Gold Matters
The exhibition invites you to visit the six rooms you find when scrolling down. There are two ways to access the rooms: you can open the FLOORPLAN on the left side, or scroll further down and press on the walls in the rooms on the right.
‘Exploring Transformations to Sustainability in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM)’ is a 4-year transdisciplinary research project (2018-2022) that examines whether and how societal transformations towards sustainable mining futures are possible in ASGM. It brings together a multi-national team conducting empirical research in Brazil, Suriname, French Guiana, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Guinea Conakry, and Uganda. The core team includes researchers from different disciplines, artists, and a community development practitioner. Closely linked are miners and community members who work with the Team.

Project activities include research with miners to understand how they see the future and sustainability in gold mining. This has involved photography, painting and sculpture to find ways to express people’s lives and futures in mining.

At the start, the intention was to have an exhibition that could travel and ‘pop-up’ in mining communities, including artwork created in these communities to stimulate debate about gold mining. Photos show how the exhibition began like this in Kejetia, northern Ghana, in January 2020. However, the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to plans for the exhibition to pop up in other communities or countries. Now it pops-up virtually as the Exhibition Gold Matters. The Exhibition takes the audience down on a journey moving from ‘Exhibition of the Exhibition in Kejetia’ to visual results from all the three regions organized around the themes: Co-labouring, ARTistic and ARTisanal, In-depth terrains, Gold Lifeways and Moving Matters.

The exhibition includes work by the photographer Nii Obodai and images by the painter Christophe Sawadogo. All the other visual materials result from research collaborations, often involving members of mining communities. We have taken care over consent; also, in order to protect individuals, names of people and places are not always specified.

The exhibition is a collaborative effort of the Team and members of mining communities. The Gold Matters Team would like to acknowledge gratitude to the miners and community members who have made this exhibition possible.

Principal curator: Sabine Luning
Art Direction and Graphic Design: Rose van Zijl
Web development: Niels Hofsteenge

Gold Matters is supported financially by the Belmont Forum and NORFACE Joint Research Programme on Transformations to Sustainability, co-funded by DLR/BMBF, ESRC, FAPESP, ISSC, NWO, VR, and the European Commission through Horizon 2020. Grant number: 462.17.201.

Project lead: Eleanor Fisher


Eleanor Fisher and Cristiano Lanzano, Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden. Sabine Luning and Esther van de Camp, University of Leiden, The Netherlands. Marjo de Theije, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Lúcia da Costa Ferreira, Jorge Calvimontes, Luciana Massaro, Januária Pereira Mello, and Raíssa Resende de Moraes, NEPAM, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil. Giorgio de Tomi and Carlos Henrique Xavier Araujo, Universidade de São Paulo, Centre for Responsible Mining, Brazil. Ronald Twongyirwe, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda. Margaret Tuhumwire, Environmental Women for Action in Development, Uganda. Mr Christophe Sawadogo, Independent artist, Burkina Faso. Mr Nii Obodai, Nuku Studios, Ghana. Alizèta Ouedraogo, Luigi Arnaldi di Balme, Romain Ronceray, Institute for Social Research in Africa, Burkina Faso. Lorenzo D’Angelo, University of Reading, United Kingdom. Robert Pijpers, University of Hamburg, Germany

The following people have worked with the Team and contributed to the exhibition:

In Uganda: Annede Monica, Richard Kidega, Upton Muwagira, Clara Atuhaire, Christine and Innocent Babweteera. In Ghana: Mabel Senaa Bonsuuri (NUKU Studio), Zakari Imrana, Lamisi Yaliwaa, Haruna Bashiru, Benjamin Ampiah, Ebenezer Mannah, Anthony Acquah, Israel Ampiah, Bonsa Basic Academy, Kejetia, Ghana: Teacher Alfred King Sharpston, Sheila Danka, Stephen Sawalbi, Beatrice Annor Mensah. In Guinea Conakry: Nfaly Diama and Moussa Koné. In Suriname: Maria do Socorro Nascimento, Ramon Linisi Finkie, Gio Benny Lato.
Photographers name list ⟶
Room 01: Exhibition of the Exhibition
From the start, a key objective of the Gold Matters’ project was that visual materials –photos, video’s – co-created with members of mining communities, should circulate between these communities. We envisaged organizing ‘pop-up’ exhibitions, which would travel from West Africa, to Uganda, and the Amazon, and adding new works while on the road. Due to COVID-19, we were only able to organize one pop-up exhibition, from 12-15 January 2020 in Kejetia, northern Ghana.
Simultaneous to the preparation of the pop-up exhibition, curated by photographer Nii Obodai, we initiated various activities of co-labouring with members of the community, as part of what we called our ‘Sustainability Conversations Workshop’. The workshop involved residents of the mining community in Kejetia (including male gold miners, women involved in processing ore and schoolchildren). Gold Matters researchers from Europe and West Africa were also present, a cartographer, gold miners from another research site in the south of Ghana who had travelled with the research team to the north, photographers Nii Obodai and Mabel Seena, and painter Christophe Sawadogo. At the workshop, we collaborated to visualise gold mining spaces, gold miners’ lifeways, and ideas about sustainable futures. The activities included the mapping of Kejetia’s mining space via ‘walk-alongs’, using mobile mapping devices; co-labouring in the making of installation art guided and inspired by Christophe Sawadogo, and a photography workshop with schoolchildren, supervised by Mabel Seena. This event is the entry-point to this on-line exhibition, with a first room dedicated to the Exhibition of the Exhibition, which centers on:

 Co-labouring in the 3-D field
 Co-labouring around art
 The photographic pop-up exhibition.

This is only the start. The Gold Matters project takes you on a journey through the three regions where we work: From the Arts of Co-Labouring, to ARTistic and ARTisanal, to In-depth Terrains, to Gold Lifeways, and Moving Matters.
Room 02: Arts of Co-Labouring
Co-labouring is an expression of how we ‘do things’ in the Gold Matters project to learn – about mining, gold, one another, places, and sustainability. It is a means to share and see things in different ways, learning from people’s expertise and life experiences. This creates sharing between us, but also exposes differences. How different members of the team co-labour together in groups can vary – related to the task, place, cultural expectations, and personalities; also, to how we portray issues – talking, showing, filming, photographing, and WhatsApp messaging. What becomes important is how co-creating knowledge helps us work together and elicit understanding on mining and sustainability. This is demonstrated by how miners create images in their mines to share with researchers; in the sharing of mining techniques across regions - provoking fascination by miners interested in different machines; and in focus group discussions sharing knowledge on different topics. Through co-labouring, the geologies, social relations, working practices, and landscapes can be revealed. Into this mix, enters Christophe Sawadogo, making the most beautiful paintings in ways that enroll others into the act of art – children, women, researchers, drivers, and miners. And enters too Nii Obodai, photographer and observer, standing back with ‘slow photography’ and his Leica to take black and white images. Others also, leaders of co-operatives and organizations, ever practical, mobilizing researchers as well as miners. Through co-labouring, our aspirations and thoughts for the future become apparent.
Room 03: ARTistic and ARTisanal
In mining regions in the Amazon, artistic work portraying the lives and strife’s of gold miners is prolific. Artistic expression is part of mining lives and communities; it can be seen in statues and graffiti in the streets. The art demonstrates a sense of pride in how the region has transformed due to the efforts of miners; it also stamps a claim on the territory and occupation. The symbolic value of gold reveals itself in embodied ways: many miners wear gold jewelry, and may adorn their bodies with tattoos or with gold on their teeth. Such intimate body-art gives a message about how gold and personal lives are entangled:together they form Gold Lifeways, pathways in which lives of people cross-connect with gold matters.

In public and in personal ways, artistic work in the Amazon highlights the role of gold in the development of regions and in the aspirations of individuals and communities. Interestingly, in West Africa and Uganda we do not find such clear examples of popular art engaging with artisanal mining. Gold mining itself may be an art and items like a traditional gold balance may be finely crafted. Ghana gold has historically been used to craft objects symbolizing royalty, but around contemporary mining places there is little ARTistic work which takes up the theme of ARTisanal gold mining. This contrast between the Amazon and parts of Africa is most interesting. In the exhibition, African Artistic work on the Artisanal is represented by the work of two artists, both central collaborators in the Gold Matters project: Photographer Nii Obodai and Painter Christophe Sawadogo.
Room 04: In-Depth Terrains
From afar, an aerial view from above or standing on hillslopes, mining presents itself gradually, through roads and mine sites, exposed as lines and gashes within areas of vegetation. Different land uses co-exist, with mining part of a wider geographical and social mosaic. Deep down, underground, hidden from those on the surface, a different picture presents itself. The in-depth terrain – the noise, dust, dark, heat, water, ore, and poor oxygen. In here comes conflict, as people variously compete over access to gold matter (ore), but also creating convivialities to work underground and share gold extracted by teams. Then away from the pits come different relations, such as when women pan in the wetlands or men dredge a river. And the equipment used shapes the scale of extraction - from the vast movement of soil by men driving excavators to prepare in-depth operations, to women with basins picking up small tailings by hand. Collaboration also extends away from the mine, between men mining and women processing ore, or with land-owners and local communities giving access to gold, but so too comes conflict and tension, as residents dispute rights, and officials demand bribes.
Room 05: Gold Lifeways
Gold has a lifeline that traces its transformation, dug from the ground, from rivers and wetlands, extracted and processed to materialize as ‘pure’ gold. Experts excavate, process, and trade gold – miners skilled at finding gold, at mastering new techniques, at negotiating work. Gold itself may be seen as a living entity that requires care, rest and the right forms of appropriation, as it binds itself to miners’ lives and cosmologies. Gold makes its mark, in footprints, on nuggets worn ostentatiously by miners, or hidden in pockets. It appears in graffiti, on street names, hotels, cinemas, and the ubiquitous statues of miners marking territory in the Amazon. Stimulated by gold, people grow as collectives, building miners’ associations and co-operatives within Gold Lifeways. Lifeways change, they are not fixed or linear; miners travel and bring with them new technology, ideas or skills; cooperatives stimulate transformation. The line is not finite; new chemicals, machinery and techniques extend possibilities of extraction; waste becomes a resource for others; old sites are revisited; an air pump doubling as a telephone. Markets shape the booms and busts of gold prices, and the material wealth that flows from the gold. Officials too, permitting, restraining, and controlling miners’ options. Repeatedly, in different places, accessing land, and the relations of land tenure are vital – for male miners, women miners, and local inhabitants. Mining infrastructures extend into the subterranean and across land, creating cohabitations, building conviviality, stimulating conflict.
Room 06: Moving Matters
Mining moves matter – people, goods and materials. Gold in its various material forms – ore in hard-rock quartz or alluvial ‘free’ gold - can move within the space of the mine, in orebodies, and in mud and water, and by extraction through different machinery. Wide open pits, deep horizontal tunnels, near surface river beds, the form mining takes shapes the movement of extracted matter. Old and new infrastructures often become combined in a mine, helping or hindering extraction. Before, alongside and after the gold, comes vast quantities of rocks, soil, stones, and into the mine go props, pulleys and people. Water rises up from the ground and down sluices, forming waterways for transport of miners and goods. Mercury, cyanide and supplies come into camps, people and gold go out. This gold follows trade lines: from mine sites to smelters and jewelers, to consumers, and into the vaults of banks; while innovation takes it into new markets, traversing the globe. As matter moves so do people, and for women, men and children this is often in different ways, on foot and by bicycle, motorbike, car, truck, buses, trains and planes. These infrastructures connect mine sites and mining matter to a wider world. Through the social mobility of miners, traders, entrepreneurs, all with aspirations, mining may be a stepping stone helping people move downwards, upwards, outwards.