In my new body of work, titled Mata Semay, which translates to night skies in Amharic, I explore the concept of claiming stake in unfamiliar territories such as in Outer Space. Space is a unique physical location, which requires our imaginations and theorizations, yet it is only materialized as location-guide and symbols that indicate the proprietorship of those who have the power to name the gods above. Mata Semay engages the slow violent proclivities of colonial language – particularly in how it exclusively projects the image of the dominant culture onto every place and person. There’s unspoken, hierarchical power that is afforded to the society that imposes its colonial language onto everything. The Romans, during their height of power, renamed the months of the year and the known planets. Older civilizations forfeited their advanced knowledge of Astronomy to the Roman Empire, in which, they renamed and took ownership.
In this series, I combine science with historic facts to create a playful alternative reality where the names of the stars and constellations are attributed to historic and fictional figures whose heritage lead back to Africa. In renaming these already renamed celestial objects floating in our skies, one can perhaps escape the omnipresence of subjugation through something as mundane and overlooked as colonial language.
In this VOLTA New York Project titled, Stargazing, each object is named after extraordinary historic figures as well as fictional characters. While names such as Nina Simone and Nelson Mandela require a certain level of seriousness, other names like Prince Akeem introduce contextual humor within this installation. Prince Akeem is a reference to Eddie Murphy’s character played in the 1988 classic film Coming To America, which is the quintessential fictional movie that presented hope within the American Black communities in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The concept of this interactive project is to sit under the stars with great company.
— Tariku Shiferaw, 2019