Theo Eshetu (b. 1958, London) is an artist who lives and works in Berlin.
Trip to Mount Zuqualla (2005) is a video installation (a complex three-channels projection) of a pilgrimage shot in Ethiopia. Mount Zuqualla is an extinct volcano in the Oromia region. Both the mountain and its lake are considered holy to both Christians and the once-pagan Oromo – the single largest ethnicity in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa – who live nearby. The lake in the crater has an island monastery that is the site of a biannual festival. The ambivalent attitude towards the holiness of the mountain is seen in the Oromo proverb: ‘Those who live far away worship it, those who live nearby plough it.’
Eshetu’s video documents the dialogue and coexistence of two belief systems: each year pilgrims come together to celebrate the moment of conversion from Animism to Christianity. With respectful distance and intimacy, Eshetu depicts the religious ceremonies of both parties, whose high point generates the celebration of the coming together of both groups. The accompanying soundtrack is composed of hip hop, religious songs, and a Bach symphony to underline the differences and similarities of both pilgrim groups.
A Coptic religious procession in the hills of Ethiopia is presented as a soulful, spiritual experience that is suddenly interjected by the beat of urban rap music. When the hypnotic effect of religious chimes gives way to harsh street music, we are inspired to consider the stark contrast between deep-rooted religious traditions and the world of hip hop and rap.
Eshetu creates an intense visual effect by presenting the film in a multiscreen format, thus enhancing the play between different colours and patterns. As viewers, the overlapping and repeating images gesture towards the hybrid experience of many diasporic artists around the world. The film highlights the intersection between past and present, the religious and the secular, the ancestral and the everyday – the meeting point between two distinct cultures.