introductory remarks

As the director of the Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology (Frankfurt, Germany), I consider it a great honour for the institute to participate in an exhibition that has been created in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Äthiopien in Addis Ababa. This is the fourth photo exhibition in Ethiopia in which photographs from our archive have been shown, and this time the topic is particularly relevant to me as an anthropologist, exploring as it does hair or, as the beautiful title of the exhibition reads, The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia.

From an anthropological point of view, the study of hair offers a particularly versatile approach to comparing and understanding different societies. Hair belongs to us as individuals, but it is always shaped by the norms of the society in which we live. For example, we usually treat our head hair differently from our body hair, and gender ideas almost always play a role in how we style our hair. Our hair marks the boundary between our bodies and the outside world in which we move and participate in other people’s lives. Through the length, colour and style of our hair, we might indicate our social status to others, telling them, for example, whether we are married (or not) or whether we hold certain religious or political offices.

The concrete styles and meanings of hair are subject to changing fashions that people use to distinguish themselves: young from old, men from women, one ethnic group or class from another. This dimension of change is beautifully expressed in the sixty-two photographs that the Frobenius Institute has contributed to the exhibition. Dating from the years between 1934 and 1972, the photos were taken in Southern Ethiopia by former staff members of the institute, including A.E. Jensen, Eike Haberland, Elisabeth Pauli, Ulrich Braukämper, Willy Schulz-Weidner and Werner Lange. They show the range of styles as well as their continuities and changes over time.

This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to show these photos, together with many other documents, in the Addis Ababa Museum. Putting together such an exhibition under the constraints of a pandemic has been particularly challenging, and I am very glad that we succeeded despite the adverse circumstances. For this, I would like to thank all those involved, but especially the curator, Abel Assefa, from the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, Sophia Thubauville, anthropologist from the Frobenius Institute, Peter Steigerwald, head of the Frobenius Institute’s photo archive, and Judit Benjamin, who supported the exhibition as an intern. My thanks also go to the Frobenius Society for their generous funding of the printing of the catalogue, and Special thanks are extended to Kay Celtel for the wonderful copy editing. I hope that the artistry and beauty of these hairstyles inspire many interesting insights into the past and present cultural worlds of Southern Ethiopia.

Prof. Dr. Roland Hardenberg

Director  Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt am Main

The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia exhibition marks Goethe-Institut Äthiopien’s second collaboration with the Frobenius Institute since 2019. However, the exhibition is by no means the first time the Goethe-Institut Äthiopien has focused on photography, documentation and archiving in relation to ideas of memory, representation and cultural identity. The foundations for the collaboration were built on previous projects and initiatives, such as the Centers of Learning for Photography in Africa (CLPA) network, the Center for Photography in Ethiopia and the Shoa: A Geographical Passion touring project.

The concept for The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia exhibition itself was born out of the Baxxe Home project. As part of that project, photographer Maheder Hailesellasie and heritage expert Abel Assefa were invited to the Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology in Frankfurt, Germany. During their visits in March and May 2019, they were able to access the institute’s photographic archives and artefacts collected from Southern Ethiopia by German anthropologists throughout the twentieth century.

It was following the Baxxe Home exhibition in late 2019 that the idea for The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia emerged. The project involved selecting photographs of people and their hairstyles documented by German anthropologists during excursions to Southern Ethiopia, namely but not limited to areas such as Gedeo, the Konso Mountains and South Omo regions between 1934 and 1971, with the purpose of exhibiting them with their original captions to encourage reflection on those expeditions. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to critically analyse, with the help of experts on the topic, the objectives and methodologies of the expeditions to Ethiopia that took place between the 1930s and the 1970s – a period in German history marked by the rise and fall of National Socialism and the Nazi Party, with its racial ideology, the Second World War and the post-war period. The project is also timely in that it intersects with current discussions in Europe and Africa on topics such as decolonisation.

Following the completion of the exhibition in Addis Ababa, the Goethe-Institut Äthiopien, together with the Frobenius Institute and their partners, will explore whether the exhibits can be moved permanently to Jinka, Ethiopia and how the outcomes of the work can be made available online.

Dr. Petra Raymond


Goethe-Institut Äthiopien in Addis Ababa

Ammanuel Felleke

Cultural Programmes Officer

Goethe-Institut Äthiopien in Addis Ababa

It is a pleasure for me to say a few words on behalf of Jinka University (JKU) as one of the institutions collaborating in the fourth photo exhibition organised by the Frobenius Institute (Germany) and Goethe-Institut Äthiopien in Addis Ababa.

JKU is one of eleven fourth generation Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) established in Ethiopia in 2017 with the mission of producing undergraduate graduates in various disciplines. JKU’s young age notwithstanding, its first batch of undergraduate students graduated in June 2021 and it has been actively involved in research and in the local community, building up the capacity of its staff and reaching the surrounding community through multiple engagements.

Over the past four years JKU has also been connecting with similar HEIs in and out of the country and stakeholders in all walks of life to develop its strategic focus, determine the direction of growth of its academic programmes, and strengthen its collaboration with leading institutes all over the world. In this, our participation in The Wax and Gold of Hairstyle in Ethiopia has been enormously beneficial. It has given us the opportunity to work with international partners in the form of the Frobenius Institute in Germany and the Goethe-Institut Äthiopien in Addis Ababa and has opened up new avenues for further joint endeavours in the area of culture. It is already the second photo exhibition developed in cooperation with these two partners to be shown at the South Omo Research Center. Some of the photographs that researchers from the Frobenius Institute took in the South Omo region in the first half of the twentieth century were featured in the 2011 Where Women Smoke and Banana Trees Grown No Fruit exhibition.

JKU’s participation in these photo exhibitions is particularly relevant given that the photographs included were taken by German anthropologists who travelled as far south as the Lower Omo Valley from the 1930s to 1970s. As such, they are rare testimonies of this time and place. Making these photographs accessible at their place of origin is one of the reasons why the exhibition organisers have generously decided to have the photographs exhibited at the South Omo Research Center of JKU after the end of the exhibition in Addis Ababa.

Finally, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Sophia Thubauville, a former director of the South Omo Research Center (SORC) and one of the organisers of the exhibition, for inviting JKU to be part of the exhibition together with the Goethe-Institut Äthiopien in Addis Ababa.

Dr Elias Alemu Bedasso

Vice President for Research and Community Services (VPRCS)

Jinka University (JKU)