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

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February 8, 2019

Critical Commentary

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.