North America

Helina Metaferia
The Willing (Sharjah)

By Way of Revolution is a series of works by Helina Metaferia that addresses the inherited histories of protest that inform contemporary social movements. In the project, Metaferia works intrinsically with female descendants of prominent historical black activists to produce video art; with women of color organizations to produce socially engaged work; with “radicalism” archives and performance stills to produce works on paper and tapestries; and with museum, gallery, and public spaces to produce participatory performances.

Tapestry (Gewel) (2023) is one of a series of tapestries that are all subtitled with names of traditional storytellers from across the African continent. The hand stitched patchwork of images echoes African-American quilting traditions, which historically have centered storytelling and community building amongst women. Tapestry (Gewel) includes silk screened archives of American civil rights protests, scanned from library archives, specifically, photographs by Bettye Lane from Crown Heights Demonstration for Black Civil Rights (1978) and the Black Civil Rights Demonstration (1979) in Brooklyn, New York, from the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Harvard University Radcliffe Institute. The tapestries become activated during the artist’s documented performance entitled The Willing where they are worn as regalia to adorn the female performers. During the performance she engages in song, movement, and text, to share the story of five generations of women in her family who participated in defiant actions against colonization, racial, and patriarchal oppression in Ethiopia and the United States. For Metaferia, the video of the performance is integral to the broader resonance of the tapestries.

Helina Metaferia is an interdisciplinary artist working across collage, assemblage, video, performance, and social engagement. The daughter of Ethiopian activist immigrants unable to return home after their studies because of the political situation, with a mother who led a nonprofit organization advocating for the rights of Ethiopian women, raised a Black person of the diaspora in the US, Metaferia’s biography plays an important role in her practice, which asks broadly where does history and revolution live? She proposes it lives in archives, genealogies, canons, and oral histories, but also in bodies, acts of reunion, in holding trauma and joy, in dreaming.