Janet Goldner: Art and Life

Janet Goldner is a sculptor whose work crosses many cultures, focusing on the “beauty and genius of each as well as what we have in common.” She has been involved with African cultures since her undergraduate days at Antioch College, travelling first to Ghana and, years later, to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Goldner’s longest and deepest association has been with Mali where she has spent several months every year since the mid-1990’s.  She has mentored women artists and helped to create employment for rural women through textile projects. She is also involved in an ongoing collaboration with contemporary artists.  Her annual visits to Mali fuel much of her work.

Goldner’s pieces vary from monumental (measured in feet) to small (measured in inches). The captions for the work shown are hers and explain her intentions clearly.



Have We Met?, 2006

[click here to watch a video of the installation]

Have We Met? is an installation with steel sculpture, video and sound. The video presents four aspects of daily life a remote village. Using images that are small, personal and human, I present a nuanced and positive image of Africa, countering persistent negative stereotypes. It is the richness of the diversity of cultural adaptations that continues to fascinate me.



ZigZags, an ongoing installation
New Jersey City University, April 2010

Zig-Zags is a series of glyph-like gestural steel sculptures. Zig-Zags signify a road that is not straight but contains many twists, turns and detours.



Can We Acknowledge?
4′ x 25′ x 4′, steel, 2005

The interplay of positive and negative space, of image and text is important to this large steel book. The five 3.5-foot by 4-foot steel pages ask, “Can we acknowledge the pain we have caused in the world, even as we struggle with our own?”



Can We Heal?
4′ x 10′ x 4′, steel, 2000

Can We Heal was inspired by a trip through Poland and the Ukraine where I visited the towns from which my grandparents emigrated. This large-scale work asks in Lithuanian and English, “Can we heal from the wounds of our tortured history? Lithuanians, Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews, Everyone.” It is part of the permanent collection of Europos Parkas, an outdoor sculpture museum in Lithuania.



NY, 2009

The Bamana people are one of the major ethnic groups in Mali. Under French colonialism, many of the existing names of people and places were deformed. And Bamana became Bambara.



Ntlomaw/WhY Installation
6′ x 7′ x 25′, steel, 1997

The WhY (Ntlomaw) series was inspired by an architectural pillar in the form of a forked stick, which is used as the support for traditional Malian adobe houses. They are often quite undulating but provide, nonetheless, the internal structure and support for traditional buildings. The use of text to define the image is reminiscent of Islamic use of text.



Round (Bead)
8’ x 3’ x 6”, steel, 2002

Inspired by West African cast metal beads, this totemic patterned form is supported by a central post. It passes through the form as the thread passes through a bead.



Ideogram Book 1
18” x 24” x 10”, steel, 2007

Ideograms are a symbolic writing system. The three ideograms visible here refer to wake up, a big fire to purify the earth, and writing or knowledge of the unknown.



Ideogram Book 2
24” x 36” x 24”, steel, 2007

These ideograms are used by the Dogon people of Mali as part of ceremonies and divination.



Point of Water
8′ x 7′ x 5′, steel, 2008

This wall installation is composed of fabricated and recycled steel objects. In Bamana thought, along with north, south, east and west, water is the fifth cardinal point. Water determines where villages are located. Circles, like drops of rain, symbolize water. Ellipses can symbolize a body of water.



Most of Us Are Immigrants
8′ x 50′ x 18′; steel; 1997

Most Of Us Are Immigrants celebrates immigration as an integral and continuing part of the American experience.  The five eight-foot tall steel vessels that form this public sculpture weave together the experiences of immigrants across time and across ethnicity. It is in the collection of the Islip Museum on Long Island.




Janet Goldner is an artist whose work explores culture, identity and social justice. She works in various media: sculpture, photography, video, installation and writing. Goldner’s work in the US and internationally includes commissions, exhibitions, collaborations, residencies, teaching, community art projects, public art projects, cultural festivals and women's empowerment projects. She has received a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship and two Fulbright Senior Specialist grants as well as grants from the Ford Foundation and from the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid. Her work is in the permanent collection of the American Embassy in Mali and the Islip Museum on Long Island. Learn more at


  1. See you in the fall. You do need a gallery, retrospective, essay and overview of your work and how it relates to on-going humanistic and artistic concerns and life as well as feminist values-human values.

  2. Wonderfull pictures : you have Africa in your heart,but not only you are guardian of culture like all women around the world !

  3. Your unique perspectives open our eyes as well. Still fondly recalling our day in the Zimbabwe outback last fall. Thanks for sharing our world through your eyes..Dan

  4. Dear Janet, Your work is fascinating. I’m looking forwards to see more works……
    Sorry, the distance from your part in the world to Amsterdam, is a little too far.
    I hope the situation in Mali is calm at this moment? Best wishes and Good Luck from puck.

  5. Janet…Great seeing you and reading about you and your work…..!!!!! Your website has inspired me to create my personal one, to update as I want…Keep me posted…Do follow up with Ginny Tyler…I feel you have much in common…
    Good Creative Energy Always

  6. Merci pour l’exposition. I especially liked the zig-zags, so symbolic of life with its twists and turns and detours.

  7. Janet, we have yet to meet (through Fran Smyth) but i just wanted to comment about the power of your work. I’m anxious to see you and your work in person soon. Thanks for sending this along, Anita Mandl

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