An installation by Rosalind Morris about the world of informal mining in the abandoned gold mines of South Africa


The Cost of Gold

A conversation about informal mining and its representation with Rosalind Morris and Radhika Subramaniam

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Penn Social Justice & Arts Integration Initiative

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought and SP2 Social Justice and Arts Integration Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce The Cost of Gold, a public conversation with Rosalind Morris and Radhika Subramaniam, moderated by Eduardo Cadava, on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 from 6:30-8:30pm. This event will explore informal mining and its representation, and has been organized in conjunction with The Zama Zama Project, a multi-format installation by Rosalind Morris about the world of informal mining in the abandoned gold mines of South Africa, on display January 24 through March 20, 2020.

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.

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Rosalind Morris is an award-winning anthropologist, cultural critic, filmmaker and media theorist, who has taught at Columbia University, where she is Professor of Anthropology, for 25 years. She has worked for more than two decades to document the transforming life-worlds around the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. She is the author of 7 books and more than 70 essays, and has been recognized with numerous awards.

Rosalind Morris has spent more than two decades conducting research on the social lives of natural resource extraction. Over the past four years, she has been collaborating with Zama Zamas to produce a form of documentation that testifies to the lived reality of those who live in the shadow of the gold industry's deindustrialization, while exploring the limits of documentary method.

Radhika Subramaniam is a curator and writer with an interdisciplinary practice. Through text, exhibitions and public interventions, she explores the poetics and politics of crises and surprises, particularly cities and crowds, migration, walking, art and human-animal relationships.

She is Associate Professor of Visual Culture at Parsons School of Design/The New School where she was also the first Director/Chief Curator of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center from 2009-2017. Previously, she was the Founding Executive Editor of the the art/politics journal, Connect: art.politics.theory.practice (Arts International) and the Director of Cultural Programs at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (2005-2008). She has a Masters in Anthropology and a PhD. in Performance Studies.

"The mine is my parents, that's what I can say. That's where I depend."

— informal miner, South Africa