Wolfgang Tillmans’s photography exhibition Fragile opened on Thursday evening at the Goethe Institut and the Modern Art Museum GebreKristosDesta Center.
Tillmans is one of Germany’s renowned contemporary artists. Fragile is a selection of various works over his 30-year oeuvre, including Community, which depicts moments of love and togetherness; Truth Study Center, a site-specific collage that challenges accepted norms and absolute truths; Your Body is Yours, an exploration on the diversity of beauty; and Faltenwurf, sculptural photographs of clothes.
The installation of his photographs, some framed, others taped onto the wall is striking. The photographs are not part of a single series but selections from various ongoing projects.
A political artist that has been studying and documenting shared characteristics among people across the world, Tillmans’s works have been described as empathetic and full of curiosity. He has been a part of movements like anti-Brexit/pro-EU campaigns, fighting against the growing nationalism movements across the world.
Having worked as his own curator since the early 90s, Tillmans has carefully selected photographs that work well with the venue and the context of the city. Truth Study Center is evident that highly thought out images that confront the viewer with our country’s realities.
Photographs Tillmans had taken during his travels inEthiopiawere also included in the exhibition. Addis Ababa afternoon, 2012 and Addis Ababa morning, 2012, scenes of the streets of the city candid and universal are included.
Sheep shadow, 2012 is an image of what appears to be a single sheep at first glance but a shadow beneath reveals two sheep. This kind of visual trickery is a warning Tillmans has given often.
End of broadcast appears to be a very large black and white image of static but a closer examination reveals it to be a multicolor kaleidoscope. “I’m asking people to look at things twice. I play with the eye, use different angles to show that you shouldn’t judge based on first impressions,” he says.
He brings up another large photograph of a green weed–“I could see the beauty of the week. It is a testimony to the eye’s ability to give value,” he says.
He urges viewers to observe things from multiple perspectives when seeing his photographs. “There is no correct way of looking at my work since there are no wrong ways of looking at it. We must trust that our eyes are free.”
The willingness to stay open minded and accepting of different views is central to Fragile. It is an exploration of human strength and perseverance in the face of adversity as seen in his photographs of Black Lives Matter protests in the United States. It is a declaration of freedom to exist as depicted in Lux and Alex in the trees, 1992 as well as the nightclub scenes Chemistry Square, 1992. The tenuous connection people form with each other, the willingness to be vulnerable and open is fundamental to Fragile.
In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer to be awarded the prestigious Turner Prize. He has exhibited his works across Europe, the US, South and Central America.
Fragile is part of Tillmans’s tour across the African continent. He began his tour in Kinshasa early last year, followed by Nairobi and Johannesburg in the subsequent months.
The tour has been a joint initiative with the Institute for InstitutfürAuslandsbeziehungen (ifa or International and Cultural Relations). The German Embassy in Ethiopia collaborated with ifa and the Goethe Institut to bring the exhibition to Addis Ababa and showcase it at the Modern Art Museum.
Tillmans describes the process as an intricate operation that has taken a lot of planning. He will be going to Lagos and Accra in the following months to exhibit Fragile.
Tillmans has also worked through other media, exploring fashion design and painting before he became a photographer. More recently, he has released two records 2016/1986 EP and Device control EP as well as FragileBand’s album That’s Desire/Here We Are EP.
The exhibition that is both at the Goethe Institut and Modern Art Museum will remain on view until March 31.