1 June 2007 to 13 July 2007
198 Contemporary Arts & Learning
Only five years after emerging from a 30-year independence war in 1993, Eritrea found itself at war yet again with its old adversary Ethiopia. The 1998 – 2001 war, nominally sparked by an unresolved border, decimated both countries’ infrastructure and populations, and ingrained a permanent state of hostility.
Since 2001 Eritrean society has been hovering in a limbo, stuck between war and peace. Limbo documents a precarious existence premised on the permanent threat of war and a historically anachronistic obsession with self-sufficiency.
Evolving outside of the Western concepts of History and progress, inherited from the philosophy of Enlightenment, life in contemporary Eritrea is lived not for the present but for an imagined future too far to be grasped. Meanwhile the past, a self-enclosed, romanticised narrative of national self-determination, casts a pervasive shadow.
Incorporating a strong emotional narrative, Admas Habteslasie’s strangely beautiful and atmospheric photographs represent an external landscape paradoxically juxtaposing unhealed wounds and fierce optimism; destruction and construction exist side by side. The past is maimed, the future is bright. The present, meanwhile, exists in a state of physical and psychological arrested development. In a universe where the living is still, movement is static and time is immobile, Admas Habteslasie’s photographs, contemplative and carefully detailed, like the descriptive prose of Marcel Proust, recall the sense of light, observation and the pastel colors of Claude Le Lorrain and J.M.W Turner.
The overtly personal manner in which Admas Habteslasie documents today’s Eritrea purposefully contrasts with the assumptions of objectivity that documentary photography traditionally carries. This dichotomy between subjective meaning and “objective” style questions the implicit trust placed in the ‘realistic’ style of photojournalism, and to a wider extent, the unilateral ‘objectivity’ which characterises the representation of Africa in the West, across a wide range of media, from news stories to charity appeals.
Admas Habteslasie graduated from the MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication in 2005. He has exhibited at Flowers East (Photo-London, The Living is Easy, both in 2006) and his work has been recently published in Source Magazine.