Sophie Lalonde art gallery has cleared its white walls to exhibit works of South African installation artist Georgia Papageorge. The exhibition, which is highly politicised, opened on the evening of March 19 and is titled ‘Serengeti Crossroads: The Shepherd Principle’. It explores the controversial Chinese commercial road that threatens to rift the oldest migration in the world. With the pressured need of raw materials from Africa to the East, the exhibition is a comment on the loss of territory and wildlife that will occur if the road is built across the Serengeti down to the ancient stone city of Bagamoyo.
This body of work portrays the story of the Serengeti and its battle with economic imperialism together with the potential damage it may cause to wildlife and communities. It consists of eleven large scale pieces; photography, mixed media paintings and a video installation which details how she accurately mapped the southern cross constellation on the vast flat surface of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans with her team. She uses African symbols such as the Maasai cloth to signify the displacement of thousands of indigenous people that is imminent with the construction of the road.
While contemporary earth art is still to make its emergence in Botswana ÔÇô an art form which essentially uses the earth itself as stage, material and canvas for conceptual art ideas, Georgia has been active in this field for the past twenty years. Celebrated for intriguing works such as ‘Africa Rising: Lines of fire, Namibia/Brazil’, her work speaks for an environment that has no voice. “There’s so much damage that is being done to our environment in Africa for the benefit of the few, and we need to speak up against such evils that not only threaten the sustainability of our communities but would also render us extinct in the next 200 years to come,” said Georgia. “If we are to survive as a species into the near future, we, as human beings, need to make a sacred covenant to protect what is left. We cannot continue to destroy our beautiful environment,” added the artist.
There’s a contrast in this art that profiles Botswana and Tanzania; it shows one as sustainable and the other threatened with extinction. She describes Botswana as one of the few countries in Africa that has great policies relative to wildlife and the environment. “Botswana has a great reputation throughout the world for its conservation of wildlife and its people. Even your president is passionate about wildlife. This is where the shepherd comes in – Botswana is the good shepherd and it was fitting to make the southern cross constellation here,” said Georgia.
One of the attendees at the opening, Mase Mathelo, said the artwork is striking and reflective. “I like how her work is showing and not telling. It makes you want to delve into what she is trying to communicate, it makes you want to learn about the landscapes she has painted,” he said. Another attendee, Bokani, said although the work is complex and not easy to understand, she loved the beautiful photography of the landscapes.
Georgia stated how there’s corruption involved in this project. “There is massive corruption involved in this project, and the money always ends up with one person, rather than benefitting communities. The road is built so far from communities, which shows how the Tanzanian government is not prioritising its people when it comes to this road,” she said. Her critique of the Tanzanian government and vilification of the Serengeti road has made it unsafe for her to travel back to the country. It has also blocked channels for her to carry out any future research in the country.
Her work over the years has gained her a reputation of being a controversial artist and an environmental activist but Georgia Papageorge believes as an artist, she must speak out against the preventable destruction that occurs in our continent.