Friday, June 7, 2013

Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa




Static Drift by Ingrid Mwangi
 























Batoul S'himi


Last weekend Abdoulaye and I made our way to the National Museum of African Art on the National Mall here in DC.  I heard about an exhibit there, Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, on NPR and wanted to learn more.  Like I said before, after spending seven months (maybe a little more?) planning and waiting for our 'real' wedding, it was the first weekend in awhile where I felt like I could truly kick back and relax.

When we got to the museum, we caught the tail end of a dance performance by the Howard University Dancers and Theatre Ensemble.  I was sad to miss it but at least we got a little (see below for a taste of their talent - they presented African dances at the museum - so so talented!). 

The exhibit did not disappoint.  I am now hooked on Ingrid Mwangi.  Isn't the first piece above incredible?  Mwangi used stencils to create the shapes of her two home countries on her stomach (Kenya and Germany).  Abdoulaye made a good point though - Africa is not a country and while Mwangi insists on her two origins, it seems that's what her art is mainly about, she perpetuates the oneness (sameness?) of Africa by emblazoning the continent on her stomach instead of just Kenya.  Of course, I wouldn't know the shape of Kenya but I didn't know the outline of Germany, either. 

Ever since Abdoulaye arrived in the US, I've been (hyper?) aware of what it's like to be a couple from two different countries.  People say the darndest things when they learn he is African!  Thankfully for us, our encounters (to be documented another time here on the blog) have all been innocuous but have given us some food for thought.  Mwangi's piece reminds me of this awareness I carry with me now and, like a hangnail that you can't leave alone or perhaps more like a piece of hair you keep on twirling, her work will keep me thinking about what a dual existence is like (and will be like for our children).

Batoul S'himi's piece was similarly captivating.  His piece, like Mwangi's, transformed me from the National Museum of African Art to a thought bubble somewhere between Africa, women and perceptions of both. 



Owanto, Où Allons Nous?
Finally, Owanto's piece 'Où Allons Nous?' made me stop for a minute (and now many minutes afterwards), to think about where I am going.  The description of the piece stated that it was in a non-descript desert - it could be in the West of the US or a desert in Africa.  Made me think of the Hand of Fatima in Hombori and a desert I've never been to in Arizona that looks quite similar (less the troop of African children).  Universal questions, universal problems, universal joys, universal sorrows.  Universal!


Hombori, Mali
Arizona, USA

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