Betelhem Makonnen_________ቤተልሄም መኮንን                                                         

unsettling narratives


unsettling narratives
Artpace Summer 2022 International 
Artist-in-Residence Program
445 North Main, San Antonio TX

Exhibition: July 21–Sep. 11, 2022
Artists reception and talk: July 21, 2022, 6–9pm

unsettling narratives is the culmination of Betelhem Makonnen’s residency– a meditation on presence and place in relationship to memory and history within non-linear time. The works, made up of still and moving images, text, and installation, transport the viewer to a here and now that is multiple and existing in suspension within an in-between space of continuous arrival or departure, and both at once.

figures at sea (a ruttier* for unsettling narratives in diasporic time, again and again, future/present/past selves) is the central piece that grounds the room. The source for the large-scale image in this multi-part installation was found in her family’s archive and is of Makonnen and her youngest brother at Santa Monica Beach, California, in 1983, the year they began their life in the West. The installation also includes a video documenting a performance done with Makonnen and her family on the Texas coast during the residency. In the footage, the viewer sees them make an offering to Iemanjá, the Candomlé goddess of the sea, who’s African and Afro-diasporic believers consider to be a powerful protective mother of all living things and a mirror of the world. The waves throughout the video are a time changing space that are consistently occurring yet slow down and speed up depending on our experience with them. They become a signal of suspension, an in-between space.

Makonnen continues to shift time and space by bringing remnants from the performance into the gallery. The experience of sea and shore is repeated and felt throughout the gallery– ten 12 x 16-inch image fragments come out of the installation’s large-scale image like a wave on the adjacent walls, a photo diptych depicts Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach, Makonnen’s home for thirteen years, as well as the sound of the ocean and a warm yellow glow which fills the room. 

With unsettling narrative, Makonnen is re-ordering and re-arranging a story without a middle or an end, but one that is constant and transforming continuously. She invites the viewer to navigate outside linear time and become a time traveler who uses all senses and tenses to see. 

* “An oral ruttier is a long poem containing navigational instructions that sailors learned by heart and recited from memory. The poem contained the routes and tides, the stars and maybe the taste and flavor of the waters, the coolness, the saltiness; all for finding one’s way at sea. Perhaps, too, the reflection and texture of the seabed, also the sight of birds, the directions of their flights.” Brand, Dionne, “Ruttier for the Marooned in the Diaspora” from her book A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging. Toronto: Random House, pg. 212.

Curator: Andy Campbell, Associate Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design.


Artist Talk with Resident artists Hellen Ascoli, Jonesy, Betelhem Makonnen and curator Andy Campbell

Gallery Notes

San Antonio Magazine

Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio.
Installation images credits: Beth Devillier.

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