NDMOA opens contemporary art exhibit from Ethiopia

An exhibit by Ethiopian artist Elias Sim? called "Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart" will open March 27 at the North Dakota Museum of Art with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. and a connection to the UND Writers Conference, which will be March 27-31.

What is Love?
"What is Love - 1," a 2008 stitched piece by Elias Sime, part of the "Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart" exhibit that opens March 27 at North Dakota Museum of Art in conjunction with the UND Writers Conference.

An exhibit by Ethiopian artist Elias Simé called "Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart" will open March 27 at the North Dakota Museum of Art with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. and a connection to the UND Writers Conference, which will be March 27-31.

Simé himself will travel to Grand Forks from Ethiopia to open his solo exhibit, accompanied by anthropologist Meskerem Assegued who co-curated the show with Peter Sellars, the visionary theater, opera and multi-disciplinary arts impresario.

The theme of the UND Writers Conference, "Humanimal," an invitation to look at the way we regard and coexist with animals, has something in common with Sime's work, said Laurel Reuter, director of the North Dkaota Museum of Art.

"I remember years ago a friend who is a curator at the historical society in Minneapolis, he and I had worked together for years," Reuter said. "I said to him, 'Is there anything that differentiates artists from our region from artists from other places.' And he thought for a while and said, 'Yes. Our artists are still close to animals.' I thought was very interesting. And I see that in Elias' work."

Sime (prounounced see-MAY) will speak at the exhibit opening March 27 through a translator. A news release said his exhibit, which will continue through May 31, addresses the dignity, wisdom and depth of the ancient indigenous cultures that are rapidly disappearing from Ethiopia.


The works in the exhibit will cover 21 years of one of Ethiopia's most original and prolific artists. It will feature more than 100 of Sime's works made from such things as yarn stitches, tattered fabric, buttons, stuffed goat skins, discarded plastic shoes, animal horns and bottle tops with materials collected from the streets and sprawling markets of Addis Ababa. Sime transforms them into collages and stitched canvases, into floor and wall sculpture, and into installations.

The floor of the galleries will be strewn with small sculptures made of mud and straw called selachas (stuffed goatskin), each encased in the full skin of a single goat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has accepted two selechas for its permanent collection.

According to Peter Clothier of the Huffington Post, community is an essential part of Sime's work.

"Family and friends join with him in the creation of his art, and he spreads small wealth and creativity amongst the local children by rewarding them for bringing him the results of their scavenging," Clothier wrote of Sime. "He is, in a real and pragmatic sense, a social activist."

The exhibition was organized by the Santa Monica Museum of Art and co-curated by Meskerem Assegued and Peter Sellars, the visionary theater, opera and multidisciplinary arts impresario. Assegued has worked closely with Sime for nearly a decade, and many of Sime's works grew out of their collaborative anthropological field research on indigenous pre-Christian rituals in Ethiopia.

It was Elsa Longhauser, director of the Santa Monica Museum of Art, who brought "Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart" to the U.S. The North Dakota Museum of Art is the second U.S. venue to host Sime's retrospective. Longhauser also invited the husband-and-wife team, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, to create an accompanying documentary. (They are best known for their directorial debut of the feature film, "Little Miss Sunshine," and have produced music videos for bands such as Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, and R.E.M.)

"The filmmakers were won over by Sellars' exuberant descriptions and photos of Sime's work," Longhauser said in a news release. "Subsequently, they traveled to Ethiopia to meet the artist and create a visual journal of their four days with him in his studio and on the streets of Addis Abeba where Sime lives."

In 2006, Sime constructed gotas (traditional mud and straw silos from Ethiopia) in front of a live audience in his exhibition "Green Flame." The show was curated by Assegued for Sellar's New Crowned Hope Festival, a celebration of Mozart's 250th anniversary in Vienna, Austria. In 2009 and 2010, a selection of Sime's thrones and masks was used as a stage set for Sellar's Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex Opera at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.


The exhibition in North Dakota is supported in part by a grant from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, which receives funding from the Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts; by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation Minnesota Legislature; and by a grant from the City of Grand Forks through the North Valley Arts Council.

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