WINDHOEK – Time is fast running out for art lovers who haven’t had the chance to see Jeanette Unite‘s works at the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN). The exhibition closes on September 6, barely less than two weeks from today.
Her unique body of work examines the paradox of plenty and corporate constructs around mineral companies’ tax, and legal aspects of mineral rights as well as socio-political subjects. The Terra exhibition, according to a statement by the NAGN, is said to have been shown in museums and university art galleries in Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, China and Uzbekistan, amongst others. “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, making use of minerals that she gets from mines as waste by-products after the extraction of ore,” the statement reads.
At first glance these works may appear to be lyrical, graceful compositions portraying old mining machinery. However the artist 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. Her works reference mining heritage sourced from archives and museums. This includes 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 NAGN further reveals.
The artist is said to have travelled through more than thirty countries accumulating an extensive personal archive of images and materials from the mining industry. To this end, the photographs from these travels and images duplicated from mining museums and archives are as precious a resource to her, as the site-specific sands and slimes pond tailings from the mines and industrial detritus soiled with history, and loaded with meaning that she mixes into her paints and pastels.
According to the art parastatal, this artist explores the impact and relations between power and earth, through the mechanisms – both technical and social – of our 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,” the NAGN maintains.