Ethiopia was one of few African countries that were not colonized during the 1800s. But between 1935 and 1941, the country was occupied by Mussolini’s Italian forces. The photographs Wendimagegn Belete uses in the Revenant series stem from this period and show Ethiopian insurgents clad in traditional costumes.
Belete has vibrantly hand-coloured their already extravagant costumes. The warriors have been photographed from below so that they loom large like heroic statues, and their faces have been completely blackened so that individual facial traits, eyes, mouths, and noses have vanished. The result is that the photographs look less like historical documents and more like mystical images of deities.
The project has first and foremost been motivated by the process of colouring and recreating the old photographs, which turns history into a living, malleable entity. “I believe this says something new and positive about the African history of colonialism,” the artist himself notes. “But at the same time, it is an exploration of my own identity, inheritance, and history.” SJH