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By Annines Angula
Windhoek – The National Art Gallery of Namibia is hosting TERRA, a solo exhibition by South African artist Jeannette Unite, from 19 July to 6 September in the main gallery.
The TERRA exhibition has featured in museums and university art galleries across the world in countries like Germany, the UK, the USA, China and Uzbekistan.
Unite’s artwork was produced in response to an extensive a range of mining and industrial activities across Africa including Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, and the Southern African region.
It examines the paradox of plenty and corporate constructs around mineral companies’ tax and legal aspects of mineral rights and the impact on socio-political subjects.
For over a decade, most of Unite’s work has focused on the mining industry, resource depletion in Africa and the economic and sociological conditions impacted.
Her large-scale drawings of mining headgear and industrial complexes are executed with chalks and pastels that the artist makes herself, making use of minerals that she gets from mines as waste by-products after the extraction of ore.
At first glance, these works may appear to be lyrical, graceful compositions portraying old mining machinery but Unite is at pains to embed a fundamental critique of the way mining has shattered lives, displaced communities and wreaked havoc on the environment.
Unite is a very active researcher both in archives for source material from which to draw and ‘on the ground’ in mines themselves and the communities that provide labour for their operation.
Unite’s works reference mining heritage sourced from archives and museums. These include early geological historical maps and texts that were created during the Industrial Revolution to guide mining, the coal that fuelled the engines that drove modernity and the quest for minerals.
The artist has travelled through more than 30 countries accumulating an extensive personal archive of images and materials from the mining industry.
The photographs from these travels and images duplicated from mining museums and archives are as precious a resource to Unite as the site-specific sands and slime pond tailings from the mines and industrial detritus soiled with history, and loaded with meaning that she mixes into her paints and pastels.
These mining artworks are made from the very mined material they interrogate. So, the material is both subject and object. Unite explores the impact and relations between power and earth through the mechanisms, both technical and social of the modern world that are so inextricably linked to mining.
All wealth is derived from the earth, and laws and legislation are constructed to regulate who has access and ownership of the resources from the planet, images of the industrial sublime critiques the force of human compulsion for material goods regardless of the environmental and social consequences.
As per her official website www.jeannetteunitestudio.wordpress.com, Unite travels to mining and industrial sites for samples, to research and photographically record evidence of the residual remains of power, industrialisation and neo-colonialism on the African landscape.
In addition, she uses images, information and metaphors from mining as a point of departure for her reflections on her own personal journeys. She continues to live and work in, and travel from her studio in Cape Town.