Fine Art Photography Daily

Eyakem Gulilat

The saying, home is where the heart is, is not necessarily true. Home is where we connect to our identities and feel rooted to the world. The question is, is it where we come from or where we are are now? And what if we live in a place that doesn’t reflect the way we look, our influences, or culture? Eyakem Gulilat was born in Ethiopia and raised in Kenya until his family moved to the US in 1996 right after he finished high school. Eyakem’s family came through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a congressionally mandated program which draws up to 55,000 diversity visas annually from a random selection of individuals who meet strict eligibility requirements and who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. Since his arrival, he has lived in Michigan, Texas and Oklahoma. “I do not identify any of these places as my home; essentially I am a nomad.”

The pulitzer prize winning photographer from South Africa, Kevin Carter had a profound impact on on Eyakem, specifically his photo of the starving Sudanese girl. He was inspired to become a photojournalist with hopes of telling other people’s stories and recieved his undergraduate degree in Photojournalism and Art, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas. “Since then I have broadened my perspective and now embrace photography as an expressive art form. ” He recieved his MFA in Media Art/Photography, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is a long was from Ethiopia and this great divide of cultures, landscape, and miles is what Eyakem is exploring with his work and search for self. I am featuring two series, Collaborative Self and My Ethiopian American Self.

Collaborative Self: Photography has been used as a primary tool to document the American West as early as the 19th century; I am using this century old method to explore my presence in America as a “newcomer.” As an Ethiopian Immigrant residing in Oklahoma I choose to explore the landscape its inhabitants and my own Ethiopian identity. The result is a collaborative triptych which blurs the boundaries between American and Ethiopian, photographer and subject.

I extend my Ethiopian identity by inviting my subjects to dress in traditional Ethiopian clothing. The clothing is a metaphor for the exchange of ideas. Not only am I introducing my subjects to a critical component of Ethiopian heritage, but I am also challenging the viewer’s expectations of what it means to be Ethiopian. This project allows me to write myself into the history of the American landscape, but more importantly, this project questions the boundaries that separate us from one another.

My Ethiopian American Self: After the Refugee Act of 1980, a large number of Ethiopians immigrated to America, fleeing political unrest and searching for employment opportunities and a better future. Two decades later, the children of these immigrant families tread life in between Ethiopian and American culture. This project is an exploration into these individuals and the ways they forge a new identity from their American surroundings and their parents’ heritage.

As an Ethiopian immigrant myself, I identify with those trying to make sense of their identity and their presence here in America. For this project I traveled to different cities throughout the United States, photographing these individuals and hearing their stories. These individuals are unique in that they cultivate their Ethiopian heritage, but also assimilate and partake fully in the American culture. This results in misunderstanding, miscommunication and misinterpretation between the two generations. There is a struggle to belong and a challenge to identify oneself. In relationship to their ancestors, their families in Ethiopia and even their parents, these individuals have a completely different perception of who they are.

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