Earth Matters Around the Web : The Winter Olympics

Ladies and Gentleman, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have officially begun!

Of course, the olympics in Sochi have not started without a bit of scandal. For weeks, even months, we have been hearing mostly about the anti-gay stance of the Russian leadership and for days we have been hearing comic-horror stories about the accommodations in Sochi, as well as nightmare tales of cyber-insecurity. I am a little surprised, however, that it was only today that I heard about the environmental damage that the Sochi olympics have been born out of. According to an article published just three days ago on, of all places, Yahoo’s sports page, the filling in of valuable marshlands, destruction and obstruction of other habitats, deforestation, and rampant unregulated dumping have done considerable damage in the less visible parts of Sochi, those parts being where much wildlife and many humans live. Another article sums it up more bluntly, stating in its opening line that “The enormous infrastructure upgrade for the Winter Games has had a major impact on the environment. Some say the region may never recover from the damage that has been done.”

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A view of Olympic Park in December. Dump sites for construction debris litter hills in and around Sochi, Russia. Other such damage has been well documented. Mikhail Mordasov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Taken from the New York Times

To tell you the truth, I live in Eastern Europe for seven years and the rag tag, unregulated, almost maniacal construction effort that was undertaken to prepare Russia for the olympics does not surprise me, personally, but as long as this construction must have been going on, I am surprised that I cannot find articles on the environmental impacts that are more than a couple weeks old.  Then again, with recent reports of the arrests of several ecologists, for such offenses as swearing in public, perhaps it is not strange that we have hard so little so late.

Clearly, Russia has done much to construct and safeguard an image of itself as eco-friendly. And Image is everything, I suppose, especially since one of the criterion for choosing the location of the olympics is “the cit(y) needs to maintain a highly positive media exposure to carry the games.” Another criterion is described as “the tangible effects of hosting the Olympic games may not prove beneficial if the bid committees do not exercise proper judgment in developing the city to host the Olympics.” But in these respects, Russia does not carry the sole blame. Surely, plans and strategies for developing the cities that host the games are reviewed by the committees that make the final decision. Everybody involved has an image to protect, and hopefully, as the environmental damage in Sochi is assessed, the organizers of the olympics will take more caution in the future to ensure that the winter olympics are healthy and sustainable.

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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

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
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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

Earth Matters Around the Web

When people talk about business and the environment they are usually saying that: 1) Business and industry are the causes of our problems with the environment or 2) new ideas in business and industry can help save the environment. With that in mind I decided to investigate businesses that have instituted environment-friendly operations or offer environment-friendly services – I started by looking at businesses that share the name Earth Matters with the exhibition here at the National Museum of African Art. Below are a few that I found, and you can probably find more Earth Matters and Environment related businesses and business ideas on the web, take a look, see what you find, and tell us what is going on!

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First up is a law firm based in both America and Australia called Earth Matters Law http://www.earthmatterslaw.org/index.html

Their mission statement reads:

We believe that it is vital to understand that the integrity of our world, and indeed our survival, depends on understanding linkages between all life on earth and the natural resources necessary for life on earth. This includes the conservation of natural resources and species, the maintenance and preservation of the health, integrity and harmony of cultures and communities, in addition to the promotion and development of innovative solutions to pollution, and energy issues, including the replacement of fossil and hydrocarbon based fuels.

Check out how artists in the Earth Matters exhibition are also fighting for the environment http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/earthmatters/environmental.html.

Second is Earth Matters Incorporated http://www.earthmattersinc.com/, a subcontract-drilling firm that provides Geotechnical and Environmental drilling services to private, corporate and government agencies.

Although they are not digging for gold or diamonds, a theme that runs through section III of the Earth Matters exhibition, they are going into the underground!

Not surprisingly, Earth Matters is also the name of an organic grocery store http://www.earthmatters.com/index.php. Indeed, the only surprise here is that the store is on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City!  In the 1990s, the Lower East Side was a gritty place known for its bargain clothing, bodegas and illegal drugs. Isaac Tapiero, a dancer and real estate investor from Israel, wanted a change, he wanted to open a place where people could detoxify from a harsh environment by eating healthy foods and relaxing in a spiritual environment. He wanted to promote a conscious lifestyle that is kind towards people and the environment.

In 2001, Isaac recruited his nephew, Marco Megira, to renovate the ground floor space at 177 Ludlow St., which used to house a bodega. With the help of local construction workers, Tapiero’s nephew, Marco Megira, built a three-level store with an Internet café on the mezzanine and a garden lounge on the top level.

You can check out the Smithsonian’s own gardens and outdoor sculpture in the Earth Matters exhibition at http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/earthmatters/earthworks.html or come see it in person!

You can also check more discussions about environment-friendly businesses at the following links;

http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/harvard-business-review-discusses-leadership-and-the-environment.html

http://www.greenbiz.com/

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-businesses-affect-the-environment.html

Earth Matters Around the Web

About a week ago, we started hearing news that there had been talk amongst government officials in Egypt about a potential war with Ethiopia. The conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia is about water. Ethiopia is completing a dam that generate hydroelectricity by harnessing the powers of the great Nile river. The dam, however, will temporarily divert the Nile and Egypt’s concern is that this diversion of the river will threaten it’s water supply, to which it feels it is geographically and historically entitled to.

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photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

The conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia, while it is about a dam, highlights the predictions that have been made for some time now, that wars in the future will be more and more often about resources such as drinking water. A recent article on water scarcity that was posted on the website of news agency Al Jazeera references a report by US Intelligence that “water demand is set to outstrip sustainable current supplies by 40 per cent by 2030”.

One of the themes that was woven into the Earth Matters exhibition was the connection between the environment and security, a topic which you can read more about on the web, starting with the following links:

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