Exploring images, perceptions and transformations of small-scale gold mining: a transcontinental dialogue from different perspectives

Under the curatorship of Prof. Sabine Luning and with the participation of all members of the GM project, the virtual exhibition “Gold Matters – From Africa to the Amazon” captures images, aesthetics, and the description of mining landscapes, technologies, and actors

Jorge Calvimontes and Luciana Massaro

Contemporary challenges, such as climate and environmental change, the pressure on natural resources, the social conflicts associated with their use, and the uncertainty about the future of the planet, force us to design strategies and make efforts beyond the conventional. In recent years, many academics and development professionals have expressed the need for a transformation towards sustainability that considers deep changes in social structures, in the relationships between the various actors, in the ways nature is perceived and used, and in the production of knowledge itself. A sustainable future will only be possible on the basis of new values and new alliances. In this way, researchers, local managers, miners, and artists work together in the co-production of knowledge and dialogue from diverse perspectives, languages, and positions. 

Based on this approach, the transdisciplinary research project “Gold Matters: Exploring Transformations to Sustainability in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining” examines whether transformations leading to a sustainable future for small-scale gold mining are possible and analyzes how such transformations could come about. Researchers from different disciplines, artists, and community development practitioners from diverse backgrounds form the project team and conduct empirical research in Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Uganda, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. In each of these regions, miners, members of cooperatives and associations, and local leaders discuss possible futures with the project members and together express their positions and desires through dialogue, photography and painting.

Under the curatorship of Associate Professor Sabine Luning of Leiden University in the Netherlands, and with the participation of all members of the Gold Matters project, a photographic exhibition has been developed that captures images, aesthetics, and the description of mining landscapes, technologies and actors. Initially planned to be itinerant and to tour all the regions where the project operates, the exhibition became virtual due to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In virtual rooms organized by theme, photographs and texts are presented that highlight the results of the research from different perspectives. Gold is the axis around which everything happens. Art; the mobility of materials, people and ideas; and the personal stories that make up regional histories, all are combined within a landscape.

From a research perspective, exhibition preparation is also a method. Looking at the places, selecting the photos, seeing them again, and describing them produces almost a second fieldwork. The group discussion between researchers from different regions also enriches the analysis and produces new and innovative questions. This permits one to see differences and similarities in other categories. For example, artistic expression inspired by mining activity carries various historical, identity, and political meanings specific to the regions of the Brazilian Amazon. Similarly, it is typical in Busia district of Uganda that small-scale mining takes place in the backyard of a house, showing an intimate coexistence with the family life of the communities.

As a dance between image and text, the possibility of dialogue emerges. Dialogue between the various actors in mining, between the activity and its surroundings, between one region and another, between perhaps different histories, lifestyles, and desires for the future. The exhibition is not an end point, but a starting point for reflection. It is hoped that each of the virtual visitors can go through the same process.

Dr. Jorge Calvimontes is a post-doctoral fellow at the Núcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas Ambientais/NEPAM, Universidade Estadual de Campinas/UNICAMP (FAPESP Grant nº 2019/09709-9).

Dr. Luciana Massaro is a post-doctoral fellow  at the Núcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas Ambientais/NEPAM, Universidade Estadual de Campinas/UNICAMP (FAPESP Grant nº 2020/07985-6) and at the Dept. of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.


Gold Matters: Sustainability Transformations in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining: A Multi-Actor and Trans-Regional Perspective is a transdisciplinary research project which aims to consider whether and how a transformative approach towards sustainability can arise in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM). For more information see www.gold-matters.org


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