people the We

Adrian Aguilera & Betelhem Makonnen

M.F.A. '25, Cornell AAP; M.F.A., School of Art Institute of Chicago

A native of Ethiopia, Betelhem Makonnen is an artist living in Austin, TX, with an MFA from the School of Art Institute of Chi­cago and a BA in History and Literature of Africa/African Diaspora from UT Austin. Her work in photography, video, installation and writing is shown nationally and internationally – including Women & Their Work, The Contemporary Austin, The Philbrook Museum of Art, Big Medium, Le Musée des Abattoirs, and The Carver Museum, with performances and screenings at The Blanton Museum, IVAHM, and Casa Daros. Her work has been featured in a variety of publications including Artforum, NYT, Frieze, Hyperallergic, Zoetrope, O Menelick 2º Ato, Revista Lampejo, and Glasstire. In addition to her practice, she co-organizes Addis Video Art Festival, a platform for video art in Ethiopia, and is a co-founding member of the Austin-based arts collective Black Mountain Project.

Born in Mexico’s industrial capital of Monterrey, Adrian Aguilera immigrated as a young adult to the U.S. where he settled in Austin, Texas in late 2000s. He received his BFA (2004) from The Autonomous University of Nuevo León, México. Working with a variety of mediums that include sculpture, text-based work, print media, video public art, and installations, he researches the intrinsical essence that resides in objects. With an interest in scientific observation, cultural history, and social issues, Aguilera’s work aboard our relationship with the physical and cultural spaces in which we (co)exist. He has exhibited both nationally and internationally at The Philbrook Museum, The Contemporary Austin, Artpace San Antonio, the Fusebox Festival, The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, The George Washington Carver Museum, and The Instituto Cultural de México in Paris, France. His work has been featured in a variety of publications including Artforum, New York Times, Frieze, Artnet, Art in America, Vogue, and Glasstire. In addition to his practice, he is an active member of the Austin-based contemporary arts collaborative Black Mountain Project. He currently lives in Ithaca, NY.

people the We is a collaborative exhibition by artists Adrian Aguilera and Betelhem Makonnen of works that cultivate their continuous curiosity about the relationship between symbols and collective identity, transnationality and diaspora perspectives, and history’s inextricable hold on the present. The collection of works – reimagined US flag, video installations, and a large wall vinyl – conflate the past with the future and the analog with the digital delving into foundational discussion of American citizenship. Who belongs and who doesn’t? Whose dreams are whose nightmares? How can notions of nationhood be projected as a process rather than a settled thing, place, or entity? Can symbols prone to discovery, conquest, and subjugation be reimagined as instruments for new forms of social constructions and thus the creation of futures that acknowledge the personhood of all citizens?

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