ኣለማየሁ : I saw the world
Exhibition: December 9, 2016 – January 28, 2017
Gallery Hours: Saturdays, 12-5pm or by appointment
A solo exhibition of new work using photography, installations and video.
In ኣለማየሁ : I saw the world, Betelhem Makonnen investigates issues of estrangement, exile, racism and forced migration. The starting impulse of all her works are questions that arise from her own experiences in relationship to history and the construction of archives. Her references are a mixture of her personal history in combination with fragments of sources, ideas and thoughts she absorbs from research in texts of history, philosophy, literature and the internet.
The presented works, composed from appropriated images associated with the British military invasion of Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) in 1867 – 68, re-frame and re-present the historical archives in an attempt to create a countervisuality to the visuality of the archive of imperial conquest. ኣለማየሁ (Alemayehu, meaning “I saw the world” in Amharic) is the name of an Ethiopian prince who was both a witness and a casualty of the Battle of Magdala. Rather than to see or look at the works presented, Makonnen challenges the viewer to watch: paying attention to what is happening.
With this new body of work, Betelhem Makonnen seeks to question and subvert the original intent of the appropriated Victorian images by manipulating the evidence presented of the encounter between the image subject and the image maker, in order to engage the image viewer. Reorienting how and what the observer views in the re-imagined works, Makonnen aims to create interest in the historical images not for their connection to a distant past but more specifically for their relevance to our experience of the present.
“The ‘realism’ of countervisuality is the means by which one tries to make sense of the unreality created by visuality’s authority while at the same time proposing a real alternative. It is by no means a simple or mimetic depiction of lived experience but one that depicts existing realities and counters them with a different realism.” The Right to Look, Nicholas Mirzoeff from Critical Inquiry, Vol, 37 No. 3 (Spring 2011), University of Chicago Press
Betelhem Makonnen is a conceptual artist whose research deals with the perennial questions of existence. Through her works she investigates the relationship of states or situations that are mistakenly perceived as opposites rather than different sides of the same thing. The works she creates propose reflection, thought or questions about place, purpose, time and change. She currently primarily works in video and photography. Her practice is process based and heavily relies on observation, reading and wandering.
A native of Ethiopia (b. 1972), lives and works in Austin, Texas.