Dawit Abebe

8 May - 3 June 2017

Private view: 6 May 3-7pm


With an interest in the realm of technology and its impact on human behaviour, Ethiopian artist Dawit Abebe has long examined the role that belief systems, as well as mankind's propensity to search for knowledge, have played on society - particularly in the fields of privacy, alienation and materiality. As technologies advance and develop to bigger and better levels of sophistication, Abebe's interest has lain in the impact these technologies have not only on the environment, but also on human behaviour. His large, colourful paintings have become recognisable for their iconic figures, painted in thick impasto with impressionist overtones, their backs turned to the viewer. 


Herein lies the crux of this work - in Amharic, the word 'gerba' denotes history or background. So while Abebe's subjects have their backs turned to us, they are in fact facing this very history, both through the schoolbook pages pinned on the walls, as well as through facing the background itself. "They carry history on their backs," he explains. "It is not that they are turning their backs to it, but that it is something that they carry with them always."


Previously, Abebe explored the ways in which rural communities (such as Ethiopia, Madasgar or Kenya) have been affected by advances in technology - predominantly as a signifier of wealth - and, in turn, the way it has impacted on behaviour. He also questions our ability to convey history when books make way for texting and television. Ethiopia, like many developing countries, has struggled with the impact of technology and modernisation and its place within a long and rich local heritage and culture. It is the demarcation at which the two meet that interests Abebe. "I think the history of a country as well as that of a particular individual follow similar paths," he muses. "One can reflect the other, as microcosm and macrocosm - what affects an individual is often played out on a larger scale when it come to a national issue. In this vein I feel that the coming of technology has seen a rapid transformation within Ethiopia, with the danger that the younger generation are becoming less aware of their own history in the face of the pop culture and social media interaction that takes up their attention now instead."


Abebe explains each series' relationship to its predecessor as not so much as heading in a new direction, but rather as creating another link in a chain, continuing to build on the issues brought to the fore in the last. This latest series marks another evolution, as he moves his focus from a more general look at personal and social history to a focused look at specific parts of a subject's history, and how, in revisiting them, they can be used to deal with the present. These works are reactions to issues that Abebe witnesses around the world, and which, through a myriad ways, infiltrate and manifest themsleves in his everyday existence. "The background, the past, always inflicts the present," he explains. "I am looking at how the essences of the present anticipate the future and how all such trajectories locate our existence in the world."