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Theo Eshetu’s video work Atlas Fractured, produced for Documenta 14, is an experimental narrative that presents myth, psychology, art, and politics as realms that can help us integrate a fragmented world.
As installed in Kassel’s Neue Neue Galerie during Documenta 14, its monumental scale derived from the unique screen onto which it is projected: a giant banner, which formerly hung across the front of Berlin’s Ethnological Museum, that represents a mask from each of the museum’s departments—”Afrika, Amerika, Ozeanien, Asien, Europa.” Arbitrarily cut into sections for discard in 2014, Eshetu salvaged the banner as an artifact of ethnography. Eshetu projects over the banner filmed portraits that modify and skew the masks, as well as footage of historical incidents, drawn from various cultures, that evoke contrasting images of the world. The projection subverts and destabilizes the banner’s “world allegory” in favor of Eshetu’s more complex worldview.
Theo Eshetu remarks: “Cultural identities cannot be fixed and defined. They are in constant flux, created and molded by political projections, erected and destroyed by historical events, and fluctuate with the displacement of cultural objects and the migration of populations. We can only define the now—and the now is grotesque, uncertain, and burdened by the ghosts of the past. Yet there is also beauty in the present, a vitality for new justices, a search for new harmonies, and, contrary to facile political tendencies, acceptance and desire for hybrid states hitherto unknown.”
Eshetu’s soundtrack for Atlas Fractured was created with Keir Fraser, combining quotes from Carl Jung, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Joseph Campbell, Andy Warhol, Bertrand Russell, Homi Bhabha, and Charlie Chaplin with an equally eclectic compilation of music from around the world.
In Atlas Fractured, Eshetu contrasts he Enlightenment notion of apprehending the world via Reason with the Platonic view of Ideas and Appearances screened against a cave wall, and presents his filmic interaction as a third way, grounded in the ancient Greek notion of the trilogy as a key paradigm in the pursuit of knowledge, in which the resolution is open to mystery.