In September 2012, New York artist and Antioch College alumna Janet Goldner ’74 was awarded a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant to work on a project in Harare, Zimbabwe from mid October through November 2012.
As an international visiting artist, Goldner conducted a workshop and developed a collaborative project with young Zimbabwean artists at the First Floor Gallery in Harare. She also spoke at several universities and cultural institutions.
Goldner is an internationally known artist whose work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, including at The Global Africa Project at the Museum of Arts and Design (2010-11) and Women Facing AIDS at the New Museum (1989). Her work is in the permanent collections of the American Embassy in Bamako, Mali, the city of Segou, Mali, Europos Parkas in Lithuania and the Islip Museum, on Long Island, NY. She recently published a book of photographs, “Obama in Mali.”
Goldner is an internationally known artist whose work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, including at The Global Africa Project at the Museum of Arts and Design (2010–11) and Women Facing AIDS at the New Museum (1989). Her work is in the permanent collections of the American Embassy in Bamako, Mali; the city of Segou, Mali; Europos Parkas in Lithuania; and the Islip Museum, on Long Island, NY. She recently published a book of photographs, Obama in Mali.
“[As] a master welder, I work in three dimensions: on paper, on the floor, on walls, suspended from the ceiling, indoors and outdoors,” she said. “My work combines energy, abstract and classical forms and ideas as well as ages old motifs and skills. My sculptures thrive on small tensions between light and shadow, positive and negative, organic and precise, playful and serious, political and personal.”
While Goldner says that her latest project in Zimbabwe was a departure for her, she explains that it drew on her knowledge and connection to Africa and expanded her understanding, an association that began as an undergraduate.
“My long association with Africa began while I was at Antioch. I participated in an Experiment in International Living study abroad program to Ghana,” she said. “After the program, I traveled in West Africa for the rest of the year visiting many countries including Mali.”
Born to a family of political activists, Goldner grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, immersed in the social and political issues of the 1960s. This included picketing Woolworths in D.C. for lunch counter desegregation in the South as well as the grape boycott, anti-Vietnam protests, and the student movement of the 1960s.
“I have always been active in social movements,” she said. “I have been a feminist since I was a little girl. I choose Antioch at least partly due to its commitment to social justice.”
When Goldner entered Antioch as a young student, she was much more interested in studying sociology and anthropology than art. She says she “had been involved in art for as long as she could remember but after school. That was until her courses, professors and experiences helped her discover that she could make art her main occupation.
“The co-op structure of alternating academic work with other work helped me develop as an artist. My senior thesis show was an extremely important bridge from school to the art world,” she said.
Goldner’s co-ops were partly cultural and partly political, she said. She worked in the set department at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut; with an educational consulting firm in Buffalo, New York; and a group organizing to influence the meeting of the President's Council on Children and Youth.
While international co-ops didn’t exist when Goldner attended Antioch, she credits the Experiment in International Living program with launching her future work abroad, especially in Africa. Following her graduation from Antioch in 1974, she attended the UN Women’s Conference in Kenya in 1985.
“I organized several projects in South Africa including curating an exhibition of funded by the UN Committee Against Apartheid in 1989,” she said. “In 1994, I traveled to South Africa again to make a video during the historic elections.”
In 1994, Goldner received her first Fulbright Award, a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship to Mali in 1994 to 1995. “Since then I have traveled to Mali for several months every year engaging in a wide variety of cultural projects,” she said.
One of those projects was developing and directing an Antioch study abroad program for American undergraduate art students in the late 1990s through 2005.
“My life experiences play an integral part in the development of my work,” she said. “I spend much time in Mali.”
While in Mali and recently in Zimbabwe on Fulbright Senior Specialist grants, Goldner says she taught workshops to help artists better understand the “content and context of their own work and to better present it to others orally and in writing.”
“This helps guide artists in their own practice and helps them articulate their work to themselves and to others. The Zimbabwe workshop also included a lot of community building and a collaborative workshop where the artists worked together to create an installation about Harare today,” she said.
Art as life
After years as a professional artist, Goldner still claims that she didn’t necessarily choose it as her life’s work.
“Art chose me,” she said. “It’s the only thing I wanted to do enough to keep doing it.”
With the recent rebirth of Antioch, Goldner stresses that "it is important for arts curriculums to help young artists understand and develop their own unique vision and practice. Too often art programs require students to make whatever is in fashion in the art world at the moment they are studying,” she said.
“The community of people around you, other students, faculty, staff, are your community. These connections are important in your life as you develop and grow, both personally and professionally.”
Crisis in Mali
Though Goldner just returned from Zimbabwe two months ago, she is already looking ahead to her next project, Wealth in Africa, an installation she says will highlight the richness of Africa—the people and their culture(s). The work will include steel sculptures, photography, and video.
She has a deep passion for and is greatly concerned about the current crisis in Mali, her second home.
Goldner describes Mali’s crisis as complicated and composed of two interrelated parts: an institutional crisis centered in Bamako, the capital; and the occupation of the north of Mali by several groups of extremist criminals.
“The weakness of the government of Mali due to corruption and nepotism allowed this crisis to occur,” Goldner said. “The crisis has laid bare the depth of the institutional crisis which calls into question the entire period of the supposed Malian model democracy.”
In January 2012, an armed conflict broke out in northern Mali, in which Tuareg rebels took control and declared the secession of a new state, Azawad. A full- scale military coup by the Mali military followed in March 2012 with intense fighting between Tuareg and Islamist rebels. The rebels seized most of northern Mali and in response to the Islamist gains, the French military launched Opération Serval in January 2013, intervening in the conflict.
“If the French had not quickly come to Mali’s aid, it is probable that Mali wouldn’t exist as a country today,” Goldner said. “But with the intervention of the French [and] militaries from other African countries in addition to the Malian army, the north is being rapidly liberated. Once the north is regained, the hard work of constructing a new Mali can begin. I think that the whole crisis is a revolution in process. I hope it will result in a true democracy in Mali.”
Goldner has written extensively about the crisis on her website, www.janetgoldner.com.
“The American response to the crisis is most unfortunate,” she said. “I have deep grassroots connections and frequent contact with Malians in Mali and in the diaspora. My knowledge comes from my long years of work in the field. This involvement will continue as I continue to work for effective ways to help resolve this crisis.
“The evolution of my work traces my enduring exploration of sculptural form, my ongoing relationship with African culture, and my lifelong involvement in political activism,” she said.
For more information on Janet Goldner’s work and her writing on the crisis in Mali, visit her website at http://www.janetgoldner.com.