der Merwe’s Land Reform – photo courtesy Jonathan Kavalier

We hope you’ll stop by the National Mall this summer and fall and see these spectacular works of art that only could have happened with the partnership and hard work of Jonathan Kavalier and the rest of Smithsonian Gardens. They mark a true “first” for the Smithsonian, revealing the constant connection between art, humanity, and the land that each earth artist in the show has skillfully and distinctly revealed.  Don’t miss it!

Today! Join Us for Garden Fest

ImageToday, May 10th, from 11am to 7pm, join Smithsonian Gardens and the National Museum of African Art for Garden Fest in the historic Enid A. Haupt Garden. This full day event will feature free classes and workshops, a free Zumba class, plenty of family-friendly crafts and activities, and a performance by the Grammy-nominated artist Cheick Hamala Diabete.

Further, this year Smithsonian Gardens has partnered with the National Museum of African Art to celebrate the recently opened Earth Matters. For the occasion, the museum will stay open until 7pm – make sure to stop by and check it out! And you can’t miss the spectacular Earth Works scattered throughout the Haupt Garden, featuring the work of Ghada Amer, El Anatsui, Ledelle Moe, and Strijdom van der Merwe. In a historic partnership, Smithsonian Gardens worked closely with the National Museum of African Art to bring works of land art to the Smithsonian for the first time ever. Check out some of the process in the video below:

The sun is out, the flowers are blooming – enjoy this beautiful spring Friday and join the Smithsonian for this unique event. We hope to see you there!

Guest Voices: Join Us for Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Fest 2013!

Garden Fest Parterre copy

Getting set up for Garden Fest 2012 – photo courtesy Smithsonian Gardens

Today’s guest post comes to us courtesy of the Smithsonian Gardens’ Educators, who have worked closely with the National Museum of African Art for this year’s Garden Fest, Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens. Join us in the sunshine for a full day of free events, this Friday, May 10th, 2013!

Every May, Smithsonian Gardens (SG) hosts Garden Fest in the Enid A. Haupt Garden, an annual celebration of all things green and beautiful, for National Public Gardens Day.  This year’s theme is Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens, inspired by the National Museum of African Art’s exhibit.

While designing the activities and selecting the performers for Garden Fest, SG Education staff thought about connecting with the messages Earth Matters’ many diverse artists share in their work.  The exhibit features artists answering the question how does the Earth matter to them personally, and we hope that Garden Fest will give visitors the opportunity to express their own ideas and interact directly with the Earth.

Activities will provoke artistic interpretation by collaborating on the formation of a collective ephemeral land art installation; guerilla gardening by making seed balls to toss in abandoned lots or home gardens; and stimulate explorers to join an ancient expedition through petrified wood, fossils, amber and agricultural tools. The annual plant container design contest will provide ideas on plant combinations and unique containers to spice up home landscapes.

Garden Fest 2012 McNish (10) Vic GardenThe Victory Garden display at Garden Fest 2012 – photo courtesy Smithsonian Gardens

Workshops and demonstrations will explore sustainable gardening techniques practiced at Smithsonian Gardens, easily transferrable to home gardens: irrigation, composting, and vegetable gardening.  Learn about six-legged garden visitors and then dress-up like your favorite winged visitor for a photo shoot – your photo may even get featured on SG’s Shutter-Bug Collection on Pinterest.

Make sure you stick around until 5pm for a special performance sure to get everyone on their feet, drumming, singing, and dancing through the garden. And make sure you head inside for a bit to the National Museum of African Art, which will be staying open until 7pm just for the occasion!

Update: It has just been revealed that the special performer for Garden Fest will be the 2008 Grammy Nominee for Traditional World Music, Cheick Hamala Diabate!

Diabete is a West African musician who writes and performs music in the storytelling griot tradition, saying “The music we griots play is not just about making nice sounds for dancing, it’s about giving a lesson to people about their lives.” Check out his swinging sounds below, and for more, visit his YouTube channel:

 

We hope to see you there for this free, fun, family-friendly day!

File:Smithsonian Gardens.jpgThe Parterre in the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden – ©Justin Long, courtesy Wikimedia Commons