Eyakem Gulilat: Mother’s Prayer
I have been following Eyakem Gulilat’s work for a number of years, sharing it in my classes, and appreciating his use of photography to examine and consider who he is and where he came from. Much of Eyakem’s work is based in self-portraiture, exploring identity and nationality, place and home, and an immigrant’s quest for rootedness. Originally from Ethiopia, Eyakem’s work is a quest for belonging and focuses on the complexities of cross-cultural encounter, perceptions of time, memory, and place. Today, we feature Mother’s Prayer as a continuation of Eyakem’s consideration of identity. His work will be shown at the Kemper Museum pf Contemporary Art in St Louis, in the exhibition, The Center is a Moving Target: If You Lived T(here) that opens September 4th and runs throught January 16th, 2016.
Gulilat obtained a BA from Abilene Christian University and MFA from the University of Oklahoma. He was selected as an artist in residence at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, New York and at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon. Gulilat has won several awards including the Oklahoma Visual Arts Fellowship and the National Photography Fellowship Competition at Midwest Center for Photography. Along with the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, he is a recipient of the 2012 National Endowment for the Arts grant. He was selected as an awardee for En Foco’s New Works Photography Fellowship Awards #18, 2014-2015. awardeewww.eyakem.com
How does our memory influence our present interaction with an unfamiliar environment? How do we interpret a new place, and what is the connection between our memories and the present?
The gap between my present self and my childhood mirrors the geographical separation between my physical location in America and my childhood home in Ethiopia. I have struggled to describe for others a heritage and homeland I have long been distanced from. My desire through the project, Mother’s Prayer, is to make sense of these gaps and to rewrite my narrative into the current landscape I inhabit.
The images are rooted in what I remember most growing up in Nazareth, Ethiopia in the 1980’s. The traditional Ethiopian clothing helps illicit a response within me and a visual cue to scenes from my childhood: women carrying firewood, men chewing khat, children paying soccer, and believers uttering prayers. The clothing acts as a time machine, transporting me back to my childhood where I am playing with tires or looking for a lost friend. I re-enact my memories using my current location as a backdrop. The result is a surreal aesthetic that challenges the authenticity of place. Where are these photos taken? Who is out of place here? Is this home?
Behind a mother’s prayer is a very wishful and well meaning desire for her son. This project portrays the nostalgia one feels for home, but also the nurturing and hopeful connection one has to the land he or she inhabits.
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