Theo Eshetu – The Return of the Axum Obelisk

<p>Across 15 monitors, Theo Eshetu’s elaborate non-linear video installation charts the return of the fabled obelisk of Axum to Ethiopia 70 years after it was confiscated by Mussolini. </p> <p></p> <p><em>“The Return of the Axum Obelisk, </em>a complexly stratified multiscreen video piece, not only in form but also in content, brings together mythological, religious, political and aesthetic issues. Using a visual language reminiscent of traditional Ethiopian icon paintings, Eshetu narrates the reestablishment of an equilibrium, which could be likened to the seesaw of the Past Perfect and the Future Perfect,” wrote critic <strong>Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung in Artreview in 2015. </strong></p> <p></p> <p>Built in the 3rd century by the Aksumite Empire prior to the arrival of Christianity, the Axum obelisk, a 25 metre tall, 160-ton phonolite stele was originally a symbol of power and a funeral pyre used by its monarchs. After the Kingdom of Axum adopted Christianity in the mid 4th century, Axum became the religious capital of Ethiopia and the obelisk symbolised Ethiopia’s rich pagan pre-history known as the apex of the country’s civilisation, culture, architecture and engineering. In 1935 under the Italian successful occupation of the country during the Italo-Abyssinian war, the obelisk was taken to Rome and placed in front of the then Ministry for Italian Africa (after WWII - the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization). In 1896, Italy had lost at the Battle of Adwa failing to occupy Abyssinia then known as Ethiopia. Over two decades later, the obelisk, now a reward for colonial occupation, was officially unveiled to mark the 15th anniversary of the March of Rome, a mass demonstration which led to Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party coming to power in Italy.</p> <p></p> <p><em>“The Return of the Axum Obelisk</em> portrays in a non-documentary manner the national myth of Ethiopia, the technical and social challenges around the return and reinstallation of the obelisk, the celebrations and regaining of a national pride that came along with this endeavour, but also moments of reconciliation between Italians and Ethiopians. The video installation thus chronicles the heights of colonial conflicts, but also the emancipation of a people. It questions the role of monuments as spaces of portrayal or projections of public memory. Symbolism plays an important role in the piece, as the varying meanings and epistemologies that are given to, or that such public monuments, such historical objects, such national fetishes assume become evident. The obelisk of Axum itself is lucky to have had various connotations ranging from religious, phallic, war booty and more attached to it,” says <strong>Soh Bejeng Ndikung.</strong></p> <p></p>