by Marlaina Read
Grounding as a reclamative practice uncovers the potential for ecological intervention in the earth beneath us. The ground is a ritual site for renewal; for care, connection, ceremony and witness, a site to be cultivated carefully over time “so as to raise the deep and bury the shallow.”(1)
I met artist Masha Ru through a residency we both undertook in Lithuania in 2018, when she passed around containers of soil and encouraged us to eat. I remember the Pimba clay from Surinam, wet and cold in my mouth and tasting of riverbed and dust. Ru’s recent work, Pimba, Bridging the Gap,(2) explores the cultural-spiritual significance of this white kaolin clay. As well as foodstuff, eating Pimba forms a key part of the Afro-Surinamese Winti religion—the act of eating symbolising dissolving boundaries between earth and the body. Digging up, forming and consuming dirt as a ritual practice can be found in many cultures,(3) and through her workshops and presentations, Ru offers a similar rite, offering clay and soils she has collected from communities that practice eating earth (4) —renegotiating dirt from geological resource to element of connection and nourishment.
In Shivanjani Lal’s recent exhibition Yaad Karo, the yellow hue of haldi, the turmeric, places the lived experience of women in Lal’s family “at the forefront and not the periphery”(5) of histories of indentured labour communities of India and the Pacific. In Yaad Karo, remembering and holding space allows “something invisible to become visible.”(6) The mounds and bowls of haldi connect these journeys between India and Fiji, both culturally and in invocation of the earth we walk on. Lal says, “breathing in haldi is a way to hold space for me and my own,” tying personal healing to this caring, medicinal earth. In Lal’s work, I imagine earth as trace. Haldi cradles photographs of Lal’s ancestors and stains and marks them. Many dyes are derived from clay and plant roots which carry origin stories of tended and cultivated earth—the vivid yellow stains of Lal’s work call back to the communities she re-centres.
Like Lal, Wiradjuri woman Nicole Foreshew connects the corporeal with country. Her work ngayirr (sacred), 2015-17 comprises of nine tree branches that have been ‘ceremonially transformed’ by mineral processes of the earth.(7) Buried at sites of significance, the branches form delicate crystalline skins—a body-mineral agency acting within a ‘temporality of care’.(8) Dug up and leant against a wall, the branches evoke the limber shape of the human body, earth-toned and reflective. They read as kin, sharing an affective connection through soil. Forshew’s work illuminates the necessary relationship of the body and dirt and “the material knowledge required to retrieve and revive the body”(9) through Country: knowledge that resists capitalist excavation.
Through these works, we might imagine that the earth reciprocates our attendance. Clay, mineral and soil intervene and mark our bodies—as we swallow, as a second skin, as stains on our fingers. Such aesthetic expressions (10) speculate on ways of elevating or returning to the ‘soil of cultures,’(11) in ways opposed by multinational companies and capitalist societies. Perhaps grounding is a form of geological re-ordering—a sediment of body, memory and renewal.
Masha Ru, Pimba, Bridging the Gap. Exhibited at ReadyTex Art Gallery, Paramaribo, Suriname, 2017. Series ongoing.
Consuming earth, also known as Geophagia, has been a cultural and religious practice in the American south, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ukraine, Sweden, Indonesia, Cerntral America and Australia among others. Eating earth can also be seen as a medical disorder, referred to as Pica.
Also see Ru’s ongoing works, Museum of Edible Earth.
María Puig de la Bellacasa, The Disruptive Thought of Care in Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, MN, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
Nicole Foreshew, artist statement, unpublished, June 2017.
Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash, Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking the soil of cultures, NY, Zed Books, 1998.