About the Photographer
American, b. 1985
Obelisk (2011) depicts an Axum-era Ethiopian obelisk that was pillaged by the Italians after their occupation of Ethiopia in the late 1930s. It remained installed in Rome for sixty years until it was finally returned to Ethiopia in 2005. Abubeker took his image of the obelisk in Rome from the internet and screen-printed it with pigment made from soil he collected on a trip to Ethiopia, his father’s home country. The artist’s use of the earth combined with an image appropriated from afar reflects his personal journey to understand his simultaneously deep and detached relationship to his father’s birthplace. Furthermore, the presence of the soil poetically stakes claim to both the obelisk and the country of Ethiopia, as it forms a poignant reflection on ownership, colonialism, and the rights to land.
The story of the displaced obelisk and Abubeker’s description of it reminds us that artworks, whether obelisks or photographs, are material referents of culture—objects that exist in time and whose meanings are subject to changes in location, contextualization, and interpretation. The photograph, like the obelisk itself, will circulate and exist in a complex world of changing relationships, viewing circumstances, social constructions, and rituals of display.
Zacharias Abubeker completed his BFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago (2009). He currently lives and works in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.