Theo Eshetu was born in London and grew up in Addis Ababa, Dakar, and Belgrade, before settling in Rome, where he received his first camera aged 10. Trained in London, he became a photographer of rock stars during the 1970s. Drawn into the worlds of David Bowie and Lindsay Kemp, Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, Eshetu collaborated with a number of artists before concentrating on the art of video. His focus on video’s expressive potential and his exploration of African cultures led to experimentation—ritualistic, raw, and unpolished—outside the established art world of the 1980s. He probed the dialectic between rational and instinctual in his series Till Death Us Do Part, inspired by the contradictions inherent in Leni Riefenstahl’s celebration of her African Nuba subjects. This pioneering video-wall installation appeared alongside works by Warhol, Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, and others at the International Art Show for the End of World Hunger.
Eshetu explores perception, culture, and notions of the sacred through electronic time-based media and optical devices and effects. He draws from anthropology, art history, scientific research, and religion—Catholic, African, Muslim, Buddhist—to explore clashes and harmonies of human subjectivity between world cultures in the global context. Though essentially conceptual, Eshetu’s work is always grounded in compelling aesthetic components, often achieved through fractal repetition, such as through kaleidoscopic mirroring, multi-screen projections, or mosaic-like patterning of images. Several works concentrate on video’s formal components of time and light.
Throughout the 1990s, Eshetu focused on forging a hybrid language to merge practices of video art and documentary filmmaking. Traveling Light (1992), his biographical portrait of Lindsay Kemp, received first prize at the Berlin Video Festival, and was frequently the only video accepted in prestigious film festivals. His Blood Is Not Fresh Water (1997), recipient of several awards, is at once a portrait of his Ethiopian grandfather, a travelogue/essay, and a journey of self-discovery. Mass Memory (1995) was presented at the Venice Film Festival as an homage to commemorate Federico Fellini’s passing.
Body and Soul (2004) and Africanized (2002) both presented at the Venice Film Festival among others, show a clear fascination for the interrelation of world cultures and for the metaphysical nature of video making. This is also evident in some of his earlier installations including Brave New World (2000), and Ways To A Void (2000), which reflect on Buddhist practices using themes of Light and Darkness, Time and Space, and Being and Nothingness. Eshetu’s month-long journey in the Himalayas is condensed into one hour of video, yet the viewer is asked to consider the journey’s duration as the length of a solar eclipse. Nothing happens. An Extraordinary Event (2006) explores the role of images in faith and in mass media, shot and edited during the year-long preparations which led to Pope John Paul II’s funerals.
Focusing in recent years primarily on video installation, works like Veiled Woman on a Beachfront (2011) and The Festival of Sacrifice (2012) focus on reading the role of Islamic art and the greater social political implications of a dialogue with the world of Islam as a basis for a contemporary art practice.
The Return of the Axum Obelisk (2009), a 15-screen video installation first presented at the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, chronicles the repatriation of this monumental war trophy from Rome to Ethiopia and the religious ceremonies that surrounded its resurrection.
Among several international awards, Eshetu was recently Artist-in-Residence at Tarabya Cultural Academy, Turkey where he completed aspects of production for Atlas Fractured, (2017), which was featured at Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel. In 2012, he was Artist-in-Residence at the DAAD program in Berlin, where he exhibited The Return of the Axum Obelisk at DAADgalerie in 2014. His work has appeared at The New Museum, NY; New York African Film Festival; DIA Foundation’s Electronic Arts Intermix, NY; Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography at the International Centre for Photography, NY; BAM Cinematheque, NY; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Baltimore Museum of Art; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Africa Remix at The Hayward Gallery, London; the Venice Film Festival; Roma Film Festival, Museum of Modern Art in Rome; Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nice; UNESCO headquarters in Paris; the Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin.
b. 1958 in London, UK. Lives and works in Rome and Berlin
Degree in Communication Design, North East London Polytechnic.
PRIZES, AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS
Artist-in-Residence, Tarabya Cultural Academy, Turkey. October 2016 – January 2017
Artist-in-Berlin Program, DAADGalerie, Berlin
Visionary Africa: Art at Work Artist’s Residency Program, in conjunction with FESPACO Film Festival, Ouagadougou, Burkino Faso
Presentation at the Johannesburg Art fair, Goethe Institute Cape Town
Presentation at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, Vassar University, New York
Award of Merit at the Verona Film Meeting
Best Biographical Documentary for “Dialogue with Yves Klein” at the Asolo Art film Festival
Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Centre
The Best of INPUT at ITVS, San Francisco
Candidate Best Documentary at the Pan African Arts and Culture Festival, Los Angeles. “Blood…”
Second prize at the Int. African Film Festival, Milan for “Blood is not Fresh Water”
Award of merit at the African Film Festival of Verona
Prix du Conseil de L’Europe, for “Blood Is Not Fresh Water”, Locarno Video Art Festival
Special presentation at the Venice Film Festival of “Mass Memory”
Inauguration Video at the Mill Valley Film Festival with “Travelling Light”
First prize at the Berlin Video Festival for “Travelling Light”
Award of merit, Festival dei Due Mondi, Spoleto for “Travelling Light”
Oscar Signorini prize awarded by Pierre Restany, in Milan for “Nativity”
Award of merit at the 2nd video Biennale of Fukui, Japan
Prize of the jury, Salso Film &TV festival for “Questa é Vita”. First prize Film-Maker Milan for “Questa é Vita” and “L’altro Mondo, Third Prize at U-Tape, Palazzo dei Diamanti, for “L’altro Mondo”
First prize at U-Tape, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara for “Questa é Vita”
Tate Modern, London, UK
Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto, Canada
Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Baltimore Museum of Art, MD
MACRO, Museo D’arte Contemporanea, Rome
Walther Collection, Ulm Germany
Vüzler ve Yerler / Faces and Places: Theo Eshetu. Akbank Sanat, Istanbul, Turkey.
Constellations: Tiwani Contemporary, London.
Return of the Axum Obelisk. DAADgalerie, Berlin, Germany
Double Feature Picture Show, Biennale di Lubumbashi
Kiss the Moment, 18 screen video installation in collaboration with DAAD, Berlin
Brave New World Museum of African Art, The Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC
The return of The Aksum Obelisk, UNESCO Headquarters Paris and FAO headquarters Rome
Ars & Navis Arsenale di La Spezia
Retrospective IN VIDEO festival Milan, I Racconti del Mandala, Teatro Colosseo Rome, Teatro Civico di Carrara di Carrara
Five For Monk Video & Dance, St Stevens Theater w. Roberta Garrison.
Buio in Sala, K Kino Sala Pricipe dei Piemonti Viareggio
Made In Italy Retrospective Theo Eshetu Filmstudio Rome
Featured Artist The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar Poughkeepsie USA.
Meditation on African Light Baltimore Museum of Art, USA
“AFRICANIZED” retrospective. The videos of Theo Eshetu, Padova, Verona e Bari
Films of Theo Eshetu Presented at BAM Cinemateque, New York
Monograofia Eletronica Zo cultural Centre, Catania
BODY and SOUL, Special Event presentation, Venice Film Festival
BLOOD Museo Laboratorio d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome
DIGITAL AFRICA at Electronic Arts Intermix/ Dia Foundation/African Film Festival, New York
“AFRICANIZED” presented at the 58th Venice Film Festival
Brave New World, at MACRO Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome
La nascita di Dioniso (installation) Museo de arte italiano, Lima, Perù
University of Addis Abeba, Dept. of Social Anthropology
Retrospective at Arcipelago 3 Osservatorio sul cinema Italiano,Cinema Savoy, Rome; l gatto e la volpe, Galleria Pio Monti, Rome
Museum of Modern and Contemporary art, Nice, France
Chef Bien Resistes Museum of Contemporary Art, Arezzo, Italy
“Mass Memory” 50° Mostra Int. d’Arte Cinematografica, Venice, Italy
Arte & Jeans, Minimi rilievi, Passage de Retz, Paris, France
Mill Valley Film Festival, San Francisco, USA
La Nascita di Dionisio, Galleria Cesare Manzo, Pescara, Italy
I.ME.RE.C. Marseille, France
Museo del Cinema, Turin
Galleria Nova, Zapping, Rome
ICA, Institute of contemporary Arts, London, UK
Videodistorsioni, Sulmonacinema, Italy
Artel, Galleria Comunale, Cagliari, Italy
TER Int. Exhibition of Cont. Art, Termoli, Italy
Il Luogo della complessità, Museum of Contemporary Art of La Sapienza, Rome.
Studio D’ars, Milan.
Monitors, Galleria MR/Goethe Institute, Rome
Video Art Italiana, Galleria Civica, Monza
Video Wall installation at Saint Louis, Music City, Rome
The Portrait Part One, New International Gallery, Rome.
SELECTED VIDEO AND FILM FESTIVALS AND GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Migrating Worlds: The Art of the Moving Image in Britain
Yale Center For British Art, New Haven CT, October 10 – December 29, 2019
The Sorcerer’s Burden: Contemporary Art and the Anthropological Turn, the Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX. Sep. 14, 2019 – Jan 19, 2020, curated by Heather Pesanti
Mask. The Art of Transformation. Kunst Museum, Bonn, Germany. May 30 – August 25, 2019
FEEDBACK: Art Africa and the 1980s. Iwelewahaus, University of Bayreuth, Germany. April 28 – Sept 30, 2018, curated by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi
Arts of Global Africa. Newark Museum, New Jersey, USA, Permanent collection installation
Afrique. Les religions de l’extase. Musée d’ethnographie de Genève – MEG, Switzerland. May 17, 2018 – January, 6 2019
Face to Face from Yesterday to Today, Non-Western Art and Picasso. Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. May 12 – September 16, 2018.
You Are Here: Light, Color and Sound Experiences. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh. April 7 – July 22, 2018
I is Other I Be the Other. National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rome. March 20 – June 24, 2018
Nocturnes of Repressed Moments, of Nights, and the Colour Black. Freiburg. Germany .
Unmasked, Axis Gallery, New York
documenta 14, Kassel, Germany. documenta 14, Athens, Greece
AFRIQUES CAPITALES: Cape of Good Hope Here We Come, ‘100%’ Festival, Gare Saint Sauveur, Lille. April 6 – September 3, 2017, curated by Simon Njami
VideoStudio: Meeting Points. Studio Museum, New York. November 15, 2016 – April 2, 2017
11th Shanghai Biennale: Power Station of Art museum Shanghai, November 11 2016 – March 12, 2017.
Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA December 20, 2015–January 2, 2017; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C., May 18, 2016- September 24, 2017; Wellin Museum, Clinton, New York, USA, September 10 – December 11, 2016. Curated By Polly Nooter-Roberts & Karen Milbourne.
Still (The) Barbarians, EVA International, Ireland Biennial, Limerick City. April 16 – July 17, 2016, curated by Kuyo Kouoh.
The international exhibition, Dak’Art Biennale 2016, Dakar, Senegal, May 3-10, 2016. curated by Simon Njami.
Streamlines: Oceans Global Trade and Migration. Deichtor Hallen, Hamburg, Germany. December 4, 2015 – March 13, 2016, curated by Kuyo Kouoh.
Tu dois changer ta vie! [You Must Change Your Life!]. Renaissance: 2015: 4e édition thématique de Lille3000, Lille, France. September 26 – 17 January 2016, curated by Fabrice Bousteau.
Après Eden, The Walther Collection, Maison Rouge, Paris October 17 – January 24, 2016
A story within a story, 8th Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art – GIBCA, Sweden, curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose.
STADT/BILD Xenopolis, KunstHalle by Deutsche Bank, Berlin, curated by Simon Njami.
Nero su Bianco, curated by Lyle Ashton Harris, Robert Storr and Peter Benson Miller, at the American Academy in Rome, through July 19, 2015.
1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, NY, Axis Gallery, New York.
Wir Sind Alle Berliner: 1884 – 2014, A Commemoration of the Berlin Congo Conference, Savvy Contemporary, Berlin. Curated by Simon Njami
Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India. December 12, 2014 – March 29, 2015.
Inventing the Possible: Ephemeral Video Library, Jeu de Paume, Paris, France. October 14, 2014 – February 8, 2015.
Transform: Theo Eshetu Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom. October 13, 2014.
Fragments of Empires, Momentum Berlin, Colleqium Hungaricum, Berlin, Germany.
Inventer le possible: Une vidéothèque éphémère, Jeu de Paume, Paris, France.
Traveling Communique, Museum of Yugoslav History, Belgrade, Serbia.
Inventing the Possible: Ephemeral Video Library, Jeu de Paume, Paris, France.
After Year Zero: Geographies of Collaboration since 1945, HKW, Berlin, Germany.
IkonoTV On Air Festival, International Video Art Festival Probrbühne 1, Humboldt Lab, Ethnographic Museum, Dahlem, Berlin, Germany.
Mirror Ball installation at Humboldt Lab Dahlem, Germany. Mirror Ball installation at Humboldt Lab Dahlem, Germany.
Agency of Unrealized Projects (AUP), Berliner Künstlerprogramm / DAAD, Berlin.
Venice Biennial. Italian Pavilion, Italy.
Carmen in Fine, video theatrical performance by Massimo Verdastro.
Cinema e Diversità Culturale, Palladium, Rome, Italy.
Eyes al Asiatica Film Mediale, MACRO Testaccio, Rome, Italy.
Rome Video Art Festival, Rome, Italy. Singolarità mobile che abitano uno spazio namade, Casa dei Teatri Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome, Italy.
Geo Graphics, Palais Des Beaux Arts, Brussels
The Tropics, The Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok
Look At Festival, Fondazione Gagghianti, Lucca
Festival Archipelago, Rome
The Walther Collection, Ulm, Germany
The Tropics, National Gallery of South Africa, Cape Town
Message in a Bottle theater performance, Arsenale di La Spezia
AFRICA REFLECTED, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Non Angli Sed Angeli: a Pilgrimage a Mission, Venerable English College Rome, Fish Eye Cinema L’Aquila, Rome
Views from the middle of the globe, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin.
Equatorial Rhythms, Stenersen Museum, Oslo
Snap Judgments, Miami Art Central, USA; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City
OS TROPICOS, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro.
Snap Judgments, ICP International Centre For Photography, New York
On Air Videos from Italy, Milan
Electro Shock: 30 Years of Italian Video Art, Guangdong Museum of Art, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing.
Codes of Culture: Video art from 5 Continents, Argentina.
Video in onda dall ‘Italia In Loop, Brancolini Grimaldi Gallery, Florence.
AFRICA REMIX: Contemporary Art from The African Continent, The Hayward Gallery, London
MACRO, Videoteca, presentation of Body and Soul, Rome
Living For the City, ROMA CAPUT MUNDI installation, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
The Creation Trilogy, presented at Sulmona Film Festival
On Air, Galleria Comunale di Arte Contemporanea, Montefalcone.
Europalia, FNAC, Bruxelles
Museo Laboratorio di Arte contemporanea, Rome
Video Zone, Center for Contemporary Art Tel Aviv Cinemateque
Museum of Modern Art. Video Zone. Selection Shijiazhuang Museum China
Art Is Easy in your with Fluxus Show, Hommage to Charlotte Moorman, USA.
Net Image Live video VJ contest, Milan
PRIX ITALIA, Teatro Massimo, Palermo.
Museum of African Art, New York
Ways To A Void, Palazzo Degli Esposizioni, Rome
Electro Shock: 30 Years of Italian Video Art, Acquario Romano and MACRO, Rome
Trans Africana (video installation) Chiesa Di San Giorgio Bologna
Cinema Ferrovia, Udine
INPUT 2000, Halifax, Canada
The New York African Film Festival, Lincoln Center, New York
Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York.
Festival del Cinema Africano, Milan
Visibilità Zero, Goethe Institute, Rome
Golem Video festival, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin
Sithengi, Cape Town, South Africa.
Festival di Cinema Africano, Milan
Dublin Film Festival
Lavori In Corso, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome
Fespaco/Input Ouagadadougou, Burkina Faso
Vues D’afrique, Quebec, Canada
WWVF, Amsterdam, Holland
Incontri sul Video, La Spezia
Balafon ’98 Film Festival, Bari
Istituto Giapponese di Cultura, Rome.
University of Addis Ababa, University of Berkeley California
Pesaro Film festival, Pesaro
Autheur Film Festival, Belgrade
Mill Valley Film Festival, Mill Valley, CA, USA
NFT London Film Festival
Video Art Plastique, France.
Riciclart, Art and Recycling at the Slaughterhouse, Rome
Kind of blue, jazz film festival, Milan.
Art & Film Festival, Bratislava
La Città Ideale Fiumara d’arte, Sicily
Artistiper Opening, American Academy, Rome
AFRICANA, Sala Uno, Rome
Pandaemonium, London Festival of Moving Images, ICA, London
Un anno Italiano in video, Superstudio, Milan
Arcipelago, Cinema Augustus Roma
Inverso sud, AversaFilmFestival 1996, Aversa
Recycle Mattatoio, Rome
Art For All, Pallazzo Braschi, Rome
Workshop “Arte elettronica e Linguaggi televisivi”, RAI, Rome.
Opera Stabile, Rome
Mondi Virtuali Sala Umberto, Rome
Dov’é il Video Museo Lab. di arte contemp. La Sapienza, Rome
Video les Beaux Jours, Strasbourg, France
Goteborg Int. Film Festival, Sweden
Deutscher Videokunstpreis 1994, ZKM, Karlsruhe.
Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin
INPUT 93 Bristol, UK
In-Video, Aiace, Milan (also ’94 ‘98 ‘01)
Da Sodoma a Hollywood, Torino Gay Film Festival, Torino
Video les Beux Jour, Strasbourg, France
Museo dell Cinema, Torino
TTVV, Festival of video and Theater, Riccione
Anteprima, Concorso Gabbiano D’oro, Bellaria Edinburgh Film Festival, Scotland
Xenografia, The Venice International Biennale of Art, Venice, 2nd video week, Geneva
Prix Italia, “Il teatro in televisione”, Rome
Filmladen Kassel, Peter Greenaway & Theo Eshetu, Kassel, Germany
INPUT, Bristol, UK.
Berlin Video Fest 92, Berlin (also 93)
Promo Image Festival, Pala Expo, Rome
7th Australian int. film Festival, Sydney
ARTEL Electronic Media In Visual Arts In Italy, Galleria Comunale D’Arte, Cagliari
Festival dei Due Mondi, Spoleto, Melkweg, Amsterdam
London Film Festival, Museum of Moving Images, ICA, London
Cinema Indipendente Italiano, Berlin
Video Teatro ’90, Expo 92, Seville, Spain
Sulmona Cinema, Videodistorsioni, Italy
Goethe Institutes in Latin America
European Video Art in the Nineties, Festival of Poetry and Image, Dense, Denmark.
Video Arte Italiana, Eventi, Italian Cultural Institute, Madrid
Theo Eshetu/Alexander Hahn, Swiss Institute, Rome
Italian Cultural Institute, Rio de Janerio, Brazil.
Televisions Melbourne Lygon Arts Festival, Melbourne, Australia
Arco 89, Madrid
Video Bienal, Lubijana, Slovenia
Festival de Video Musical, Victoria Gasteiz
Video Art Plastique, Herouville Saint-Clair (also ’90, ’93)
Studio D’Ars, Milano
MIPCOM, Cannes (also ’90, ’92)
Art for Africa, Goteborg Konstmuseum, Goteborg
Fukui International Video Biennale, Fukui, Japan (also ’89)
Manif. Int. Video & TV, Montbeliard, France
European Media Arts Festival, Experimentalfilm Workshop, Osnabrùck, RFT
AVE, Arnhem, Holland (also ’89)
Fest Rio, Rio de Janeiro (also ’88)
Video CD 87, Lubijana, Slovenia
Kunst for Africa, Sonja Henies-Onstads, Oslo
Filmer a tout prix, Brussels
Ars Elettronica, Linz (also ’89)
International Art Show for the End of World Hunger, Minnesota Museum of Art, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
World Wide Video Festival, The Hague, (also ’87, ’88, ’89, ’92,’99); Input, Granada, Spain
Point ’87, Beaubourg, Paris
Europe Copyright, Beaubourg, Paris
Festival Video Arte, Messina (also ’89, ’91)
Electrovisions, Tokyo, Japan.
Festival di Camerino, Camerino
Prato-Expo, Fortezza da Basso, Florence
Tre volte video, Rome
Montecatini Film & Video Festival
Festival du Nouveau Cinema, Montreal, (also ’89, 92)
Film-Maker, Milan (also ’88 e ’90)
EU-Video, l’Immagine Elettronica, Bologna
Espace Lyonaise d’Art Contemporaine, Lyon, France, (also 87)
Teleconfronto, Chianciano Terme, Italy.
Video Art, Locarno, (also ’85, ‘86 ’87, ’89, ’90 ’92, ’95, ’96 ’99)
U-Tape, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Center of Video Arte, Ferrara (cf ’87, ’89, ’90)
Festival cinema Giovanna Torino, Italy (also ’87, ’89 & 2000)
Salso Film & TV Festival, Salsomaggiore (also every year from ’83, to ’89)
Video Roma 82-83, Rome
THEO ESHETU: The Body Electric. Sternberg Press, 2017.
Quinn Latimer & Adam Szymczyk (eds.) documenta 14 – Reader. Prestel Verlag, Munich, Germany, 2017
Mebrak Tareke, “In search of body and soul with Theo Eshetu.” Another Africa. August 2, 2016.
William Poundstone, “Kaleidoscopes as Art.” Bloun Corps. January 18, 2016.
Polly Nooter-Roberts & Karen Milbourne. “Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa.” Insider, Winter 2016, Vol. 10, Issue 1.
“Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa.” African Arts, Winter 2015, Vol. 48, Number 4.
Nero su Bianco, eds. Lyle Ashton Harris, Robert Storr, and Peter Benson Miller, American Academy, Rome, 2015.
Caderno Sesc_Videobrasil 10: Uses of Memory. Edições Sesc São Paulo and Associação Cultural Videobrasil, 2014. Edited by Elvira Dyangani Ose; collaborators: Chimurenga, Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, Maryam Jafri, Premesh Lalu, The Otolith Group, Theo Eshetu, Tracy Murinik, Yaiza Hernández Velázquez.
‘Theo Eshetu in conversation with Selene Wendt’, Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, Fall 2014, Vol. 2014, No. 35.
Art in Context Africa, Part II: Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung on The tenses in Theo Eshetu’s The Return of the Axum Obelisk.