A multi-format installation about the world of informal mining in the abandoned gold mines of South Africa by Rosalind Morris, on display January 24, 2020 – March 27, 2020.
The Zama Zama Project features high-resolution, immersive video and narrative documentary shorts about the lives of men and women who make their living scavenging for gold. This collaborative project grows out of long-term research in the Witwatersrand gold-mining region that stretches over more than two decades. In this fragile and toxic environment, men mine for gold in decaying tunnels kilometers beneath the surface of the earth, and women grind stone by hand to extract the precious metal. The Zama Zama Project is intended to document their predicament, while providing an opportunity for audiences to encounter life in these remnants of the gold-mining world and to hear from and engage those who live in it.
For more than a hundred years, South Africa was the world’s largest gold producer. Its mines were theaters of technological power and geochemical know-how. Today, as the ores are being depleted, many of the mines are closing. And new waves of migrants are entering their ruins to scavenge in the deep for remnants of gold. The most extreme forms of such scavenging are called Zama Zama mining. The phrase means both to keep on trying and to gamble. Zama Zama miners are the gamblers of the ruining world, speculators on survival in the time of deindustrialization.
In the dreams of alchemists and sovereigns, gold has been the visual element of symbolic authority and the medium of economic power. In the hallucinations of prospectors, it has been the sign of an expanding future. But industrial gold mining is both intoxicating and toxifying. And in the poisoned ruins, history verifies Walter Benjamin’s claim, made nearly 100 years ago, that industrial capitalism not only generated waste but made waste itself a source of value, even as it divided the world and condemned many to the status of the abandoned. Today, the reclamation of residual gold from mine dumps takes place on an industrial scale, and the space of scavenging is itself contracting. This is not the utopian space of digitization or entrepreneurial self-actualization, but a shadowy domain in which work is being re-manualized and severed from wages. It is a world of illegalized migration and permanent movement without the freedom implied by the term, ‘mobility.’ Here, everything is afterlife.
The Zama Zama Project is presented by Slought and the SP2 Social Justice and Arts Integration Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.
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