A Monument’s Many Lives: Constructing Meanings in Theo Eshetu’s The Return of the Axum Obelisk (2009) Restricted; Files & ToC

Nagawa, Margaret (Fall 2021)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/ws859g94q?locale=en


In 2009, video artist Theo Eshetu completed a fifteen-monitor installation. Eshetu draws from art history, religion, and colonial archival records to explore human and territorial relations across time and space. He uses multiplication, juxtaposition, and mirroring of images to advance his argument that the past of the Axum obelisk as a funerary marker and religious symbol in Ethiopia, a victory monument in Italy, and its future as an example of restitution are inextricably interconnected. I examine the footage, soundscape, and TV sets upon which the images play to pursue how Eshetu combines these materials as his medium in conceptualizing the obelisk’s history. To do this, I analyze the formal elements of the work’s construction: its sculptural form, visual texture, and composition, whose qualities of commanding mass and space Eshetu uses in creating an installation of monumental proportions. I argue that The Return of the Axum Obelisk intermixes legend, colonial, and postcolonial representations to challenge assumptions behind any single historical narrative constructed at any historical moment in the monument’s epic journey.

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