Written by: Mark Jenkins Eric Gottesman
When he lived in Ethiopia, D.C. artist Eric Gottesman learned about Baalu Girma, author of the novel “Oromay.” Girma was “disappeared” almost 30 years ago, apparently because his book criticized the military government that then ran the country.
The photographs in Gottesman’s “One Needs to Listen to the Characters One Creates” represent two narratives: the novel’s first chapter (in large-format color vignettes) and Girma’s last days (in small black-and-white Polaroids). There’s also a short video in which a barber transforms the look of a man who’s reading from “Oromay,” accompanied by a song by Debo Band, the Boston Ethio-pop group.
The photos are skillfully made, carefully composed and suitably ominous, like stills from a real-life film noir. “Oromay” may be Girma’s principal legacy, but Gottesman’s project places author and book in a wider context.