Video artist and director (London, UK, 4.29.1958)
Theo Eshetu was born in London, from Dutch mother and Ethiopian father, and grew up in Addis Ababa, Dakar, and Belgrade, before settling in Rome, where he lived from 1982 to 2012 and created the company White Light Production. Trained in London, where he received a degree in communication design from the North East London Polytechnic in 1981, he became a photographer of rock stars during the 1970s. Drawn into the worlds of David Bowie and Lindsay Kemp, Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, Eshetu collaborated with a number of artists before concentrating on the art of video. He probed the dialectic between rational and instinctual in his series Till Death Us Do Part, inspired by the contradictions inherent in Leni Riefenstahl’s celebration of her African Nuba subjects. This pioneering video-wall installation appeared alongside works by Warhol, Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, and others at the International Art Show for the End of World Hunger. Throughout the 1990s he focused on forging a hybrid language to merge practices of video art and documentary filmmaking. Traveling Light (1992), his biographical portrait of Lindsay Kemp, received first prize at the Berlin Video Festival, and was frequently the only video accepted in prestigious film festivals. His Blood Is Not Fresh Water (1997), recipient of several awards, is at once a portrait of his Ethiopian grandfather, a travelogue/essay, and a journey of self-discovery. Mass Memory (1995) was presented at the Venice Film Festival as an homage to commemorate Federico Fellini’s passing. Body and Soul (2004) and Africanized (2002) both presented at the Venice Film Festival among others, show a clear fascination for the interrelation of world cultures and for the metaphysical nature of video making. This is also evident in some of his earlier installations including Brave New World (2000), and Ways To A Void (2000), which reflect on Buddhist practices using themes of Light and Darkness, Time and Space, and Being and Nothingness. Eshetu’s month-long journey in the Himalayas is condensed into one hour of video, yet the viewer is asked to consider the journey’s duration as the length of a solar eclipse. An Extraordinary Event (2006) explores the role of images in faith and in mass media, shot and edited during the year-long preparations which led to Pope John Paul II’s funerals. Focusing in recent years primarily on video installation, works like Veiled Woman on a Beachfront (2011) and The Festival of Sacrifice (2102) focus on reading the role of Islamic art and the greater social political implications of a dialogue with the world of Islam as a basis for a contemporary art practice. The Return of the Axum Obelisk (2009), a 15-screen video installation first presented at BOZAR, Brussels, chronicles the repatriation of this monumental war trophy from Rome to Ethiopia and the religious ceremonies that surrounded its resurrection. Among several international awards, Eshetu was recently Artist in Residence on the DAAD program in Berlin in 2012, where he exhibited The Return of the Axum Obelisk at DAAD galerie in 2014. His work has appeared at The New Museum, NY, in the New York African Film Festival, at DIA Foundation’s Electronic Arts Intermix, NY, in Snap Judgments at ICP (International Centre for Photography), NY, at BAM Cinemateque, NY, at Brooklyn Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, and Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in Africa Remix at The Hayward Gallery, London, at the Venice Film Festival, Roma Film Festival, Museum of Modern Art in Rome, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nice, UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and the Martin Gropius Bau In Berlin, among others. Some Eshetu’s works are on view at Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, from May 18, 2016 through Jan. 2, 2017, in the exhibition “Senses of Time: Video and Film-based Works of Africa”. Eshetu was protagonist of the exhibit Yüzler ve Yerler/Faces and Places (Istanbul, 23 January-9 March 2019).
Eshetu was a visiting professorat the Università La Sapienza in Rome and held professorships in video at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Carrara and the Accademia Nazionale del Cinema in L’Aquila. He was a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin program in 2012 and has since transferred to Berlin, where he currently lives and works.
In Oct. 2017 Sternberg Press released Theo Eshetu – The Body Electric, the very first comprehensive survey of Eshetu’s work, including text contributionsby writer and curator David Elliot, video-art historian Wulf Herzogenrath, an in-depth conversation with curator and art critic Okwui Enwezor, and a commentary on Eshetu’s most recent work for documenta 14 by curator Monika Szewczyk.
Nota bene: In this particular case, for the impossibility to ascertain a status of “nationality” for Theo Eshetu’s works, we chose to include in the filmography his entire, endless, production.
The Fashion Show (1979, vap, d), The Bowler Hat (1979, vap, d), The Boy (1980, vap, d), So This Is Now (1980, vap, d), Commercial Break (1981, vap, d), Lord Them Places Must be Sharp (1981, vap, d), The Portrait (Part I) (1982, vap, d), Axum (1982, vap, d), Tube Style (1982, vap, d), Dance de Angola (1983, vap, d), Thunder and Lightening (1983, vap, d), Rites of Passage (1983, in, d), Another Time, Another Place (1984, vap, d), Live Death (1984, vap, d), Lampi sull’acqua (1984, vap, d), Interprofessional (1984, vap, d), Video domestici (1984, vap, d), My Better Half (1985, vap, d), Back to Zero (1985, vap, d), Instant Image (1985, vap, d), Questa è vita (1986, vap, d), The Other World (1987, vap, d), Seshoku (1987, vap, d), Till Death Us Do Part (1987, vap, d), Le piazze… (1988, vap, d), The Creation Trilogy: Nativity (1989, vap, p, d, sc, sf), NO NO NO SI SI SI (1989, vap, d), The Creation Trilogy: La Madonna delle rose (1990, vap, d), The Creation Trilogy: La Madonna di Theo Eshetu (1990, vap, d), Travelling Light (1992, vap, d), Vestire il silenzio (1993, vap, d), La sacra Sindone (1993, in, d), Mass Memory (1994, vap, d), Horses (1994, vap, d), La nascita di Dionisio (1994, in, d), Il funambolo (1994, in, d), Uno a te, uno a me, uno a Raffaele (Jon Jost, 1995, se), Il sogno della città ideale (1995, vap, d), Flying with Birds (1995, in, d), Art is easy (1996, vap, d), Pompei (1996, vap, d), Anima e corpo (1996, vap, d), Il sangue non è acqua fresca (1997, vap, p, d, sc, mlf), Kebra Negast, Documentary on The Legend of the Queen of Sheba (1998, vap, d), Brave new world (1999, in, d), Appunti per un ritratto su Borromini (1999, vap, d), Una parabola a Venezia (1999, doc, d), Ways to a Void (2000-02, vap, d), Dialogue with Yves Klein (2009, vap, d), Senritsumirai (2001, doc, d), The Tiger and the Lotus flower (2001, doc, d), The Art Show (2002, vap, d), Africanized (2002, vap, p, d, sc, dop, se, sf), BLOOD (2003, in, d), Africa of the Four Rivers (2003, doc, d), The Creation Trilogy: Body and Soul (2004, vap, p, d, fe, sf), Un capodanno di musica (2004, vap, d), The Creation Trilogy (2005, in, d), Trip to Mount Zuqualla (2005, in, d), Roma Caput Mundi (2005, vap, d), Meditation Light (2006, in, d), Brave New World II, Second Version (2006, in, d), Terra e Musica (2006, idvd, with Maxwell Davies), K LIVE with the Soul Circus (2007, d), K Alma (2007, in, d), K Kino (2007, in, d), I Racconti del Mandala (2007, in, d), Cruelly Coy (2007, video-musical performance with Sabina Meyer), Message in a Bottle (2008, video theatre performance, with XLab Factory), Five for Monk (2008, video projection for choreography by Roberta Garrison), Wholly Ghost (2008, vap, d), The Return of Axum Obelisk (2009, in, d), Living Room Music (2009, with Alvin Curran and others), From This World to That which is to Come (2009, vap, d), Ars Navi (2009, in, d), Circus Maximus, Live video projections for musical concert (2010, with Alvin Curran), Lightning Strikes (2010, vap, d), ROMA (2010, vap, p, d, dop, fe, sc, mlf, with Alvin Curran), ROMA AMOR LABYRINTHOS (2010, video projecting project with Peter Maxwell Davis), Still Fighting (Samuele Malfatti, 2010, doc, ed), Veiled Woman on a Beach Front (2011, in, d), Eyes (2011, vap, d), The Festival of Sacrifice (2012, in, d), View from Bar Olympia (2012, in, d), Kiss the Moment (2013, in, d), The Yule Tree (2013, vap, d), Double Feature Picture Show (2013, in, d), The Mystery of History and My Story in His Story (2015, in), The Slave Ship (2015, in, d), Atlas Fractured (2017, in, d)
Contributors: Maria Coletti and Leonardo De Franceschi, with Isabella Fabrizi and Renata Ornella Orlando
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