Jamila Prowse and Mekdes W Shebeta at Hordaland Kunstsenter

Artists: Jamila Prowse and Mekdes W Shebeta

Exhibition title: That place of familiarity that holds and hurts: Part one

Curated by: Amber Ablett

Venue: Hordaland Kunstsenter, Bergen, Norway

Date: October 2 – November 14, 2021

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and Hordaland Kunstsenter

That place of familiarity that holds and hurts is an exhibition in two parts, showing the work of three artist who are searchers, invited by another artist who is also a searcher. The first part of That place of familiarity that holds and hurts will show work by Jamila Prowse and Mekdes W Shebeta. The second part of the exhibition, taking place in 2022, will show work by Hanan Benammar.

The exhibition will premiere the first moving image work and installation by artist, curator and writer Jamila Prowse. An Echo For my Father is catalysed by the artist’s curiosity about her late father Russell Herman, a South African jazz musician, who passed away when Jamila was three. Herman was born and raised in District Six, Cape Town and grew up during Apartheid, later migrating to the UK in the 1980s. Prior to entering research and production on the project, Jamila knew very little about her father and so the artist takes the viewer along on a journey of self and intergenerational discovery.

An Echo For my Father is the first in a series of three moving image works where Jamila Prowse seeks to understand her ancestry. Beginning with her intimate experience of absence – what it means to have an absent parent and not to have access to one side of your heritage – Jamila uncovers archival material related to her paternal lineage. Shown with the film are Echoes, a duo of textile wall hangings made by the artist for the film. Jamila Prowse is preoccupied with stitch work as a tactile form of processing complex familial histories. Simultaneously, Jamila sourced rare records by her dad, before recording herself listening to his music for the first time.

Jamila Prowse is interested in visualising mixed-race diasporic identity on screen, and the potentials for self-archiving. Through An Echo For My Father, she holds commune with her dad, establishing an exploratory methodology of echoes between the artist’s writing and her dad’s lyrics. The result is an intimate, unfolding consideration of the relationship between a daughter and her father; the ways connection can extend across generations and beyond the afterlife.

Mekdes W Shebeta fills the main gallery space with a new work called NEW BLUE an installation and participatory performance comprised of physical constructions, drawn images, workshops, audio recordings and text. The work weaves together themes of spiritual wisdom, alternative communication and surviving migration. Mekdes has built three large scale tents: two of them are physical tents, built from yellow plastic and red fabric. The third tent, in blue, is an invitation to the audience to collectively describe that place of peace and clarity.

Each tent builds a character, through materials, colour and sound, to describe how different personalities are developed as tactics to survive harsh lifestyles, emptiness, and loss. Sound and language play at important role in shaping these characters: within the tents we hear chanting from Entoto Kidane Meheret in Addis Ababa, audio recorded in refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Norway, and lyrics and song composed by Mekdes through translation of Amharic, the ancient Ethiopian language Ge’ez and the artist’s own composite language of Roadrunner.

Mekdes W Shebeta explores storytelling in the borderland between fiction and documentary often returning to the concepts of belonging and exclusion. She speaks about personal and collective trauma through images, and metaphors, in the language of those who never reach their destination; a journey that never ends, where expectations and promises prove false. Mekdes’ interactive-performances and installations foster community involvement through their unique way of occupying space: by setting up “camp” within the white cube, her work generates social atmospheres with a home-like quality. In NEW BLUE, Mekdes W Shebeta introduces spiritual components to emphasize the realms of courage and healing within the universal onwards search for home.

The exhibition title is taken from Belonging: A Culture of Place, bell hooks.

Jamila Prowse is an artist, writer and researcher who works across moving image and textiles to consider methodologies for visualising mixed-race identity and the lived experience of disability. Jamila was studio residency artist at Gasworks in London, UK from January to April 2021; she curated and hosted a series of podcasts for Lighthouse, Brighton, UK; was a recipient of a GRAIN writing bursary and Guest Editor of Photoworks Annual 26. As a writer, Jamila Prowse is a columnist for Frieze (on accessibility) and British Journal of Photography (on Creating Change). Her reviews and essays have appeared in Frieze, Elephant Dazed, GRAIN, Art Work Magazine and Photoworks.

Mekdes W Shebeta is an artist based in Oslo. Her work focuses on the entanglements of global migration politics and of mass migration from rural to urban regions in Africa and to the doors of Europe. Mekdes’s work shows the traces of her background in interior design as well as her eduction in Fine Arts from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Bergen School of Art in Norway. Recent exhibitions include: Guramayne Art Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and performances shown at Performance Art Festival, Bergen, Helsinki Performance Festival, Finland and Black Box, Oslo, Norway. Shebeta is collaborating with Kjersti Sundaland for the project Utenfor tid, utenfor sted at Sofienbergparken Oslo and in 2022 Mekdes W Shebeta will be showing new work at Gyldenpris Kunsthall in Bergen.

Amber Ablett is an artist and writer based in Bergen, Norway. Using performance, text, sound and re-enactment, her work looks at the importance of place and belonging to how we be together, with a focus on how our society shapes, reflects, controls and limits our multifaceted identities. Stepping away from spectacle, Amber often uses workshops and gatherings as a platform to share and open up her practice. Amber Ablett’s work is informed by her experience of being a woman in Norway of British, Irish and Caribbean descent. Recent exhibitions include: Rehearsal for A Change Gonna Come, UKS, Oslo. 2021; Plommetrærne på Alrek, KORO, 2020- 2023; Høstutstillingen (group), Kunstnerners Hus, Oslo, 2019; Anthems, Lydgalleriet, Bergen, 2019 and a forthcoming solo exhibition at Bergen Kjøtt, Bergen.