Betelhem Makonnen _________ ቤተልሄም መኮንን     


                                                                     













small acts/
2021














Betelhem Makonnen + Christina Coleman + Deborah Roberts + Tammie Rubin

small acts


small acts is an exhibition of various mixed media works–including collage, drawing, sculpture, video, and photography–by four Austin-based artists. Betelhem Makonnen, Christina Coleman, Deborah Roberts, and Tammie Rubin. To change one's future, to change perception, or even how we treat others is all a result of a small act. The artworks on view range from investigations of black existence through body, object, beauty, childhood and familial narratives, fugitive perceptual experiences, and time. While each artist's aesthetic approach is different, they are united by their faith in the power of small acts to guide and reimagine our everyday existence.

For Coleman and Rubin, the small act is in the recognition of the everyday. Both artists look at how mass-produced everyday objects transcend banality. Coleman’s media inventory includes dominoes, Oreo cookies, and synthetic hair. She presents works that situate these seemingly insignificant objects amidst spaces that hold great value. For instance, Coleman draws parallels between entities in cosmic space and Oreo cookies. Her interest lies in the interplay between the small and the vast, and how the former has the potential to give meaning to the latter. Within her work, dominoes become ceramic vessels and Oreo cookies are transformed into lunar phases. Rubin’s Always & Forever (ever, ever) series comprises conical groupings that reference objects of power, fraternity, anonymity, pageantry, absurdity, and belief. The sculptures are multi-part porcelain casts of recognizable consumer forms that reference hoods, headdresses, hats, and helmets. From the Ku Klux Klan and the Catholic Brothers of the Nazarene hoods, dunce caps, wizard hats, to west African Headdresses, medieval helmets, and the cone-wearing figures in Hieronymus Bosch paintings, these intimate ensembles are suspended within familiarity, uncertainty, and foreboding.

Makonnen and Roberts seek to disrupt perceptions. They believe their small acts and gestures can provoke radical new possibilities for perception and being. Makonnen’s artistic line of inquiry lingers in spaces of virtual conjunction accessed through paradoxes and feedback loops. Working with video, photography, and installations, she focuses on questions of perception, presence, and place while navigating within the trans-temporal and trans-locative topology of her diasporic consciousness. Her work seeks material equivalences that reflect a conjugated present, recognizing the future and the past as forms of the present, present in the present. The hand is always present. All of the above informs Makonnen to create a perceptual language that challenges normative structures of visuality and binary thinking in our cultural contexts. Roberts combines found and manipulated images with hand-drawn and painted details to create hybrid figures. These figures often take the form of young girls and increasingly Black boys, whose well-being and futures are equally threatened because of the double standard of boyhood and criminality that is projected on them at such a young age.

The works in this exhibition speaks to the notion of small acts in our lives that change how we are perceived and how those perceptions guide us in our everyday life.


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