ዘመን Zemen Sparebankstiftelsen DNBs stipendutstilling, photo : Christina Leithe Hansen, oslokunstforening, 2019
At the archives of three of Ethiopia’s main theatres (Enat Alem Tenu, Emeye Biretuwa and Wa Anchi Adwa) Belete assembled photographic documentation of theatrical productions since 1955.
The photographs tell the story of the theatres’ changing ideologies through multiple political regimes in Ethiopia and the theatres’ use as mediums of propaganda. The Ethiopian National Theatre was originally named Cinema Marconi during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia it was later (1955) named after the former Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I, before being taken over by the communist government and finally, for the last 27 years being operated by the Revolutionary Democratic Front.
Belete has collaged selected fragments of manuscripts, printed propaganda, original theatre costumes and used young performers to re-stage scenes represented in the archival photographs and popular Ethiopian musicians performing fragments of traditional song. This material is composited over a backdrop of digitally recreated monuments, landscapes and architecture creating an ever-changing theatrical tableau of multiple ideologies using theatrical artifice to refer to agitprop theatre, propaganda and the theatrical technique of Brechtian alienation. The collaging is designed to parallel the formation of historical and cultural identities. Significantly, the film is non- chronological and possesses no consistent narrative so as to collapse any conventional sense of time. It is perhaps best understood then as an attempt to understand and layer a fragmented history through time.