Symposium: Excavation, Accumulation, and Preservation in the African Landscape

March 9-11, 2012
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
University of Maryland, College Park
The “Excavation, Accumulation, and Preservation in the African Landscape” symposium brings together diverse humanities and science perspectives to investigate the complex relationships between Africans and the land upon which they live, work, and frame their days. Scholars from across the Smithsonian Institution and University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), in the fields of art history, anthropology, American studies, ecology, environmental science and technology, geography, plant sciences and landscape architecture, and horticulture have joined forces for this multidisciplinary symposium.

By providing a unifying forum for the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, the symposium’s investigations of land will move from parallel inquiries to synthetic approaches in which cultural and science-based research inform one another and result in new methods and findings. The symposium follows the Earth Matters interdisciplinary course at UMCP and precedes pan-institutional programs at the Smithsonian Institution and an exhibition of the same name scheduled to open at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 2013 (Earth Day).
The event is free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged.
To register or to receive additional information on the symposium or Earth Matters project, contact Anthony Stellaccio, (202) 633-4653,
Download PDF of the event flier
Paper Topics (in order):
Bruce James: Ancient Human Procurement of Food and Domestication of Fire on the East African Savannas
Ray Weil: Soils and Peoples of Africa: Inextricably Bonds
Shannen Hill: History from Below: Mining in Black Art from South Africa at Mid-Century
Karen Milbourne: What a Waste: Africa, Art Photography and the Subject of Sustainability
Jack Sullivan: Trash or Treasure: Land Use, Global Trade, and the Accumulation of E-Waste in Lagos, Nigeria
Julie A. Silva: Transforming Conservation into Cash: Nature Tourism in Southern Africa.
Mary Jo Arnoldi: Preservation and Patrimony in the Republic of Mali: the case of old town Djenne and the Sanké mon collective fishing rite in San.
Psyche Williams-Forson: ‘I haven’t eaten if I don’t have my soup and fufu’: Cultural Preservation through Food and Foodways among Ghanaian Migrants in the United States
Alfonso Alonso: Conserving Biological Diversity: A Case Study in Gabon
The Excavation, Accumulation and Preservation in the African Landscape is part of a larger interdisciplinary project at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, which will culminate in a major exhibition entitled ‘Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa.’ With its accompanying catalogue, Earth Matters will examine the conceptually complex and visually rich relationship between African artists and the land upon which they live, work, and frame their days. This exhibition gathers artworks created across the continent from the 19th through 21st centuries, and includes original, site-specific installations to provide a complex and nuanced overview of the diverse and dynamic ways in which individuals, communities and land interact. Environmental activism, territorial disputes, awareness of natural resources, heritage and personal memory – each of these compelling issues fuels the extraordinary works of art included in this memorable exhibition.To date El Anatsui, Ghada Amer, Rachid Koraichi, Willem Boshoff and Strijdom van der Merwe have been invited. The artworks selected for the exhibit will draw attention to: 1) the long standing role of the visual arts in mediating the relationship between humans and the Earth; 2) the profound significance of African systems of knowledge as they relate to the Earth’s mineral and medicinal properties and to mapping or interpreting thelandscape; and 3) demonstrating how artists are agents of discovery and change in relation to such pressing land-based issues as climate change and territorial dispute. With its focus on earth, land, environment and uncompromising artistic vision, Earth Matters is scheduled to open at the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in Washington DC on April 22 (Earth Day), 2013, and continue through the New Year.
As part of the collaborative programming, the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) is showing The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji (January 7, 2012 – January 6, 2013). Congolese artist Sammy Baloji’s photography and video explores the memories of the region’s copper mining industry which helped build the modern city of Lubumbashi in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (

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