Wendimagegn Belete

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 inasmuch as one can smell the soil.

In 2015, after earning a bachelor degree in art from Addis Ababa University, Wendimagegn Belete moved to Tromsø to pursue a master’s degree in fine art at UiT/the Arctic University of Norway. Here in the north of Norway, the artist found a need to explore his origins, which are part of a collective history spanning multiple generations. To do this, he has delved into several colonial archives and museum collections that have been digitized and made publicly accessible. For Belete, they serve as endless sources for exploring what was, what is, and what might come into being.

'Three Steps North' borrows its title from an American-Italian film noir production from 1951. The exhibition showcases a series of silkscreen prints, an installation, a video work, and a wall painting. Seen together, they can be perceived as a single cohesive work of art.

Wendimagegn Belete (born in 1986 in Ethiopia) lives and works in Oslo and Addis Ababa. He holds a master's degree from the Academy of Arts at the Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø (2017), and a bachelor's degree in art from ASFAD, Addis Ababa University (2012). Belete’s works have been shown in numerous institutions and renowned exhibitions such as the Bangkok Biennale 2022, Hacer Noche 2022 (an independent biennial in Oaxaca, Mexico), Tang Contemporary (Beijing), Trøndelag Center for Contemporary Art, and Munch Museum, Oslo.