'Three Steps North'
In the exhibition 'Three Steps North' the artist Wendimagegn Belete reworks a selection of archival images from the 1930s. Historically, these images were used in connection with the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, from 1935 to 1941, under Benito Mussolini. Belete reproduces the archival material in large silkscreen prints that consist primarily of portraits of Ethiopians. Superimposed on these portraits are technical drawings of cameras. This approach draws attention to photography, its role in societal development, and the relationship between subject and object. The Italian propaganda machinery of that time used, among other things, photos of unclothed young women from the Horn of Africa to recruit soldiers—oftentimes young men from the less economically developed southern part of Italy where literacy rates were low.
Against this historical backdrop, Wendimagegn Belete sparks a series of dialogues between the past and present that revolve around questions about colonial history, representation, modernity, materiality, and ownership, among other things. In addition to the silkscreen series, he also presents an installation featuring a circumscribed area covered with soil and traditional handmade hats collected mainly from the southern part of Ethiopia. While the selected archival images present a representation of "the other"—an anonymous collection of Ethiopians—the hats insist on individuality, uniqueness, specific human beings, and their ties to the land. The installation also evokes an additional sensorial aspect in as much as one can smell the soil.