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Elias Sime: Tightrope
September 7 — December 8, 2019
Curator

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

Overview

The exhibition Elias Sime: Tightrope marks the first major museum show to focus on the work of contemporary Ethiopian artist Elias Sime (b. 1968). Sime’s brightly-colored tableaux and sculptural assemblages feature found objects including thread, buttons, bottle caps, electrical wires, and computer detritus. The exhibition highlights the artist’s work from the last decade, much of which comprises the series entitled “Tightrope,” alongside a selection of early works critical to the artist’s development. Repurposing salvaged electronic components, such as circuits and keyboards, Sime incorporates the refuse that results from technological advancement, and points to the urgency of and different approaches to sustainability. A post consumerist critique, the artist’s work is a commentary on the fact that countries in Africa are often the repositories of e-waste imported from elsewhere in the world. The work also incorporates redundant technologies from the former Soviet Union and the the West, highlighting Ethiopia’s complex political past. The resulting abstractions reference landscape and the figure, and often employ patterning drawn from traditional Ethiopian textiles. The title “Tightrope” refers to the precarious balance between the progress technology has made possible and its detrimental impact on the environment. Featuring over 20 works of art of varying scales, including new work created by the artist to debut in this exhibition, Elias Sime: Tightrope explores the breath of Sime’s work which focuses on interconnectedness as both a literal and conceptual practice. Holland Cotter in a 2015 New York Times article wrote of Sime’s work, “On the one hand, it’s a chaos of castoffs; on the other, it’s a miracle of labor-intensive precision…” further noting, “But his work, while culturally specific, has always been universalist.”

Rooted in both the figurative and the abstract modes of modern Ethiopian art, from Soviet influenced Socialist Realism to mid-century avant-garde movements imported from the West in the 1950s and 1960s, Elias Sime’s work is also in dialogue with global contemporary art. After graduating in 1990 from the Ale School of Fine Arts and Design at Addis Ababa University, Sime has become well known in East Africa not only as an artist but also as the co-founder of the Zoma Contemporary Art Center with Meskerem Assegued. The artist lives and works in Addis Ababa.

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 founder of the Zoma Contemporary Art Center; Karen Milbourne, Curator of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; and Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Curator of African Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. This book will be co-published by the Wellin Museum of Art and Delmonico Books • Prestel.

Image Credit: Elias Sime. Detail of Tightrope: Familiar Yet Complex 2, 2016. Reclaimed electronic components and telephone wire, mounted on particleboard, 83 x 87 1/2 in. (210.8 x 222.3 cm). Collection of the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College. Purchase, William G. Roehrick '34 Art Acquisition and Preservation Fund. © Elias Sime. Photograph by John Bentham.