Elias Sime. Tightrope 8, 2009-2014. Reclaimed electronic components on panel, 44 1/16 x 70 13/16 in. (112 x 180 cm). © Elias Sime.

Elias Sime, the artist whose work is currently featured at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, received the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art's 2019 African Art Award on Friday, Oct. 25, in Washington, D.C. The exhibition Elias Sime: Tightrope opened at the Wellin Museum on Sept. 8, marking the artist’s first major museum survey. It is open and free to the public through Dec. 8.

The African Art Awards is the National Museum of African Art’s premier annual event designed to promote the museum’s mission. Ethiopian-born Sime, honored along with fellow artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, was described by the museum as using “principles of connection to express critical viewpoints, further influencing the way the world experiences the dynamic and diverse arts of Africa.” Gus Casley-Hayford, the director of the National Museum of African Art, said, “Both artists focus on the personal and societal impact of connection as they work with materials evocative of contemporary renewal, reuse, and hybridity.”

Featuring more than 25 works of art of varying scales, including new work created by the artist to debut in this exhibition, Elias Sime: Tightrope explores the full breadth of Sime’s practice. In his work of the last decade, Sime (b. 1968, Addis Ababa) brings together repurposed materials such as computer keyboards, motherboards, and electrical wires to create the complex, often colorful tableaus that make up the series Tightrope. Composed of intricately woven and densely layered surfaces, these works draw upon their materiality to comment on ecological sustainability, the resilience of nature, social responsibility, and the beauty of the utilitarian.

Through the title Tightrope, Sime recognizes the uneasy balance between the advances made possible by technology and the impact they have had on our humanity and environment, exploring how devices intended to connect us have mediated our interactions and lived experiences while creating massive amounts of e-waste.

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