The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia exhibition marks Goethe-Institut Äthiopien’s second collaboration with the Frobenius Institute since 2019. However, the exhibition is by no means the first time the Goethe-Institut has focused on photography, documentation and archiving in relation to ideas of memory, representation and cultural identity.
The concept for The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia exhibition was born out of the Baxxe ፤ Home project. As part of that project, photographer Maheder Hailesellasie and heritage expert Abel Assefa were invited to the Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology in Frankfurt, Germany. During their visits in March and May 2019, they were able to access the institute’s photographic archives and artefacts collected from Southern Ethiopia by German anthropologists throughout the twentieth century.
It was following the Baxxe ፤ Home exhibition in late 2019 that the idea for The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia emerged. The project involved selecting photographs of people and their hairstyles documented by German anthropologists during excursions to Southern Ethiopia, namely but not limited to areas such as Gedeo, the Konso Mountains and South Omo regions between 1934 and 1971, with the purpose of exhibiting them with their original captions to encourage reflection on those expeditions. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to critically analyse, with the help of experts on the topic, the objectives and methodologies of the expeditions to Ethiopia that took place between the 1930s and the 1970s – a period in German history marked by the rise and fall of National Socialism and the Nazi Party, with its racial ideology, the Second World War and the post-war period. The project is also timely in that it intersects with current discussions in Europe and Africa on topics such as decolonisation.
Following the completion of the exhibition in Addis Ababa, the Goethe-Institut, together with the Frobenius Institute and their partners, will explore whether the exhibits can be moved permanently to Jinka, Ethiopia and how the outcomes of the work can be made available online.