Daniela Yohannes: I Surrender My Body to Water and Fire

Addis Fine Art Gallery, London, United Kingdom
21 Jan 2022 - 19 Feb 2022

Daniela Yohannes, I Surrender my Body to Water and Fire, 2022. Courtesy of Lucy Emms

Daniela Yohannes, I Surrender my Body to Water and Fire, 2022. Courtesy of Lucy Emms

Addis Fine Art presents I Surrender My Body to Water and Fire, a solo show of new paintings by Ethiopian- Eritrean artist Daniela Yohannes.

Yohannes’ latest body of work is a response to contemporary migration discourse, rendered through a personal, emotive, and Diasporic lens, and meditates on issues surrounding politics of place, freedom of movement, and the desperate actions people take to survive. The artist explores the hardship of a severed connection with homeland and community, while also confronting the devastating impact of treacherous migratory journeys. These paintings bear particular witness to the perils of the Eritrean people, with whom she shares an identity and a homeland.

Yohannes has stated that observing these events from afar “would trigger in me a physical response to the hostilities and violence, creating an intense fear that would overtake me.” These emotions would surface in the quiet, stillness, and darkness of the night. As she lay awake, her body would speak through dreams and nightmares. Nights would transform into voyages where Yohannes would be transported into the middle of the sea, submerged into the depths of the ocean, or lost in an arid desert – both observing and in action, simultaneously the migrant and the bystander. For example, I Surrender My Body to Water and Fire, the artwork that inspired the exhibition title, portrays a single figure fleeing from the flames.

In both fury and despair, Yohannes has watched as the media presents images and stories that reinforce the notion of otherness and feed the rhetoric of nativism, divisively reinforcing a denial of humanity by presenting the migrant as an inconvenience, or a potential danger to Europe and the broader Western world. In parallel, her work reveals herself as a central figure who calls into question her reality and physical environment. When all that she represents is under attack, her very existence is presented as inconsequential.

A recent move into film has seen Yohannes anchor these themes in the tensions of her real world surroundings. Yohannes currently lives and works in Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean and the country’s terrain has provided rich means to consider her body and consciousness, the survival stories of displaced people, and atopia (the title of her film trilogy) – the inhospitable environment where society cannot be built. The exhibition will feature a screening of one of the films in the trilogy titled, The Homeless Wanderer.

Together, these latest paintings and video works reflect upon the racialised movement and conditional belonging of the African diaspora, and constitute a journey, a protest, and a declaration of hope.




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