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Home Is
Contemporary Video Art from Ethiopia and Ethiopian Diaspora
Opening Date
25/02/2021
Closing Date
19/06/2021
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Home is a primal need. It is the very essence of the anthropic quest, defining identity, culture, beliefs, and sense of belonging. Ideas of home seek to be permanent or fixed, however in our ever-moving generation, we are continuously asked to adapt to rapid change and redefine home. The city of Addis Ababa is in the midst of massive transformation. It is expanding drastically with over a quarter of its current residents relocating to newly built neighborhoods. As old communities are disappearing new ones are forming. According to Albert Einstein’s unifying law, a continuous transformational cycle between mass and energy must occur for anything to exist. Echoing the current state of the city, most of the videos in this selection examine the paradoxical unity of movement in energy and its relationship to stillness. How does one negotiate a consistent belonging while everything around is in transition? What is the axis of time in the frame of the past and the present? How does one cope with the familiar and the unfamiliar? This selection expresses these themes through the personal and the societal on subjects of economy, gender, gentrification, and the migratory experience.

The film industry in Ethiopia is an upcoming and prosperous field. Although film as a medium was first introduced to the country in 1901 by Ralph P. Cobbold only 6 years after the world’s first projected film by the Lumière brothers, the country's first feature length film wasn't produced until 1966 (title Hirut Abatuwa Manew)*. In part, the slow development of the industry had to do with language isolation and limited commercial outreach. Currently however, the film industry is growing rapidly and expanding into every genre.

In Ethiopia, video as an art practice is a very recent development. Since 2015, Addis Video Art Festival has been screening selected programs (local and international) from an open call. The festival screens nomadically throughout the city in art centers and public spaces. Lens based art practices have increased as technology becomes more accessible and artists are now able to make videos using devices such as their phones. Artists who are exploring interdisciplinary practices are now utilizing the medium alongside painting, sculpture, and performance. They are branching out from traditionally established practices into performance, installation and video. Within an environment of tumultuous change and increased mobility the medium of video can be an effective tool allowing artists to document the crumbling past, process the amorphous present, and question a nebulous future.

The featured artists for this exhibition live in Ethiopia, Israel, France and the U.S.A., each interpreting and translating their definition of "Home" according to their experiences. Some artists were born in and live in Ethiopia, their idea of Home reflects a confronted singular position. Rooted in the knowledge of their community and surroundings, they examine the new realities brought about by change. Some artists were born in Ethiopia and migrated to another country. Their idea of Home is reflected through a refracted sense of the self. Belonging to both their past and present, here and there, they question reality while time, place and identity become malleable. Some artists were born outside Ethiopia to Ethiopian parents. They explore their longing for connection to their parents' homeland. The videos in this exhibition are comprised of negotiations, magnifications and affirmations presented through these various perspectives.

Home in Martha Haile’s (Ethiopia) collaboration with Noregard’s humorous and surprising short “You can’t eat money, 10’05”, 2012 ” nods to economical conditions and the soaring cost of living. The artists are seen in a frontal position behind a desk, similar in fashion to news anchors. The video documents their direct action of ripping and eating 100 birr bills while sipping water from a bottle. They portray money as a material only, incapable of providing sustenance. Economic hardship is also reflected in Mulugeta Gebrekidan “Inside Out, 2’58”, 2013” which melancholically re-situates the very personal experience of the loss of a literal home through the mundane. The piece takes place in the ruins of demolished, yet furnished homes. In one scene, a pregnant couple sits watching Television. In others, an individual reads the newspaper, and a family eats pizza (mocking the desperation for modernity). Each scenario is a gesture of resistance, claiming the space. The outside force is cold and merciless but the inner home stays where it is in the absence of all. Yacob Bizuneh “Under Construction, 6’, 2015”, is another reflection on the desperation for economic development while sacrificing the individual. In Bizuneh’s video a businessman paints a standing man from head to toe, half green half yellow as if erasing his individuality into just the two colors. This striped color coordination is used throughout the city on fences around areas that are under construction, hence the title.

In both Berhanu Ashagrie (Ethiopia) and Tewodros Kifle’s (Ethiopia) shorts, Home is reflected as a societal experience, zoomed out, juxtaposed and in a state of flux. In Berhanu Ashagrie’s short, “Addis Ababa, The-City-is-The-People”, 7’21”, 2013, Home is paralleled to the residents of the city. The video shows cropped scenes of individuals performing repetitive gestures in groups while walking urgently, a close up of a mouth from an unexpected angle, hands holding a mirror and reflecting light at the camera reminiscent of the newly built sleek and glassy high-rise buildings. Due to the cropping and the close up view, no individual is ever fully visible or identifiable,  resonating with the anonymity of the urban experience. The short reflects the city in a state of rapid change desperate for development at the stake of certain and uncertain conditions or outcomes. In Tewodros Kifle’s video montage, cultural iconography serves as a window framing bustling city activities. This short responds to the city’s state of disorder, migration and gentrification. The cutouts are used as a memorial for the family homes that are being replaced.

In Betelhem Makonnen’s (Ethiopia, U.S.A.) two channel video “change means revolution in Amharic (person, place and thing), 5’36”, 2019”, Home is presented through personal subjective experiences. Home’s inevitable fate is change. The first video shows the streets of Addis Ababa from a car window view. We see the hustle and bustle of an active scene; people walking, carrying, on their phone, places under construction, billboards and so on. All is in a passing state as if everything is transitional. We hear a conversation between two people, a dialogue on the state of the country, ending with one of them whistling the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. In the second video, the artist is wearing a mask, a portrait from her childhood and navigating the streets of her birth place. Silhouetted with her environment, at times she pulls the mask down and peaks out hesitantly. Helen Zeru's "Parliament and Representation, 4'12", 2020" is another two channel video. Home is a juxtaposition of private and public acts. In the first video we see a female pouring water in the gesture of baking Injera while a television plays in the background. Her metallic face paint can be seen as both a mask of rejection and as highlighting the theatricality of the assumed traditional female role in a domestic setting. In the second video we see passengers riding a taxi conversing on a variety of subjects creating a parallel flow between performed and actual events.

In Kibrom Gebremedhin’s (Ethiopia, U.S.A.), "Melting Jewels', animation, 5’32”, 2016” Home is both a personal and societal experience. This hand-drawn animation recounts an autobiographical narrative of the loss of his father. Along with his father's loss, the father’s 30 year old jewelry store closed and was replaced by a new neighborhood. This piece explores how the loss of a family member is far greater than we could ever imagine, while also removing us from a place, a community, and an identity. The animation is mainly black and white, portraying the neutrality of the detached environment. In only one scene we see color, the artist blows a flame to melt jewels as if giving life to the inanimate, forming and shaping the old into a new self. Home is also both personal and societal, in Helina Metaferia’s “Sacred Transition, 14’3”, 2016”. A collaboration with several artists living in different cities (Tsedaye Makonnen, Autumn Knight, Aidah Aliyah Rasheed, Mihret Kebede, Meron Haile, Martha Haile, Yafet Meku) tied together by Metaferia’s lived experiences in various cities ( (NYC, Oakland, Washington, DC, Addis Ababa) and their current state of gentrification. In a way, working in collaboration with these artists from distinct corners of the world highlights the broad geographical belongings the artist inhabits. In Ezra Wube’s, “Hamus/ Thursday 10’38”, 2019” stop motion animated short he reflects on the personal. Home is interwoven in past and present ideas of belonging. Created from found and constructed objects, Home is continuously redefined through the processing and recollection of the artist's lived experiences.

A few other trajectories of the immigrant experiences are reflected through shorts by Robel Temesgen, Naod Lemma, Esther Wonde and Hanoch Veve. In Robel Temesgen's short Home is resituated through the transplantation of a past ritual, appealing both melancholic and isolated. In the piece we see the artist standing arbitrarily between streets contrasted against a snowy and harsh background. He is wearing shepherds clothing and hitting his back with a whip, a common practice among monks during Orthodox holidays. He performs the ritual solitarily, in Ethiopia passersby would have soon joined him in the act. Home in Naod Lemma's short is never realized. The piece was created in response to the execution of 30 Ethiopian Christian immigrants by ISIS in Libya. In four channels we see the artist running around a rotary, wearing an orange suit which was worn by the prisoners. The four frames show different points of views, possibly the cardinal directions. He appears in each frame then absent in the frame after as if the journey is never completed. In Esther Wonde's, “Koshit Bamba, 2’0”, 2017” animated short, Home is paralleled with self questioning ideas of belonging, stereotypes and the romantic past. In her animated short, a female figure wanders through a floaty fluid world of rural landscapes, grocery stores and a building near a fence on which monkeys are hanging. The female figure, while confessing that she is allergic to peanuts and people who act like bad monkeys, gives peanuts to the monkeys. In Hanoch Veve's short, Home is a memorial. In a room we see an individual sitting. The high angle shot makes him appear small in scale. At times breaking the fourth wall, he remains in a squatting position. The video cuts to rural scenes in Ethiopia, a person sitting and folding his clothes, a sky view between roofs and ends with James Baldwin asking "How much time do you want for your progress?" A love letter for home, the Amharic poem transcends the visual experience though for those who do not speak the language the separation makes it a private matter.

In the contemporary age of the post human, in this mass moving generation, with the constant deconstruction and construction of places and communities, in the filtered and unfiltered flow of information, our sense of existence has transcended far beyond a four dimensional experience. Ideas of Home, however, haven't changed. We still search for Home in a fixed state. This selection of videos examines our longings for belonging by reflecting intimate close narratives of the personal and the familial, the communal, and to the general societal conditions that make us human at heart.

 

*Thomas, Michael W., Alessandro Jedlowski, and Aboneh Ashagrie. Cine-Ethiopia: The History and Politics of Film in the Horn of Africa. African Humanities and the Art, 2018.

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 The CDA's archives are operating with the support of the Ostrovsky Family Fund and Artis
 

Home Is
Contemporary Video Art from Ethiopia and Ethiopian Diaspora

Home is a primal need. It is the very essence of the anthropic quest, defining identity, culture, beliefs, and sense of belonging. Ideas of home seek to be permanent or fixed, however in our ever-moving generation, we are continuously asked to adapt to rapid change and redefine home. The city of Addis Ababa is in the midst of massive transformation. It is expanding drastically with over a quarter of its current residents relocating to newly built neighborhoods. As old communities are disappearing new ones are forming. According to Albert Einstein’s unifying law, a continuous transformational cycle between mass and energy must occur for anything to exist. Echoing the current state of the city, most of the videos in this selection examine the paradoxical unity of movement in energy and its relationship to stillness. How does one negotiate a consistent belonging while everything around is in transition? What is the axis of time in the frame of the past and the present? How does one cope with the familiar and the unfamiliar? This selection expresses these themes through the personal and the societal on subjects of economy, gender, gentrification, and the migratory experience.

The film industry in Ethiopia is an upcoming and prosperous field. Although film as a medium was first introduced to the country in 1901 by Ralph P. Cobbold only 6 years after the world’s first projected film by the Lumière brothers, the country's first feature length film wasn't produced until 1966 (title Hirut Abatuwa Manew)*. In part, the slow development of the industry had to do with language isolation and limited commercial outreach. Currently however, the film industry is growing rapidly and expanding into every genre.

In Ethiopia, video as an art practice is a very recent development. Since 2015, Addis Video Art Festival has been screening selected programs (local and international) from an open call. The festival screens nomadically throughout the city in art centers and public spaces. Lens based art practices have increased as technology becomes more accessible and artists are now able to make videos using devices such as their phones. Artists who are exploring interdisciplinary practices are now utilizing the medium alongside painting, sculpture, and performance. They are branching out from traditionally established practices into performance, installation and video. Within an environment of tumultuous change and increased mobility the medium of video can be an effective tool allowing artists to document the crumbling past, process the amorphous present, and question a nebulous future.

The featured artists for this exhibition live in Ethiopia, Israel, France and the U.S.A., each interpreting and translating their definition of "Home" according to their experiences. Some artists were born in and live in Ethiopia, their idea of Home reflects a confronted singular position. Rooted in the knowledge of their community and surroundings, they examine the new realities brought about by change. Some artists were born in Ethiopia and migrated to another country. Their idea of Home is reflected through a refracted sense of the self. Belonging to both their past and present, here and there, they question reality while time, place and identity become malleable. Some artists were born outside Ethiopia to Ethiopian parents. They explore their longing for connection to their parents' homeland. The videos in this exhibition are comprised of negotiations, magnifications and affirmations presented through these various perspectives.

Home in Martha Haile’s (Ethiopia) collaboration with Noregard’s humorous and surprising short “You can’t eat money, 10’05”, 2012 ” nods to economical conditions and the soaring cost of living. The artists are seen in a frontal position behind a desk, similar in fashion to news anchors. The video documents their direct action of ripping and eating 100 birr bills while sipping water from a bottle. They portray money as a material only, incapable of providing sustenance. Economic hardship is also reflected in Mulugeta Gebrekidan “Inside Out, 2’58”, 2013” which melancholically re-situates the very personal experience of the loss of a literal home through the mundane. The piece takes place in the ruins of demolished, yet furnished homes. In one scene, a pregnant couple sits watching Television. In others, an individual reads the newspaper, and a family eats pizza (mocking the desperation for modernity). Each scenario is a gesture of resistance, claiming the space. The outside force is cold and merciless but the inner home stays where it is in the absence of all. Yacob Bizuneh “Under Construction, 6’, 2015”, is another reflection on the desperation for economic development while sacrificing the individual. In Bizuneh’s video a businessman paints a standing man from head to toe, half green half yellow as if erasing his individuality into just the two colors. This striped color coordination is used throughout the city on fences around areas that are under construction, hence the title.

In both Berhanu Ashagrie (Ethiopia) and Tewodros Kifle’s (Ethiopia) shorts, Home is reflected as a societal experience, zoomed out, juxtaposed and in a state of flux. In Berhanu Ashagrie’s short, “Addis Ababa, The-City-is-The-People”, 7’21”, 2013, Home is paralleled to the residents of the city. The video shows cropped scenes of individuals performing repetitive gestures in groups while walking urgently, a close up of a mouth from an unexpected angle, hands holding a mirror and reflecting light at the camera reminiscent of the newly built sleek and glassy high-rise buildings. Due to the cropping and the close up view, no individual is ever fully visible or identifiable,  resonating with the anonymity of the urban experience. The short reflects the city in a state of rapid change desperate for development at the stake of certain and uncertain conditions or outcomes. In Tewodros Kifle’s video montage, cultural iconography serves as a window framing bustling city activities. This short responds to the city’s state of disorder, migration and gentrification. The cutouts are used as a memorial for the family homes that are being replaced.

In Betelhem Makonnen’s (Ethiopia, U.S.A.) two channel video “change means revolution in Amharic (person, place and thing), 5’36”, 2019”, Home is presented through personal subjective experiences. Home’s inevitable fate is change. The first video shows the streets of Addis Ababa from a car window view. We see the hustle and bustle of an active scene; people walking, carrying, on their phone, places under construction, billboards and so on. All is in a passing state as if everything is transitional. We hear a conversation between two people, a dialogue on the state of the country, ending with one of them whistling the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. In the second video, the artist is wearing a mask, a portrait from her childhood and navigating the streets of her birth place. Silhouetted with her environment, at times she pulls the mask down and peaks out hesitantly. Helen Zeru's "Parliament and Representation, 4'12", 2020" is another two channel video. Home is a juxtaposition of private and public acts. In the first video we see a female pouring water in the gesture of baking Injera while a television plays in the background. Her metallic face paint can be seen as both a mask of rejection and as highlighting the theatricality of the assumed traditional female role in a domestic setting. In the second video we see passengers riding a taxi conversing on a variety of subjects creating a parallel flow between performed and actual events.

In Kibrom Gebremedhin’s (Ethiopia, U.S.A.), "Melting Jewels', animation, 5’32”, 2016” Home is both a personal and societal experience. This hand-drawn animation recounts an autobiographical narrative of the loss of his father. Along with his father's loss, the father’s 30 year old jewelry store closed and was replaced by a new neighborhood. This piece explores how the loss of a family member is far greater than we could ever imagine, while also removing us from a place, a community, and an identity. The animation is mainly black and white, portraying the neutrality of the detached environment. In only one scene we see color, the artist blows a flame to melt jewels as if giving life to the inanimate, forming and shaping the old into a new self. Home is also both personal and societal, in Helina Metaferia’s “Sacred Transition, 14’3”, 2016”. A collaboration with several artists living in different cities (Tsedaye Makonnen, Autumn Knight, Aidah Aliyah Rasheed, Mihret Kebede, Meron Haile, Martha Haile, Yafet Meku) tied together by Metaferia’s lived experiences in various cities ( (NYC, Oakland, Washington, DC, Addis Ababa) and their current state of gentrification. In a way, working in collaboration with these artists from distinct corners of the world highlights the broad geographical belongings the artist inhabits. In Ezra Wube’s, “Hamus/ Thursday 10’38”, 2019” stop motion animated short he reflects on the personal. Home is interwoven in past and present ideas of belonging. Created from found and constructed objects, Home is continuously redefined through the processing and recollection of the artist's lived experiences.

A few other trajectories of the immigrant experiences are reflected through shorts by Robel Temesgen, Naod Lemma, Esther Wonde and Hanoch Veve. In Robel Temesgen's short Home is resituated through the transplantation of a past ritual, appealing both melancholic and isolated. In the piece we see the artist standing arbitrarily between streets contrasted against a snowy and harsh background. He is wearing shepherds clothing and hitting his back with a whip, a common practice among monks during Orthodox holidays. He performs the ritual solitarily, in Ethiopia passersby would have soon joined him in the act. Home in Naod Lemma's short is never realized. The piece was created in response to the execution of 30 Ethiopian Christian immigrants by ISIS in Libya. In four channels we see the artist running around a rotary, wearing an orange suit which was worn by the prisoners. The four frames show different points of views, possibly the cardinal directions. He appears in each frame then absent in the frame after as if the journey is never completed. In Esther Wonde's, “Koshit Bamba, 2’0”, 2017” animated short, Home is paralleled with self questioning ideas of belonging, stereotypes and the romantic past. In her animated short, a female figure wanders through a floaty fluid world of rural landscapes, grocery stores and a building near a fence on which monkeys are hanging. The female figure, while confessing that she is allergic to peanuts and people who act like bad monkeys, gives peanuts to the monkeys. In Hanoch Veve's short, Home is a memorial. In a room we see an individual sitting. The high angle shot makes him appear small in scale. At times breaking the fourth wall, he remains in a squatting position. The video cuts to rural scenes in Ethiopia, a person sitting and folding his clothes, a sky view between roofs and ends with James Baldwin asking "How much time do you want for your progress?" A love letter for home, the Amharic poem transcends the visual experience though for those who do not speak the language the separation makes it a private matter.

In the contemporary age of the post human, in this mass moving generation, with the constant deconstruction and construction of places and communities, in the filtered and unfiltered flow of information, our sense of existence has transcended far beyond a four dimensional experience. Ideas of Home, however, haven't changed. We still search for Home in a fixed state. This selection of videos examines our longings for belonging by reflecting intimate close narratives of the personal and the familial, the communal, and to the general societal conditions that make us human at heart.

 

*Thomas, Michael W., Alessandro Jedlowski, and Aboneh Ashagrie. Cine-Ethiopia: The History and Politics of Film in the Horn of Africa. African Humanities and the Art, 2018.

 The CDA's archives are operating with the support of the Ostrovsky Family Fund and Artis
 

 The CDA's archives are operating with the support of the Ostrovsky Family Fund and Artis
 

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