Visual Diary: a glimpse into an artist’s ordinary life
Visual Diary, just as the name might indicate, is a view into one’s life; more specifically DariwosHailemichael’s life. It is a selection of nearly 70 pieces Dariwos has worked on since 2015 that document the events compositions, juxtapositions, thoughts and emotions that have crossed his mind in the daily life as a resident of Addis Ababa. The exhibition at Alliance Ethio-Française opened early this week.
Dariwos allows us access into the private land of his inner landscape, gifting us with his thoughts, experiences and emotions to make do as we will.
Dariwos’s unique artwork primarily uses plastic materials collected from around the city or bought from secondhand markets. Plastic has long been Dariwos’s medium. His first iteration began with water bottles dipped in paint until he switched to more sturdy and colorful materials. Jugs typically full of oil then reused as containers of water, holy water, alcohol and various other liquids are his main material. The plastic pieces are cut, pasted, nailed and stitched together in these compositions.
The ubiquity of these materials is at the center of the medium. Dariwos is interested in the role these objects play in people’s daily lives and uses them to explore the social dimension of the city. The life journey of these objects from initial purpose at first purchase then reused and re purposed, passing through the hands and household of various people adds weight to these pieces. “The spirit of society is in these materials. I think of them as fingerprints,” explains Dariwos. “These containers were non-existent twenty or twenty-five years ago. I remember the aluminum tins used then. So, this is material is the voice of our time.” He is encapsulating this moment in time and space, telling the story of these people. There is an unmistakable red cross drawn by the previous owner of the plastic container in ‘Trapped in Yellow’. Dariwos does not wash or clean the plastic before the reworks them into these compositions.
Dariwos’s work is of finely tuned awareness, as Henry James would say, that compels him to be richly responsible. The ideas of conservation and environmentalism also enter his artistic practice in this manner. “I worry about what happens to this plastic. I collect plastic bags and other things even though I haven’t used them very much in my work.” Plastic takes thousands of years to decay and Dariwos’s pieces are another way of transforming and elongating the lifespan of this material.
But he handles the responsibility trusted up on him by virtue of his conscious willingness to actively live in the world with grace and playfulness. The unconventional departure from commonly used materials and making works that confront the viewer with insight that requires investigation and maybe even a codex to decipher his intentions are balanced by colorful aesthetics and careful composition.
The social, political and economic aspects of Ethiopian life are Dariwos’s main subjects.
Candy Crush 1 and Candy Crush 2, the largest installations in Visual Diary, take up the furthermost wall of the gallery space. Small and colorful rectangular cutouts emblazoned with the Addis Ababa City Administration seal are spread on the wall These ID cards of Addis Ababa residents are grouped by color into two large boxes, based on political leanings and the ongoing battle over whothe city belongs to. The first box contains reds and yellows with few blue cards on one side and the green, red and black interspersed with blue, indicating the color emblems of political parties, on the second box. Like the videogame Candy Crush or Tetris, the new colors are incompatible with what is already there and the game doesn’t seem winnable for either. “I wonder if history is repeating itself. Sometimes, it is good to ask why we are fighting. Having a critical perspective is necessary,” Dariwos explains.
He explains that there is a certain fatigue that comes from political engagement and voracious news consumption within the current Ethiopian political climate; but it is harder for him to imagine being uninterested. “Sometimes, there is nothing you can do about it. But artists can comment, reflect the truth in their work and maybe offer advice.”
Some of his older pieces, also on display at Guramayne Art Center at the moment, are smaller in size and more whimsical. ‘Waiting for Godot’, which takes its name from Samuel Beckett’s play, depicts a man with an ear for a face and other with an eye standing in an idyllic pasture.
Obsession I and II offer the image of a woman, the first with her calmly sitting slightly out of frame, the second with her head leaned back in ecstasy. We are left to build the narrative between the two scenes.
Another piece, ‘Time Travel’ is a recreation of Diego Velasquez’s ‘Venus at Her Mirror/’. A nude woman is reassembled from shards of plastic, and Dariwos jokingly asks, “If he and I were to switch places, would Velazquez use this medium too?”
‘Waiting II’ depicts men sitting inside of a bar. The scene could be taken from any bar in the city, cheap yellow seats in an uncomfortably bright room, a largely men clientele ordering beer and waiting for a football match to start on the lone screen on a far wall. We get a glimpse of a hand groping a woman’s behind in ‘Evening’. Another piece has a woman slowly, self-consciously, walking away from the viewer. We are concerned for her safety. ‘Night Watchers’ shows us two women that could potentially be prostitutes standing in the night. He muses at the iconic outdoor of Guramayne gallery space or traveling through the streets of Addis Ababa.
The more recent works appear as collage of plastic shards left over from his larger pieces as he endeavors to use every piece of the plastic at hand. He experiments with various gluing methods and he has begun using plastic bags to add more color tons to these newer pieces. His works often curve outside of the frame, rarely playing within conventional rules.
Current events, socio-economic commentary, scenes of his daily life and politics are included in this comprehensive selection Dariwos’s works.
“I know my works won’t sell. But it has to be done anyways,” he explains. The commercial reception of works of this sort is slow in Addis. But it is out of his control. This exhibition has works that serve as records of his daily life for the past 4 years. He has found his medium and will continue to mine it for meaning until he can’t anymore. He can’t help it.