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Mining and Earth matter artist Jeannette Unite’s current exhibition centres on all minerals humans have become dependent on the technological age

2019 is UNESCO’s Year of the Periodic Table commemorating 150 years since physicist Dmitri Mendeleev published the magnificent matrix of the 64 universal elements in 1869. Organising matter according to ever increasing atomic weight and properties.

Mining and Earth matter artist Jeannette Unite’s current exhibition ‘ADMISSION OF GUILT’ features a seven-meter installation of The Periodic Table along with visceral geo-strata paintings informed by her travels and collections of minerals, images, maps and legal material. Her latest exhibition centres on all the minerals used to create all the things humans have become dependent on during the technological age.

Unite first began collecting the ores and sands she uses in her paint while on a camping adventure in the red iron oxide sand dunes of the Kalahari 30 years ago. She realised the link between her artist’s paints and mining whilst living on alluvial diamond mines on Africa’s West Coast with her then Mine Manager fiancé in the 1990s. Geologists pointed out to her that the titanium and heavy mineral sands that wash up on beaches are diamondiferous – because they are deposited with diamonds.



Embedded in her artistic exploration of mining issues are the issues of ownership, regulated by laws that allocate wealth of land and resources through title deeds and minerals rights. The maps, diagrams and surveillance geo-visualising are embedded into the minerals they depict.

In 2018 Unite won an Award from the Department of Arts and Culture for using various archives, including Oxford University’s William ‘Strata Smith Collection, legal property archive repositories, and museums across Africa as well as Wales, Germany, and Johannesburg for the texts and geo-spatial information she embeds into her polyptych geo-seam paintings. At 1.9 meters high the geo-seam paintings are the height of a large human in her attempt to integrate the idea of all humans being walking, talking minerals. The voids between the panels reference the excavation and result in a bar-code effect to emphasize the commodities that humans consume from mined matter.

The exhibition includes, along with the large format mineral geo-seam polyptych paintings, title deeds and mineral rights for VVIP’s – Virtual Vacant Intellectual Properties. She uses a combination of army aerial photographs which are obsolete teaching aids, gifted to her by Oxford University and South Africa’s Rural development geo-spatial. Virtual Property deeds are a comment on land ownership that divides via legislated property laws. In colonial conquest, the pen was mightier than the sword.

Jeannette Unite is currently working on a 54 panelled artwork entitled ‘Who Owns Africa’ and ‘PLOT’, reflecting on the laws that delineate land and ownership.



The link between herself as an end-user of mineral extraction motivated her ongoing investigation into mining and its irrevocable impact on technology. From the Stone Age to the Iron Age human development has been defined in relation to the materials we use for tools. Thus ‘Complicit Geographies – ADMISSION OF GUILT’ addresses consumption that drives the demand for mining, oil, and extraction.

As part of her ever-evolving project Unite has visited mine sites in more than 30 countries, accumulating an ever increasing variety of mined matter. To create order in her studio she constructed numerous Periodic Tables – arranging her pastels in order along with the oxides, ores and artefacts. Organising the copper, cobalt, irons, chromes, cadmium, and gold mine dust for her painting using the matrix Mendeleev identified 150 years ago.

“Mining the Artist’s Paintbox” is Unite’s alchemical paint-pot, created from the detritus and overburdened dumps of mines, illustrating the inescapable influence of the mining industry and the human dependency.

Unite had a parallel experience to Mendeleev who worked in his mother’s glass blowing factory in his youth.  Ceramist alchemist – Joe Faragher had been an underground mining engineer and introduced Unite to methods of making glass colour with her collection of minerals. The minerals transmogrify at temperatures similar to Earth’s Magma. Unite found she was able to alter the melting points to get the startling colour from minerals by lowering melting temperatures with fluxes, lead powders, wires and sheet. Understanding the properties of matter through working the glass guided her towards the periodic table.

Unite’s focus is on modern society’s compulsion for material wealth through her vivid portrayal of geodes, geo-strata, commodities and machines that reflect on the materialism that drives the mining industry through a lens of matter, materiality.





Viewings: 10 am – 5.30 pm from  2nd Feb – 13 April 2019
at 179 Buitengracht St, Cape Town.
Contact :  art@jeannetteunite.com
Phone: +27 (0) 76 906 9767


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