Visualizing Eco-Futures and Toxic Normalcy in Africa: Not All that Glows is Alchemical Gold

Description

As an anthropologist of embodiment and ecological health, my current research agenda deals with speculative African futures in regards to earth as resource as well reflection of humanity. My ethnographic research explores aesthetics of the African Anthropocene in Uganda, with attention to development in rural expanses. Mining and other venoms of industry replace natural ecosystems, and open environments often hold profound contamination. The present collection explores the toxicity of progress by showcasing the landscape of rural Southeast Africa, and its perforation with plastics and agro-chemicals. I examine people’s rich sense of connection to land through labor, survival, and spirituality, as well as the role of native lands as home, medicine, and source, and I seek to display the enduring earth as a cure for the future.

In addition to photographing markers of global capitalism in Uganda, I have created and exhibited a mixed media installation piece, which was on display at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in San Jose, CA in 2018. Within the present project, I digitally merged photos from the field with photos of the exhibit in order to question discourses on global crises, apocalyptic ontologies, and catastrophic views on vanishing natures. With nods to science fiction, the installation includes glowing materials such as vibrant fertilizers as well as colorful herbal infusions in order to consider invisible poisons, synthetic adaptations, and the ancient DNA connection that humans have to the planet. The human body, with its deep time data serves as access to the past and is posed as a geological force that has always been populated and infiltrated, now with pesticides and hormones. This work considers the beautiful toxic sludge that is humanity as well as new and emergent versions of human mutants as contamination happens simultaneously with evolution. I visually ponder de-sensitization to organic life and the eco-logics of collapse as I point to the unjust and violent ways that toxicity is weilded and how contamination accumulates in historically violated regions of the world.

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Visualizing Eco-Futures and Toxic Normalcy in Africa: Not All that Glows is Alchemical Gold

As an anthropologist of embodiment and ecological health, my current research agenda deals with speculative African futures in regards to earth as resource as well reflection of humanity. My ethnographic research explores aesthetics of the African Anthropocene in Uganda, with attention to development in rural expanses. Mining and other venoms of industry replace natural ecosystems, and open environments often hold profound contamination. The present collection explores the toxicity of progress by showcasing the landscape of rural Southeast Africa, and its perforation with plastics and agro-chemicals. I examine people’s rich sense of connection to land through labor, survival, and spirituality, as well as the role of native lands as home, medicine, and source, and I seek to display the enduring earth as a cure for the future.

In addition to photographing markers of global capitalism in Uganda, I have created and exhibited a mixed media installation piece, which was on display at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in San Jose, CA in 2018. Within the present project, I digitally merged photos from the field with photos of the exhibit in order to question discourses on global crises, apocalyptic ontologies, and catastrophic views on vanishing natures. With nods to science fiction, the installation includes glowing materials such as vibrant fertilizers as well as colorful herbal infusions in order to consider invisible poisons, synthetic adaptations, and the ancient DNA connection that humans have to the planet. The human body, with its deep time data serves as access to the past and is posed as a geological force that has always been populated and infiltrated, now with pesticides and hormones. This work considers the beautiful toxic sludge that is humanity as well as new and emergent versions of human mutants as contamination happens simultaneously with evolution. I visually ponder de-sensitization to organic life and the eco-logics of collapse as I point to the unjust and violent ways that toxicity is weilded and how contamination accumulates in historically violated regions of the world.

Created Image: Weaving the Past Forward

This piece considers the cultural terrain of ancestral earth as resource and provision as well as reflection of the human condition. Through ethnographic frameworks of medical systems in rural Uganda, my work explores the relationship between earth and humanity, and the condition of each. Set in theories of eco-feminism, environmental humanism, and critical anthropology, my larger project considers the ecological past as the cure for the future. As we simultaneously make earth our sacred home and subject it to destruction, this work looks at how the continuation of life on earth is always a crisis. Amongst conversations of the Anthropocene, this project explores ecological mutuality as an emollient. Calibrating, attuning, and adapting to surroundings defines organic survival. What does natural or biological come to represent in the future? The “bush,” or wild environments, are symbols of senses of self, history, and connectivity that people visit in pilgrimage to ground, gather, and recall their bodily home base. My work points to the industrialization of medicine and the colonization of health in the name of development. I look at historical and personal connections that community members have to wild natural environments and theorize on the earth as resource and as something that people tend, meaning to manage and care for. In this image of a woman weaving natural reeds into mats for flooring, I ask how the environment is a teacher of how to be. The open expanses in the background pose the question of future and incoming development and pollution, and the transposed image at the woman's feet shows glowing (alomst nuclear) rods from my installation, suggesting that contamination is infused in (or woven into) seemingly natural materials.

Edited Created Image: Weaving the Past Forward

This digital collage considers the cultural terrain of ancestral earth as resource and provision as well as reflection of the human condition. Through ethnographic frameworks of medical systems in rural Uganda, my work explores the relationship between earth and humanity, and the condition of each. Set in theories of eco-feminism, environmental humanism, and critical anthropology, my larger project considers the ecological past as the cure for the future. As we simultaneously make earth our sacred home and subject it to destruction, this work looks at how the continuation of life on earth is always a crisis. Amongst conversations of the Anthropocene, this project explores ecological mutuality as an emollient. Calibrating, attuning, and adapting to surroundings defines organic survival. What does natural or biological come to represent in the future? The “bush,” or wild environments, are symbols of senses of self, history, and connectivity that people visit in pilgrimage to ground, gather, and recall their bodily home base. My work points to the industrialization of medicine and the colonization of health in the name of development. I look at historical and personal connections that community members have to wild natural environments and theorize on the earth as resource and as something that people tend, meaning to manage and care for. In this image of a woman weaving natural reeds into mats for flooring, I ask how the environment is a teacher of how to be. The open expanses in the background pose the question of future and incoming development and pollution, and the transposed images at the woman's feet as well as in the trees show glowing, alomst nuclear, rods, (which are images of an art exhibit I made), suggesting that contamination is infused in, or woven into, seemingly natural materials or landscapes.

Created Image: Chemicals in Camouflage

This piece considers the slow and slippery relinquishing of the earth to development and contamination. It showcases the ever-presence of toxicity and the everyday and mundane harm that pollution, plastics, and chemicals have become. As a sort of covert violence, neo-colonialism forces toxicity upon peoples who have been historical set in discourses of need, and often what appears as a Western-powered resource or a sign of progress are in fact harmful and inhumane. Of particular importance are the vibrant colors of the toxins, shown in the transposed image of jars of pesticides, cleaners, and fertilizers. This bright and glowing affect even mimics some of the healing medicines and wild elixers from local medical systems. There is allure in contamination. And their effects are subtle and long-term, solving our immediate crises in exchange for other, deeper impacts, which take us further from our "natural state" as humans who live in connection with the earth and exist as an extension of the landscape. 

Edited Created Image: Chemicals in Camouflage

This piece considers the slow and slippery relinquishing of the earth to development and contamination. It showcases the ever-presence of toxicity as well as the everyday and mundane harm that pollution, plastics, and chemicals have become. As a kind of covert violence, neo-colonialism forces toxicity upon peoples who have been historical set in discourses of need, and often what appears as a Western-powered resource or a sign of progress are in fact harmful and inhumane. Of particular importance are the vibrant colors of the toxins, shown in the transposed image of jars of pesticides, cleaners, and fertilizers, which are photos of an installation that I created. The bright, glowing affects mimic some of the healing medicines and wild elixers from local medical systems in Uganda, where the base image photo was taken. There is allure in contamination. Toxic effects can be subtle and long-term, solving our immediate crises in exchange for other, deeper impacts, which take us further from our "natural state" as humans who live in connection with the earth and exist as an extension of the landscape. This piece questions how de-valued bodies become saturated with industrial toxicity.

Created Image: Razors in the Milk of Development

This image shows a typical outdoor kitchen in Uganda, complete with the ubiquitous plastic bins, used for everything from fishing to baby bathing to dishwashing to collecting herbs, to holding placentas. In the image transposed over, you see another plastic bin full of milk, a product with heavy symbolism in this region of Ankole people, cattle-keepers of Southwestern Uganda who take great pride in their milk production as cultural capital. The razor in the milk is also a common material icon in this part of the world. The Eagle-brand razors are, like the plastic bins, made in China and are used widely for everything from shaving heads to cutting umbilical chords to scarification practices to sharpening pencils. Both of these manufactured items undoubtedly makes life a bit easier, but I question at the expense of what. The combination of these pieces suggests that intervention, development, and aid are dangers in their unsustainable or destructive approaches. Particularly in regards to development projects that utilize important cultural resources in order to reach people only to leave harmful residues and trails of dependency, pollution, or violence.

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Created date

November 26, 2018