African Studies

Galerie Springer
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© Edward Burtyksy | Salt Ponds #6, Near Tikat Banguel, Senegal

The exhibition "African Studies" by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky is the fourth solo exhibition by this internationally renowned artist since 2014 at Galerie Springer Berlin.

For decades, his concern for the environment has been the driving force behind his artistic work. In stunningly beautiful images, he shows us the serious marks that industry leaves on the earth. At the same time, his images often document alarming ecological disasters. For his new series "African Studies" he spent seven years travelling through ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa. He documents the continent's rapid industrialisation, probably the world's last great expansion.The exhibition includes work from Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa. The photographs show bird's eye views of the mining of sulphur, coal, iron, diamonds and salt. Breathtaking images from Namibia reveal the beauty of the country's unspoilt nature.The same-titled book was recently issued by Steidl Verlag in the fall of 2022.

"My interest in Africa owes its genesis to an earlier body of work that I produced about China back in 2004. For that project, and while researching several topics including the Three Gorges Dam, urban renewal, and recycling, I learned how the new Chinese factories were being created. At the time, heavy machinery was literally being unbolted from concrete floors in Europe and North America, then shipped and refastened to the floors of gigantic facilities in China. This represented a paradigm shift of industry, and it seemed obvious that China was rapidly becoming a leading manufacturer for the world. I realized even then that the African continent was poised to become the next, perhaps even the last, territory for major industrial expansion.

Two decades later, globalism has indeed rapidly evolved. In 2016, China’s general assembly presented a new vision for their country, announcing boldly that they wanted to create tens of millions of offshore manufacturing jobs over the next decade in order to move China towards becoming a service economy. The governing bodies considered several key issues, among them: concern about the degree of air and water pollution that domestic industrial activity was inflicting on the homeland, and that demand for wage increases was consequently increasing production costs to substantially higher levels than could be afforded in countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and in numerous countries within Africa. Another consideration, which was tied to the now defunct one-child policy; there was also an over-abundant population of young Chinese men and finding work abroad for them would help deal with this imbalance.

Across Africa, as with most other places in the developed and developing world, far too great a price is paid by its fauna, forests and Indigenous peoples. With this project I hope to continue raising awareness about the cost of growing our civilization without the necessary consideration for sustainable industrial practices, and the dire need for implementing globally organized governmental initiatives, with binding international legislations, in order to protect present and future generations from what stands to be forever lost.

Homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa as early as 200,000 years ago. Fast-forward to the 21st century and we’ve come full circle, returning to one of the last places on Earth to be swept into the unrelenting machinations of the human industrial complex. With our ever-increasing population and requisite appetite for unlimited economic and technological expansion, the African continent, boasting a tremendous wealth of unexploited resources, is a fragile, final frontier — resting squarely in the crosshairs of progress.
Edward Burtynsky, extract from the book "African Studies", Steidl Verlag 2022

Galerie Springer
November 7, 2023
March 2, 2024
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