Between Yesterday and Tomorrow

In her project, Ethiopian photographer Maheder Haileselassie investigates the intersection of history, identity, and memory in her home country.

The act of remembering is the act of feeling. This nomadic type of flexible exploration that merges three types of archives seeks to address the concept of an involuntary memory, one that’s of emotions and senses.

I read Ethiopia’s history as a child in my father’s books that he left before his passing. I learned about the glorious periods in Ethiopian history and lived in a society that celebrated having 3000 years of history and defeating colonization. Remembering is in our cultural DNA. We stand at an intersection between yearning for the past and longing for the future with profound uncertainty.

Images play an important role in this remembrance. Ethiopia’s visual representation starts in the 19th century with engravings, sketches and photographs made by European ‘travelers’. I superimposed these archives with images from my current work and my family album. This acts as a metaphor for the overlapping and compression of time and space in one’s memory. On one hand, it ’s an acknowledgment of the continuous involvement of the western world in our history. Even our own historians favored European accounts in writing our stories and therefore, shaping our future. On the other, it speaks to the abundant nostalgia for the seemingly glorious past.

I recently made my first visit to the birthplace of my grandparents whom I didn’t get the chance to know well. It brought a fleet of memories, shifting from an initial longing for the presence of my ancestors to then a quick rush of melancholy for an uncertain future that awaits my generation and the generation of Ethiopians. Landscape is part of our heritage and it’s a reflection of a complex relationship between political, social and economical contexts shaping the history and memory of the people. Battles, trade routes, and European route of contacts were all part of circumstances that are the result of both natural and cultural landscapes in Ethiopia.

Therefore, my identity as an Ethiopian maintains an amorphous shape constantly shifting between elements of personal and collective memories. Identity photographs I took from my family album are superimposed on archival portraits of both Ethiopian monarchical rulers and everyday people from the past. The superimposition brings forward somewhat of a new being removed further from the original, speaking to not only the fluidity of memory but to the fluidity of identity in the present day as well.

The audience is encouraged to look at the images slowly, as if they navigate between the past and the future, hence staying a nomad in a dreamlike state, between yesterday and tomorrow.

© Maheder Haileselassie - The seduction of memory I
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The seduction of memory I

© Maheder Haileselassie - Image from the Between Yesterday and Tomorrow photography project
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Exploration. A landscape from my first emotional visit to the birthplace of my grandparents superimposed on an engraving of a far away landscape from the 19th century. Oral tales have it that the first settlers of the area where my grandparents and their grandparents were born in are people who came from a region shown in the archive, hundreds of miles away. Currently both places are located in different regions of the country and hence, belong to two different ethnic groups. But they’re interconnected in my mind and I feel part of my identity intertwined between them.

© Maheder Haileselassie - Fluid Identities I
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Fluid Identities I

© Maheder Haileselassie - Image from the Between Yesterday and Tomorrow photography project
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Inside ‘Fasil Gimb’ or the castle of Fasiledes, still standing today as a remembrance of the glory of the emperor and his successors. He’s known for isolating Ethiopia in the 17th century and initiating a no contact period with Europe that lasted two centuries as a consequence of their interference in politics and religion in Ethiopia.

© Maheder Haileselassie - Fluid Identities II
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Fluid Identities II

© Maheder Haileselassie - Exploration I
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Exploration I

© Maheder Haileselassie - Fluid Identities III
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Fluid Identities III

© Maheder Haileselassie - Image from the Between Yesterday and Tomorrow photography project
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The statue of Emperor Menelik made in the memory of the victory of the Battle of Adwa where Ethiopians defeated fascist Italian army against colonialism in the 19th century. The statue was removed during the five years Italian occupation period in 1935 in an attempt to erase the memory of the victory. It was later restored and still stands today at the heart of the capital city as a symbol of our glorious past. However, the statue has recently become a center for conflicting memories of the emperor and intense debates about keeping it or removing it surface from time to time among different groups of Ethiopians.

© Maheder Haileselassie - Image from the Between Yesterday and Tomorrow photography project
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Nostalgia of the Red Sea I. Ethiopians have been trading on the red sea for centuries but in 1992, we lost that privilege to Eritrea. As a result, we effectively become a land locked country and the Red Sea and its stories, a nostalgia embedded in our being that we can’t quite grasp or let go.

© Maheder Haileselassie - Nostalgia of the Red Sea II
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Nostalgia of the Red Sea II

© Maheder Haileselassie - Fluid Identities V
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Fluid Identities V

© Maheder Haileselassie - The seduction of memory II
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The seduction of memory II

© Maheder Haileselassie - Image from the Between Yesterday and Tomorrow photography project
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Adwa, which used to be a trading post for the caravan route to the red sea for centuries and also a significant historical site where Ethiopians defeated the fascist Italian army in the 19th century.

© Maheder Haileselassie - A longing for home
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A longing for home

© Maheder Haileselassie - Fluid Identities VI
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Fluid Identities VI

© Maheder Haileselassie - Fluid Identities
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Fluid Identities

© Maheder Haileselassie - Exploration IV
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Exploration IV

© Maheder Haileselassie - National memories II
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National memories II

© Maheder Haileselassie - Exploration V
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Exploration V

© Maheder Haileselassie - Image from the Between Yesterday and Tomorrow photography project
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National memories III, Shifting identities. Axum Obelisks are a symbol of pride and, a testament to a 3000 years old Ethiopian history. However, during the recent war in Ethiopia, hundreds of residents of the town were brutally executed shifting our memories and outlook forever.

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