The Art 404 exhibition design class designed the exhibit Bareedina: Women of Oromia, based on their art history professor’s dissertation.
Dr. Peri Klemm traveled to Ethiopia as a graduate student to conduct research for her dissertation. The question turned out to be why women who were so poor spent so much time and energy on the arts of the body, which included hairstyles, tattoos, dress, jewelry and generally the ensemble of things that make up body art.
“The Oromo are the ethnic majority within Ethiopia but they have lived under Ethiopian imperial rule,” Klemm said. “It is within this context, where issues of identity are crucial, that women’s costume in Oromia becomes especially important.”
In the Afaan Oromo language, Bareedina refers to the state of being beautiful, Klemm said.
“I realized that for an Oromian woman, her personal arts are very important for a variety of reasons,” Klemm said. “They communicate something about her age, her religion, her occupation, what political affiliation she holds and most importantly her identity as an Oromio.”
Klemm added that it’s through language, culture and art that they maintain a sense of themselves.
“Women’s bodies become a really important canvas for Oromo identity and Oromo expression,” Klemm said.
She said she took the photos in the exhibit to document what women are doing with their bodies.
Joan Klemm, Peri’s aunt, said she thought the photographs are beautiful.
“I knew of her travels, but I had never been acquainted with her photos,” Joan said. “The people themselves are very beautiful. The way people decorated themselves even through their poverty is just amazing.”
Peri added that the exhibit is very accessible and at the same time very different.
Julie Moss, a grad student in art history, said she doesn’t think a lot of students get to see the end result of their research.
“Of course it’s a beautiful exhibit, the way they have it arranged, but also being able to have them see the fruition of the work and their studies, that to me is what’s unique about it,” said Moss, 42.
Peri Klemm said students chose the photos, designed the exhibit, created a website and a catalogue.
“The catalogue is wonderful,” Peri Klemm said. “It makes you really remember what you’ve seen. In the peace and quiet of your own home, you can get to know the people a little more.”
Monica Tobon, art history major, was involved in telling people about the exhibit.
“We work as more of a team than a class,” Tobon said. “All of us do something different.”
Peri Klemm said the guest speaker, Mardaasa Addisu, is an Oromo activist she met at a conference a couple years ago.
“He has continued to promote the love and generosity of the Oromos,” Peri Klemm said. “He continues to inspire me.”
Addisu is involved in the organization Macha Tulama, which helps Oromo people improve their health care, education and even what it means to be Oromo.
In the last few months, he said he has been active in helping Oromian refugees.
“Being recognized as Oromo was a challenge,” Addisu said. “They were all lumped into Ethiopian.”
Marathon runners are having the same identity issue, he added. Oromian runners are still considered Ethiopian and Addisu said he is trying to help them to be recognized as Oromo.
Addisu said he has been working on a pollution project for the last four years because many have died from it in Oromia.
No one enforces the environmental protection law and Addisu said the EPA director said enforcing the policy is extreme.
The Bareedina: Women of Oromia exhibit will be at the West Gallery until May 5.