The Flesh of the Earth

Curated by Enuma Okoro

1 February – 6 April 2024

New York, 22nd Street

Curated by Enuma Okoro, ‘The Flesh of the Earth’ encourages us all to consider ways of decentering ourselves from the prevalent anthropocentric narrative, to reimagine a more intimate relationship with the earth, and to renew our connection with the life-force energy that surges through all of the natural world, both human and more-than-human.

Featuring Ama Codjoe, Olafur Eliasson, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Jenny Holzer, Rashid Johnson, Haley Mellin, Cassi Namoda, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and Billie Zangewa.

We are unwholly ourselves when we mark stark boundaries between our bodies and that of other non-human bodies of nature. To speak of nature as something that exists apart from us or something merely ‘outside’ is to deny our own creatureliness and our humus-ness. We are part of the environment. We too are of the soil and the elements. Born from the water of the womb, at death we recycle back to the humus of the earth, where living microbes already exist in thriving interrelated communities, and the bodies of plants and animals also return to provide nourishment. There is so much transformative and necessary relational engagement between our beginnings and endings to which we have to return, and in some instances heal.’ —Enuma Okoro

Okoro notes, ‘Our human bodies—one of a diversity of created bodies of the natural world—are the primary language with which we dialogue with the earth.’ In Adama Delphine Fawundu’s photograph ‘Ngewo Whispers’ (2022) the artist occupies ghostly sites that bore witness to events of the African diaspora, in this case Savannah, Georgia. The scene situates the artist’s body as a bridge between the human and more-than-human worlds, threading a connective strand of exchange between the generative, energetically active space of nature and the material structures of history.

The interrelationship between the different bodies of the natural world recurs creatively and delicately throughout many of the works in the exhibition. Olafur Eliasson’s sculptural work ‘Now, here, nowhere’ (2023) evokes reconsiderations of time and temporality. And in their likeness to suns and moons, elements of the work lend to contemplation on the effects of circadian rhythms, and the solar and lunar cycles on human and non-human animal behavior and physiology.

Water, a potent symbol for life, death and rejuvenation, plays a central role in the exhibition. New paintings by Cassi Namoda present the ritual of baptism in which the spirit is believed to invade the body and stimulate new life–the spiritual experience of rebirth is common to many traditions. The anonymous, nameless figures appear vulnerable as they submit to the powerful, primordial expanse of the sea, simultaneously reminding us of our natural beginnings in wombs of water, and our utter reliance on water to survive.

The exhibition implores us to renew our connection to the fuller natural world by acknowledging our estrangement from it in the first place. At the heart of the exhibition is Rashid Johnson’s living work, ‘Untitled Stranger’ (2017), which requires the committed relationship from humans to care for it and ensure its sustained life. The immersive sculptural installation invites viewers to circle the work and study the various symbolic objects placed within its stacked, architectural grids. These objects carry deep meaning for the artist; every item points to themes of alienation and escape, and the wistful quest to reconnect with a feeling of belonging and of familiarity.

‘The remedy to estrangement is an intentional and caring rekindling of relationship. We must return to thinking of the earth as also imbued with life-force energy as we are, with an aliveness whose health and engagement is essential to our collective well-being. The more-than-human world holds patterns of intimacy that we can learn from and participate in, but which require us to acknowledge and to draw closer to the rest of nature’s own inherent eroticism. It is only in recognizing and honoring the aliveness and sacrality of this world that we can reimagine a new and sustainable kinship.’ —Enuma Okoro

The exhibition will also include the poetry of acclaimed author Ama Codjoe, who draws both poignant and striking images with her words, articulating the kind of sensuous and imaginative self-reflection that can stir us to rekindle a necessary intimacy with the more-than-human—again, emphasizing the body as the primary vehicle through which to achieve this.

Sat 3 February 2024 4 pm

In Response: Poetry, Prose & Performance for ‘The Flesh of the Earth’

On Saturday 3 February at 4pm, Hauser & Wirth will host a public program at its 18th Street gallery featuring readings of Ama Codjoe’s poetry by poet Maya Marshall, prose readings by Enuma Okoro and a special musical performance by Adama Delphine Fawundu and her son, Che Buford.

About the curator

Enuma Okoro is a Nigerian-American author, journalist, theologian, lecturer, and arts and culture critic. She is a weekly columnist for the Financial Times newspaper. Her weekend column, ‘The Art of Life,’ reflects her broader research and writing interests: how the intersection of art, philosophy, spirituality, ecology and culture can speak to the human condition and interrogate how we live. Underlying this interrogation is a deeper interest in knowledge systems, from ethno-epistemology to (black feminist, BIPOC, diasporan) critical theory, and the power of narrative and story. She writes, lectures, curates and hosts public conversations with the grounding premise that stories, through their varying mediums, are how we challenge old or false narratives, free our imaginations and tell new and expanded truths that shift perceptions and instigate change. And she believes that stories are everywhere. Even the trees and the rivers and the animals hold them.

On view at New York, 22nd Street

‘The Flesh of the Earth’ is on view until 6 April 2024.

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