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Square Stories (2010)



A Triptych Video Installation by Salem Mekuria


FORMAT: 3 Quicktime Files

BluRay DVD of 3-in-1
LENGTH: 24:15
Year Released: 2010


Salem Mekuria
Editor: Sarah B. Peck

Part I of a Trilogy

A Triptych Video Installation | By Salem Mekuria

Addis Ababa means New Flower.  Wild daisies and gushing hot springs were what Empress Taitu saw when, in 1886, she descended from the mountains surrounding this valley on which the current Ethiopian capital was built.  Today, little remains of the wild flowers and though the hot springs still flow, they are enclosed in a decrepit public bath.  As I search for these lost images, I return with my camera to a particular square that has seen many events and undergone name changes – Maskal –Revolution-Maskal Square. This film is presented in a triptych format using a 3-screen video installation, composed of footage I have shot in the last 10 years, combined with other material from archives. “SQUARE STORIES” will use the history of the Square as a metaphor for the irrevocable changes the city is currently undergoing.


Maskal Square (Revolution Square, “The Square”), located in the center of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a massive concrete expanse framed by permanent bleachers.  It is the lowest point in Addis Ababa: everything cascades into The Square. Everything big that happens in the city takes place there.  Six major roads converge on The Square; navigating traffic is now its most common activity. 


The Square is also a site of commemoration, anchored by two museums that offer stable, corporealized narratives of the city and the nation. Emperor Menelik first gave the land to his Minister of War Ras Birru, at the end of the 18th C. Emperor Haile Selassie (1930–1974) designated this space as a place for the annual celebration of the finding of the Cross (Maskal) and named it Maskal Sqaure. He led the lighting of the bonfire until he was overthrown in 1974 by the military junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. The square was renamed as Revolution Square and the rallies and the revolutionary celebrations replaced the Maskal bonifire.  In 1991, Mengistu was thrown out and the current leaders reinstated Maskal Square as a place for both religious celebration and secular activities, including protests in 2005 when the peaceful democratic elections turned bloody.


Through the three-channel video installation Square Stories I offers a way of witnessing these multiple, fragmentary histories. It presents Maskal Square both as place and metaphor culled from a childhood in Addis Ababa and the gaze of an American art professor, re-membering the collisions of memories through repeating images and sounds; juxtaposing photographs, standard definition and High Definition digital imagery; and by varying aspect ratios. The triptych format, which refers to Ethiopia’s religious and cultural history, amplifies the contradictions within history, memory, and narration and interrogates the failure of any one story to stand in for the manifold subjectivities that comprise Ethiopian identity and history.

Exhibited as installation: 

2011:  AFRICA: See You, See Me! Beijing and Lagos, Nigeria as part of a touring exhibition organized by Prof. Awam Ampka.

2011: Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, PA, USA

2010:  Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, MA, USA


Projected on single screen:

2014: Catholica Universidad de Santiago, Chile

2013: Lumumbashi Film Festival, Uganda

2011: FilmAfrica, London, UK (on Bluray disc)

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