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MATA SEMAY

Mata Semay is a new body of work by Tariku Shiferaw, which first developed during his Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2018. Mata Semay (Amharic for “night skies”) is a fully immersive installation composed of paintings, sculptures, sound, and video. This series addresses the concept of mark-making and erasure using mythology as a way to take up space. Because of its invisibility – mythology infiltrates people’s perceptions clandestinely and subtly, shaping minds and behavior through mass cultural phenomena. Mata Semay is an imagining of what the night sky could be if Black people’s contributions – both past and future – were considered part of the global narrative. 

The first iteration of this series, A Strange Place to Cast Our Dreams, debuted in a group exhibition, You’d Think By Now, curated by Rachel Steinberg at Smack Mellon, in June 2022.

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With Spectacular Installations and Abstractions, Artists Redress Colonial Violence and History

written by Ayanna Dozier

A Strange Place to Cast Our Dreams is the first exhibited work from Shiferaw’s latest series “Mata Semay” (Amharic for “night skies”), and features seven towering 24-by-8-foot canvas panels, several ceramic crates that resemble wood, and a 23-minute audio featuring musical compositions from across the African diaspora. Shiferaw painted the colossal A Strange Place to Cast Our Dreams paintings over an eight-month period at the artist’s studio space at Silver Arts Projects at the World Trade Center and at the New York City Culture Club.

The abstract canvases feature deep purple, blue, and black hues that evoke a nacreous night sky. On top, Shiferaw has layered precise geometric patterns that resemble star constellations. Shiferaw believes that abstraction can teach audiences to examine culture, telling Artsy that “by casting the constellations as ideas of history rather than a fact, I could examine how those ideas are passed down and inform other cultures and more thoroughly engage in the rich cultural exchange between Ethopians and Black Americans.” 

Many Western audiences don’t know that Dogon's star constellations predate Western Greek constellations by several thousand years. “Mata Semay” provokes them to reconsider what the West considers a scientific “discovery,” while disregarding Eastern ideas and advancements. A Strange Place to Cast Our Dreams advances a quiet, nuanced political argument, thinking about the geographical and cultural contours of Blackness—and its previously overlooked understandings of the universe... read more on Artsy.

studio to installation

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Images courtesy of 

Smack Mellon