Prints of the Month | November 2019 | Endale Desalegn

by Hagen Gersie

There is no logo for capitalism. While communism is easily recognised by the infamous hammer and sickle, there is no one symbol standing in for capitalism. It easily could be a single-use plastic fork, though, if you think about it.

Plastic cutlery is one of the top polluters of our oceans and environments. You use them once, then throw them away: a perfect symbol for the I-want-it-now-and-do-not-care-what-happens-later consumerism of our times.

In November, the Prints of the Month focus exactly on this topic. Titled Social Structures I and II (available as a set), they both include an image of a fork; one complete and confronted with a yellow line, one with broken-off teeth. Their creator, Ethiopian artist Endale Desalegn, completed the works in 2015 as part of a residency at David Krut Projects in Johannesburg. They form part of a larger boy of work that was exhibited in the show Two Social Pacifiers, in which Endale meditated on two economic and social systems – communism and capitalism – in relation to Ethiopia’s communist history and capitalist present.

Social Structures I, 2015. Monotype. 40.5 x 32 cm.
Social Structures II, 2015. Monotype. 40.5 x 32 cm.

The prints are a profound meditation on the ways we perceive everyday objects in light of the social structures that dictate how we relate to the world.

By deploying familiar but abstracted social signifiers in these prints, this contemplative and compelling work invites the viewer to construct one’s own narrative of free association within a contemporary context where consumerism has become inextricably bound up with notions of freedom and identity.

The fusion of spiritual and material concerns in Endale’s work reflects his perception that Ethiopian culture and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church are intricately interlinked. In contemporary consumerist times, however, we are losing this connection. For Endale, interpretation and feeling are uppermost, while form operates as a trigger for meaning.

The monotype series of forks best exemplifies this relationship as a simple, universal form is used to represent states of human inequality under capitalist and communist systems.

Related posts about Endale and his works below: