Huge figures stand with their backs turned to the viewer as if trying to fade into the colourful painted backgrounds, alongside a collection of monstrous hands extending from muscular male bodies. These are the newest works by Ethiopian artist Dawit Abebe whose iconic large-scale faceless figures investigate how both individual and collective identities are constructed or obliterated based on the manipulation of history and the fabrication of new narratives by politicians. The accompanying series of paintings entitled ‘Long Hands’ continues these investigations through powerful new imagery. For his latest solo exhibition entitled EDIT at Kristin Hjellegjerde’s London Bridge Gallery, the artist brings together both these series to create a stunning visual exploration into how historical narratives are shaped, altered, absorbed and acted upon.
Over the last decade, Abebe’s focus has centred around storytelling and myth-making, specifically in relation to political power. ‘I try to reflect on how those of us who happen to be on the receiving end process, consume and act upon a narrative or an aspect of it formulated for us,’ commented the artist. His backward facing portraits offer a continuation of his 2017 exhibition Quo Vadis?, but whilst the earlier works showed only the back of the head and neck, these latest paintings depict expansive bare bodies; some with magnified insects hovering on them while others include images such as of a CD, a cassette or a mask. The presence of these elements adds a sense of unease to the overall images functioning as striking reminders of the environmental impact on human existence as well as the consequences of historical narratives. It is an unease that extends throughout the exhibition’s works, reflecting, according to the artist, his ‘frustrations, confusions, fear and uncertainty in relation to the current socio-political situations both at home and around the world’.
Abebe’s process begins with the artist covering the canvas with pages from old school exercise books - symbolising ‘acquired’ and ‘regulated’ knowledge - and then painting over the background, before incorporating his signature figures and other elements. Over time, the artist has developed a distinct visual vocabulary through which he is able to express complex ideas, using recurring motifs which are modified to suit each situation. The car plate, for example, was previously used as a geographical reference, whilst the numbers in the current works refer to significant events in Ethiopian history and read according to the country’s calendar, which is seven or eight years behind the Gregorian calendar depending on whether it is a leap year or not.
Times: Tuesday - Saturday: 11.00 - 18.00