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In his video installations, Theo Eshetu brings together his particular grappling with the formal grammatics of moving images (i.e., those of television) with themes from anthropology, such as the meaning and representation of rituals, symbols, and myths. Born in 1958, as the son of a Dutch mother and Ethiopian father in London, he lived for a long time in Ethiopia until he moved to Rome in 1982—his roots form a significant point of his work in which he often refers to a complicated network of cultures. In the early work, Till Death Us Do Part. Rites des Passages (1984) Eshetu not only questions the content but also the formal means of reflected and multiple images of this cultural hybridity. In a similar manner, the later work Brave New World achieves a visual zenith via a kaleidoscope effect of global views and a mirrored box that creates a globe out of the flood of images while the viewer sees themselves endlessly reflected. Here the self meets the performed spectacle. The collision of opposites and their harmonious connections are a central motive of Eshetu’s visual vocabulary.

Trip to Mount Zuqualla (2005) depicts, for example, in a complex three-channel projection a pilgrimage to Mount Zuqualla, a holy site for both Ethiopian Christians and Animists. With just one look, between respectful distance and intimacy, Eshetu depicts the religious ceremonies of both parties, whose high point generates the celebration of the coming together. The soundtrack composed of hip-hop, religious songs and a Bach symphony underlines the differences and similarities of both pilgrim groups.

Even Eshetu’s most elaborate video installation, The Return of the Axum Obelisk (2009), illustrates the connection between content and form. On 15 monitors, he shows how the obelisque of Axum is brought back to Ethiopia 70 years after Mussolini confiscated it. For the occasion, he created a monumental work, whose minute technical complexity honors the quality engineering of the resurrection at large. Particularly impressive is how all the images (on 15 monitors) combine to form one image as the last segment of the obelisque finds its place and the Italian and Ethiopian workers congratulate one another. In this, Eshetu approaches these cultural-political events via traditional Ethiopian painting in which he appropriates the original myth—the story of Queen Saba and her empire of Axum—in a modernized form and so the process of the resurrection of the obelisque becomes a “ritual ceremony of transformation.”



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The Return of the Axum Obelisk

im Gespräch mit Koyo Kouoh und Bonaventure S.B. Ndikung

Konferenz: New Geographies in Sound Art

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