In this ‘filmic painting” Theo Eshetu projects filmed images onto a recreation of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the iconic cornerstone of Western Modernism in art. Theo Eshetu uses Picasso as a point of departure just as Picasso used African sources for his own artistic purposes. While Eshetu views his own art as a continuation of the modernist tradition, here he invites us to consider the construction and dissolution of cultural tropes within Western history.
Through his projection, Eshetu inserts images of African sources directly over the painting, as well as other modernist works by Picasso and his colleagues, such as Matisse and Yves Klein, which situate Picasso’s modernist practice as a social and historical process. At the same time, Eshetu integrates his own sources, of which Picasso is just one of many. Throughout, images of Eshetu’s silhouetted performers mimic and riff off the poses of the sex workers in Picasso’s painting. Eshutu zooms in and out on his projected figures; the cuts in the film create a collage-like effect and suggest the relativity of vision and interpretation, sometimes we grasp the detail in close up, sometimes not.
All of this layering and animation destabilize the famous painting, dissolving it. As Eshetu’s title suggests, we say “adieu” to “Les Demoisselles” and encounter instead Eshetu’s performers whose sexuality is both more nuanced and empowered than Picasso’s modern misses, the demoisselles as prostitutes.
This work was commissioned for, and first appeared in, “The Sorcerer’s Burden” at The Contemporary Austin (2019-2020). The catalog describes the work as presenting an anthropological turn, a “transformation of cultural construct through identity and human features.”