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Volume 25, Number 2 — February 2018

Arts Calendar

"Finite Disappointment/Infinite Hope' exhibit at Reece commemorates King, Civil Rights

Date(s):  January 17 - March 23, 2018
Venue: East Tennessee State University
807 University Pky.

Johnson City, TN 37614

JOHNSON CITY "Finite Disappointment/Infinite Hope," an exhibit opening Jan. 17 at East Tennessee State University's Reece Museum, is presented in tribute to and commemoration of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the ongoing quest for justice and racial equality.

Continuing through March 23, this exhibit features the work of contemporary Washington, D.C.-based photographer and ETSU alumnus Gediyon Kifle, providing an innovative and educational retelling of historical narratives from an artist's perspective. An opening reception and curator's talk by Kifle is held Thursday, Jan. 18, from 5-7 p.m. at the Reece Museum.

As the official photographer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., Kifle provides photo documentation not only of this significant space, but also of the leading figures in the Civil Rights movement, including Mohammad Ali, Dr. Maya Angelou, Rep. John Lewis and others. He has been involved with the process for the past 16 years, from the initial concept and proposal phase through fundraising and construction to the dedication and beyond.

"Finite Disappointment/Infinite Hope" is composed of three elements photography, sound and architectural installation that Kifle says are meant to inspire viewers by reflecting King's principles of love, justice, democracy and hope.

Portraits of Civil Rights leaders with gazes of determination and postures of empowerment will be suspended from the ceiling to greet viewers as they enter the gallery. Images of anonymous, common folks whose lives are intertwined with historical events will be on display, as well.

Music playing in the background throughout the exhibit will include hymns and songs from the Civil Rights era, as well as contemporary tunes with social justice themes.

The exhibition gallery also contains an installation piece, an enclosed space fashioned as the inside of a voting booth. The idea for this, Kifle says, came from a conversation with a mentor during an election season a few years ago in which they reflected on how "you don't really know what the conscious and sub-conscious of an individual is ... until the curtain's closed and that person speaks their mind by ballot."

"This invites viewers to enter and reflect on private perceptions of justice, hope, love and democracy," he says.

Kifle, a native of Ethiopia, was raised in Washington, D.C., and came to ETSU, where he earned his degree in mass communication with a minor in photography. While at ETSU, he was the first recipient of the university's Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Grant and worked as a photographer in the Office of University Relations. A portfolio of his study on interracial relationships in the Tri-Cities is among the collections in the Archives of Appalachia in ETSU's Center for Appalachian Studies and Services.

Kifle's photography is featured in "The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa," a 2006 book he created in collaboration with Marcus Samuelsson. This book, which has been translated into three languages and includes a foreword by Desmond Tutu, takes the reader from the fields and markets to the kitchen and finally the family table.

Kifle calls "Finite Disappointment/Infinite Hope" "a journey through my eyes as a photographer."

"Hearing these stories first-hand has really educated me, and led me to question life, philosophy, religion, humanity," he says. "Since I left ETSU, I've traveled to probably 20 countries, some exotic ... I've seen some human catastrophe, human suffering. So I think photography has really been a tool for me to understand my humanity, but also the triumphant, the beauty, the horror. All this combined has really been intertwined with the visual journey."

The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. Regular Reece Museum hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, call the museum at 423-439-4392 or visit For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

Topics: Art, Exhibits

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