Elias Sime: Tightrope
September 7 — December 8, 2019

Tracy L. Adler
Johnson-Pote Director
Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art
Hamilton College

Exhibition Catalogue


September 7 – December 8, 2019

Curated by Tracy L. Adler, Johnson-Pote Director

In his work of the last decade, Ethiopian artist Elias 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. He deconstructs these means of communication to expose and demystify their internal dynamics, allowing for a new lyricism and energy to emerge. Sime’s work also points to the fact that, like the natural pathways existing in plants, humans, and the environment, the organic fibers that connect us are not unlike the inner workings of man-made machines. The message of interconnectivity pervades the entirety of Sime’s approach.

Featuring more than twenty-five 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. A selection of early, stitched canvases incorporating bottle caps, buttons, and other found objects, critical to the artist’s development, will be presented alongside the “Tightrope” series. Sime’s visual references and influences are wide-ranging. From the brushwork of the Impressionist painters to the Twitter logo, from socialist realism to topographic photography, from linguistics to botany, all sources are fair game and ripe for interpretation. These divergent themes, which find harmonious confluence in his work, access the rich vocabulary and history of both natural and created forms. As an extension of his artistic practice and a thread throughout his work, Sime, with the anthropologist and curator Meskerem Assegued, founded the Zoma Museum, which opened in Addis Ababa in 2019. Comprising a school, farm, garden, library, and exhibition and project space, Zoma offers a holistic conception of how community, sustainability, and art can be merged into a unified vision—one that posits a way forward toward a future in which nature, society, and creativity thrive together.

As part of the exhibition, Sime has created a site-specific sculpture with the assistance of Hamilton College students at the Wellin Museum for display on the museum’s Selch Terrace. Titled Flowers & Roots, the work is inspired by the Saunders peony, a species of flower developed at Hamilton College in the early twentieth century by Professor Arthur Percy Saunders. With its twisted and complicated root structure exposed and scaled to over nine feet in height, Flowers & Roots is made of repurposed computer parts, electrical wire, bronze sheeting, and cast stone amalgam.

Elias Sime: Tightrope will be accompanied by the first monograph focusing on the work of Elias Sime and features contributions by Tracy L. Adler; Meskerem Assegued, Anthropologist, Curator and Cofounder of the Zoma Museum; Karen E. Milbourne, Curator, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; and Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Steven and Lisa Tananbaum Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. This book will be copublished by the Wellin Museum of Art and DelMonico Books • Prestel, the book will be available for sale in December 2019.

The exhibition will travel to the Akron Art Museum in Akron, Ohio (February 29–May 24, 2020), the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri (August 11–January 31, 2021), and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada (April 3, 2021–July 4, 2021).

The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art’s programs are made possible, in part, with funds from the Daniel W. Dietrich ’64 Arts Museum Programming Fund; the Johnson-Pote Museum Director Fund; the John B. Root ’44 Exhibition Fund; the Edward W. and Grace C. Root Endowment Fund; and the William G. Roehrick ’34 Lecture Fund. Additional support for Elias Sime: Tightrope has been provided by the Daniel W. Dietrich ’64 Fund for Innovation in the Arts; the Gautreaux Family Foundation; the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation; and private contributions.

Past Exhibition-Related Events: 

Monday, November 4
5:00 P.M. | Director’s Tour
Wellin Museum
Johnson-Pote Director Tracy L. Adler will lead a tour of the exhibition.

Saturday, September 7
2:30–3:30 P.M. | Artists in Conversation: Elias Sime
Fillius Events Barn
Elias Sime will discuss his practice and the contexts he explores in his work with Meskerem Assegued, Curator and Co-Director, Zoma Museum; and Tracy L. Adler, Johnson-Pote Director, Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art.

4:00–6:00 P.M. | Opening Reception
Wellin Museum
Celebrate the opening of the exhibition.

Tuesday, September 10
4:30 P.M. | Gallery Walk-Through
Wellin Museum
Elias Sime and Meskerem Assegued will lead a gallery walk-through and discussion of the exhibition, moderated by Tracy L. Adler.

Wednesday, October 2
4:30 P.M. | Roehrick Lecture: Dr. Karen E. Milbourne
Wellin Museum
Dr. Karen E. Milbourne, Curator, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian institution, Washington, DC, will deliver a lecture on her essay in the forthcoming catalogue for Elias Sime: Tightrope and her ongoing scholarship in contemporary African art.