Goodnight, Cosmos

Untitled, Garth Erasmus, South Africa, 1996; National Museum of African Art Collection

Untitled, Garth Erasmus, South Africa, 1996; National Museum of African Art Collection

African Cosmos comes to a close this weekend, and after months of becoming entrenched in the world of cultural astronomy and the strong field of astronomy across Africa today, I find the questions posed by the exhibit—and by the artists featured in the exhibit—still resonant. What exists beyond the Earth, and in what way does it impact us? How can we capture our curiosity & awe of the sky and use it as a connection to ourselves and others? Cultural connections to the cosmos have been found among groups across Africa and beyond, and these connections will certainly continue on into the future.
 
Though it’s hard to pick a favorite piece in this exhibition, one small, perhaps easy to miss, untitled work (above) by South African Garth Erasmus continues to draw my attention and spark a sense of connection.  How many of us have stood underneath the sun, looking upward in search of something? The work of Erasmus presents a story of wonderment common to us all.
 
 
 

Guest Voices: My Room at the Centre of the Universe

Our guest post this week is by South African artist Marcus Neustetter, whose work is featured in the African Cosmos exhibition.  To see his work, visit: http://www.marcusneustetter.com/

My Room at the Centre of the Universe from Africa meets Africa on Vimeo.

In early 2012, Helene Smuts, director of the Africa meets Africa Project, invited a group of artists to join the production team of the latest in its series of educator resource books and films. The Africa meets Africa (AmA) project is an independent NGO which explores and documents southern African cultural heritage, seeking out solutions to contemporary learning problems in our schools by looking to the sophisticated visual language of traditional arts styles. An interdisciplinary research process has led to remarkably pragmatic learning solutions – such as presenting mathematical concepts in relation to the sophisticated symmetries of woven grass baskets and beaded adornments familiar to rural learners. The project stimulates critical thinking around the fluidity of ethnicity in its flow between urban and rural contexts

My Room at the Centre of the Universe is a 12 minute preview of a 60 minute film being directed by regular AmA film maker Guy Spiller. Together with a richly illustrated resource book, it departs from the act of sensitive and intensive observation common to the fields of astronomy, archaeology and the visual arts. A small Karoo farm outhouse becomes a space of contemplation and creativity for the main character, a 16 year old teenager from Sutherland. One small window in his room acts as a framing device through which he observes and contemplates the landscape, the skies, and ultimately the universe– much like telescopes used by physicists, or the views the Hubble telescope offers humankind.

Astronomy in Africa- News and Updates

Cameroon rainforest     Credit: World Wildlife Fund

Theories of Creation

Teens at the Smithsonian’s ARTLAB+ produced and recorded a series of interviews with our own Chris Kreamer, curator of the African Cosmos exhibition, South African artist Willem Boshoff, and astrophysicists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Check out the second in this series of interviews below, which highlights the astrophysicists involved in this exhibition:

African Cosmos Now Open!

Celebrating the Cosmos opening (left to right): Ambassador Ibrahim Rasool of South Africa, National Museum of African Art Director Dr. Johnnetta Cole, artist Karel Nel, astronaut Mae Jemison, African Cosmos curator Chris M. Kreamer, astrophysicist Thebe Medupe, artist Romuald Hazoumé

Last Wednesday we celebrated both the summer solstice and the opening of African Cosmos: Stellar Arts. We hope you’ll stop by to visit–and share with us your thoughts!

African Cosmos, Two Weeks Before Opening

We are in the midst of installing African Cosmos: Stellar Arts. This has included putting together the massive Rainbow Serpent by artist Romuald Hazoumè, who lives and works in Benin, hanging a monumental painting by Ethiopian-born, New York-based artist Julie Mehretu, and installing the 18-foot high mask carved by a Bwa artist from Burkina Faso.  As with every installation, there are the unanticipated snags…paintings hung too low that have to be rehung; objects brought in on loan that require the fabrication of a mount on site—but so far, things are going pretty well.  Check out some photos from the installation process!

NMAfA staff and contractors working on installation of artist Romuald Hazoumè’s monumental sculpture Rainbow Serpent.

The artist and staff, farther along in putting the piece together

Hanging Julie Mehretu’s major painting, Transcending: the New International. It is big!

Perfect!

Installing the very large Bwa serpent mask

NMAfA master mount maker Keith Conway conducting final examination of mount and placement of Bwa serpent mask.

Guest Voices- Dance & Our Cosmic Story

Our guest post this week is by Rujeko Dumbutshena, a Zimbabwean dancer and artist who teaches courses on neo traditional African movement.

Silkscreen by Rujeko Dumbutshena

I believe African dance is a reflection of our humanity—and therefore of our cosmic story. I have been teaching dances that, in their context, many years ago, were used for celebrating and mourning the natural cycles of life.  Because the uses of traditional African dance seem endless, I have always found ease in applying movement to story.

When starting to work on concepts for a performance for the African Cosmos exhibit with my friends and fellow Zimbabwean artists Mavhu Farai Hargrove and Farai Malianga, it became clear that I was about to draw inspiration from a part of my culture that I knew little about. You would think that my non-tradition upbringing, Christian education system and training in classical ballet, would render my cultural stories irretrievable, but working on the Jenaguru performance for the African cosmology exhibit has forced me to bring those stories back to life and closer to home.

When we first sat down together we managed to achieve a common ground with our individual understanding of our fundamental cultural worldview.  God is not in heaven so there is no need to direct our prayers to the sky, our ancestors replace others deities and gods and luckily for us, our creation story has been handed down to us to draw inspiration from despite our distance from home. African dance has kept me connected to the age old ways we have been paying homage to the natural order of our universe and therefore I begin to find ease in finding movement that reflect our cosmic story.

At first, the most familiar associations came to mind: stars as female beauty, the Sun brings the joy of gathering together, while the full moon compels us to dance in courtship.  I no longer feel at a total loss—I will start with Mhande, a rain dance which makes me realize that although we may look upward to the sky for rain, the dance itself emphasizes our connection to the earth. When we are compelled to reach up to the sky it is only because our feet were firmly planted on the ground.

Pounding Mhande rhythms continuously, while singing and drumming, if done for long enough, will open a portal that gives us a chance to commune with our ancestors and gives them a chance to carry our prayers to God so that he/she, in turn, may give us rain.

Where there are no gods to worship, no heaven to look up to, transcendence comes from moving your being in song, music and dance to a point where our physical reality becomes a spiritual one reflected in our cosmos and the stories it tells showing us that we are never far from home.

 

Astronomy in Africa- News and Updates

SpaceX launch on Tuesday, May 22. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

Astronomy in Africa- News and Updates

Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory in South Africa. Credit: Thunyiwe Mohaule / HartRAO