Created by the Ethiopian contemporary artist Elias Sime as part of an installation piece, a selecha
is a stuffed goatskin vessel ornamented with colorful plastic stitches. Purple, red, orange, white, yellow, black, and green web-printed zip cord have been stitched to the hide, giving the all-over effect of ribbons tossed onto the surface. Colorful and precise, the even stitches and sharp edges of this textured plastic contrast with the naturally cured goat hide. While the plastic is opaque and solid, the medium-brown skin is textured and subtly toned. The body of the animal has been stuffed, and sealed with a gathered and stitched circle of hide at its rear. A large circular appliqué of hide in the area of the chest covers the heart. While the front legs are also stuffed with straw, jutting from the body at an angle, the back legs dangle as if withered. Small elements—an eye hole at the front, a small patch of remaining fur—hint at the former animal whose hide was first used as a vessel, and later transformed by Sime into a simulacrum of the human experience via the evocation of the senses and emotion.
in the Metropolitan’s collection exemplify his practice of transforming the ephemera of the everyday, eschewing paint in favor of materials found or purchased in local markets. Compared to artists like Marcel Duchamp, who reoriented found objects by placing them in novel environments, the Addis Ababa University School of Fine Art-trained Sime’s work moves beyond pure reposition by dint of his formal skill in sewing and sculpture. In this case, a goat-skin container (selecha
) used to store grain, milk, honey, or other goods becomes a signifier for human expression when ornamented by Sime. Collected over the course of a year by the artist for the multi-media exhibition What is Love?, such once-ubiquitous storage vessels are now scarce and highly valued in Ethiopia. Thus, each selecha
given by an individual to Sime represents a gesture of love, gifted by an individual to the artist in an act that involved overcoming a deep-seated fear that giving away such an object would bring hardship upon one’s family. While part of a group of one-hundred-fifteen such adorned hides, each selecha
is individualized; the varied stitching on the other example in this series in the Metropolitan’s collection (2011.218
) demonstrates the distinct personality given to each work by Sime. Meant to interact with one another when installed—piled together, leaning against one another with arms clasped, or leaning solo against a wall—the works are also meant to engage the human senses of touch and smell in an effort to invoke emotions. Indeed, the untanned hide and straw stuffing retain a deep earthy scent. Of the works, Sime has said: "A selecha
is made from the skin of a goat, representing the human body. It is one body touching another. I used the different languages of love with colours, lines and forms each one telling its on story." (Toggia, Tegegn, and Zegeye 2011, 187–88). The bold colors and meticulously stitched designs of the selechas
are evident in Sime’s assemblages in other media, including Tightrope 5.1 (2016.38
), where brightly-hued electrical wires cover every inch of the backing panel.
Kristen Windmuller-Luna, 2016
Sylvan C. Coleman and Pam Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasExhibition History
"Elias Sime: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart." January 24– April 18, 2009, Santa Monica Art Museum, CA
"What is Love?" Alliance Ethio-Française Gallery, Addis Ababa. April 2008Published References
Toggia, Pietro Stefano., Melakou Tegegn, and Abebe Zegeye. Ethiopia in Transit: Millennial Quest for Stability and Continuity
. London: Routledge, 2011.
Dayton, Jonathan and Valerie Faris (2009). Elias Sime: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart at the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA)
. https://vimeo.com/48912471Further Reading
Assegued, Meskerem. "The Historical Background and the Current State of Contemporary Art in Ethiopia." 2003.
Klemm, Peri M. "Reviewed Work: Elias Sime: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart
." African Arts
43, no. 1 (2010): 84–85.