Emphasizing the collapse and subsequent mixture of languages, Invernomuto blends popular rituals and symbols from folklore and urban culture, working in moving language, sound, and installation. Presented at Artspeak is an instalment of their ambitious Negus project, initiated in 2011. The project is an expanded documentary that mixes various languages, ranging from classic documentary to esoteric fictional mise-en-scène. Negus is based on a historical event dating back to the Italian occupation of Ethiopia and traces an imaginary line linking Invernomuto’s hometown of Vernasca, Italy, to Ethiopia and Jamaica.
Taking up Invernomuto’s interest in the reinterpretation of screens and systems for diffusing images, Negus amalgamates historical fact, cultural ghosts, and political scenes from the past with music and performance rites of obscure traditional origins. Negus begins with a wounded soldier’s return to Vernasca from Ethiopia in 1936. To celebrate, the local community organized a festive but sinister ritual, burning an effigy of the Ethiopian King Haile Selassie I in the town square. The project focuses on Selassie, the last Negus of Ethiopia and a messianic figure for the Rastafarian cult that developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. Initially biographical, the narrative widens to incorporate multiple viewpoints, in particular critical moments in Italy’s colonial history and the symbolism of Rastafarian tradition. Related personalities make appearances, including Lee “Scratch” Perry, a seminal musician in the reggae and club tradition.
Originating as a film project, Negus has grown to incorporate installation and sculpture. Invernomuto will integrate symbols from the visual landscape of Ethiopian history—symbols that acquire new meaning within the social, political, and religious context of the Rastafarian movement—combined with mementos and materials from personal archives. The project confronts colonial rhetoric, repositioning it within a complex grid of movements that crisscross temporalities and geographies that perhaps are not as distant as they seem.