Pare or Zigua artist from Tanzania, Untitled figure, 19th-early 20th century. Terra cotta, fabric, fibers, and resin. 23.2 x 10.8 x 8.9 cm.

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

Washington, D.C.

National Museum of African Art

With dagger raised, a nail-studded, 19th-century nkisi nkondi by an unknown Yombe artist stood guard, while beyond, the evil boss in William Kentridge’s 1991 animated film Mine raged over his desk. These were just two works from the astonishing array in “Earth Matters,” an all-media survey featuring more than 40 artists from 25 African nations. Somber, dense, and often blunt, this landmark exhibition traced Africa’s complicated and evolving engagement with the land while seeking to redress its absence from the Western-driven discourse on Land Art. Rather than following a chronological separation of functional and non-functional forms, cur­ator Karen E. Milbourne mixed traditional, modern, and contemporary in a provocative repartee to reveal Africa’s rich contribution to global art practice. The notion of transformation ran through the entire show, which considered the earth as a pliable material capable of transmitting energy and power…see the entire review in the print version of April’s Sculpture magazine.