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Twofold is a series of works by Belleville-based artist Emebet Belete on Shemma, featuring Amharic, English and French songs transliterated into one another. An Ethiopian hand-woven cotton fabric, often with a coloured border design, Shemma is used in Ethiopia as a shawl, with the traditional cloth worn by both men and women. As a result of the artist’s perceptions when living and thinking in more than one language, the project explores how language is both separate and shared, in relation to how it becomes part of our cultural heritage, personal experience, and the lens through which we see the world. Works on Shemma is an exploration of these visions of language.
Written language has been a component of my artwork since my first exhibitions in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Amharic has its own script, its own beauty, and Ethiopian cultural heritage includes illustrated manuscripts from hundreds of years ago. The songs that I’ve chosen for Twofold have had a different impact on me as part of my personal journey. Each song is written with white acrylic, with English and French songs presented in Amharic, and Amharic songs using the Latin alphabet. How I viewed language necessarily changed when I came to Canada. Amharic is a phonetic script, useful in transliterating works from other languages, and accessible with a language key. For myself as an immigrant, studying French, and later art at Queen’s University, Amharic was particularly useful in writing down vocabulary.