Serra Pelada is an opencast mine, a prodigious pit dug by human hands, the result of a massive influx of self-employed miners to a remote part of northeastern Brazil. The promise of gold lured more than 80 000 garimpeiros from their homes and families, to a life of arduous labour in hazardous conditions. In 1985 Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar traveled to Serra Pelada, and over the course of weeks, he documented these miners and their backbreaking work in the mammoth crater. It was on these bare, muddy, terraced slopes that Jaar photographed and filmed what was to become Gold in the Morning.
The resulting images are a stark portrayal of Promethean repetition; the treacherous, daily descent of the men down the slippery walls and the clambering back up, laden with sacks of sodden earth. Beyond the graphic representation of their toils, the works reveal the humanity of the miners and their suffering. Jaar provides a portal into a hidden and unfamiliar place, dramatic in its scale and topography. In giving 'visibility to those our world denies it to', Jaar invites us to examine the social, cultural and political motivations for their labour. This illuminated installation counterbalances the great, faceless demand of the industrialised world with a profusion of faces: the faces of those, in the developing world, who supply. Jaar is known for his uncompromisingly frank documentary imagery, as well as his public interventions. He describes himself as a project artist, preferring to spend extended periods in the field, rather than being sequestered in a studio. He explains, “I do not create my works in the studio. I wouldn’t know what to do. I do not stare at a blank page of paper and start inventing a world coming only from my imagination. Every work is a response to a real-life event, a real life situation.”
Gold in the Morning, presented by the Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, is Jaar’s first major solo show in South Africa. The series was first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1986 and subsequently at museums around the world, including the Whitechapel in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In its latest incarnation, Gold in the Morning will be comprised of a selection of ten large-scale light boxes. The artist will be in attendance at the opening.