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Views of Africa at the National Air and Space Museum

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This post was originally published on Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa!, a blog created to accompany the eponymous exhibition, organized by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Views of Africa

Smithsonian staff work with artist Jeremy Wafer to install a new exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum. Left to right: Andrew Johnston (Geographer, National Air and Space Museum), Jeremy Wafer (Artist), Richard Bentham (Designer, National Air and Space Museum), Colleen Wafer (Jeremy Wafer’s artistic partner and wife), Karen Milbourne (Curator, National Museum of African Art).

 

At the National Air and Space Museum in recent years, we have pursued collaborations with other Smithsonian museums to expand the topics of our exhibitions and programs. On August 15 we opened a new art exhibition titled Views of Africa. A collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, it includes satellite views of African locations and a new work of contemporary art. It is being displayed in conjunction with the Earth Matters exhibition at the National Museum of African Art, which explores human connections to the land and how that is they are reflected in art.

South African artist Jeremy Wafer was commissioned to produce a work of sculptural art specifically for this display at the National Air and Space Museum. Wafer has long been inspired by views from maps and images from aircraft and satellites in his work. For this display, he planned a work titled Core, which would include dozens of cylindrical pieces representing soil core samples. In this way, the exhibition would include views of the land from below the surface, paired with views from above as seen by orbiting satellites.

Wafer produced the pieces this summer at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. The “cores” were made of concrete and colored to give them the appearance of having soil layers. Wafer’s artistic partner Colleen, who also happens to be his wife, was there to help set up the “cores” at the National Air and Space Museum. Karen Milbourne of the African Art Museum also came by.

The installation of the pieces went very well. Wafer arrived at the gallery and made the decision to place the “cores” in a north-south orientation to interact with shadows and sunlight coming through the tall windows.

We announced the installation as a “Meet the Artist” opportunity for the public. Many visitors asked questions of Wafer while he worked. Wafer was happy to speak with people during breaks. Many visitors understood what the pieces represented. During the installation, at least 20 visitors asked, “Are those soil cores?”

Wafer had planned 54 “cores” to represent the number of independent African nations. He made a few extras in case of damage. This turned out to be a good decision, as one of the “cores” broke into two pieces. We kept that one nearby to show visitors what the “cores” looked like on the inside.

Everyone is welcome to see Views of Africa at the National Air and Space Museum. The exhibition will be on display until February 16, 2014 at the west end of the Museum’s first floor.

Andrew Johnston is a geographer in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum.

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