Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart by Elias Sime

photo from

When I walked into the Santa Monica Museum of Art, I didn't expect to be so affected by what was inside. Two friends and I decided to take in the exhibit when we found out that LACMA was closed that day. We had been looking forward to exploring the new contemporary building there, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. Instead, we were delighted by the powerful exhibit Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart by Elias Sime.

photo by Cami

The exhibit was "co-curated by Meskerem Assegued, a revered Ethiopian curator and anthropologist, and visionary theater, opera, and multi-disciplinary arts impresario, Peter Sellars, is comprised of more than 100 works in a variety of mediums, scale, and forms."
- quoted text from How interesting! The exhibition hall was spacious and open, with many sculptures of various sizes found in the center.

the artist, Elias Sime. photo from LA Times
These sculptures were along the back wall if I remember correctly.

I was immediately drawn to the intricate, wall-mounted works. What at a distance appeared to be a blank canvas, upon close inspection was revealed to be a painstakingly hand-embroidered, abstract work of art. There were subtle variations in color and it was calming to look it. To me, it evoked waves, or swirls. It's hard to put into words the feeling I got. I felt comforted, protected, and understood- just looking at the first work.

Here's a more representational piece that illustrates the calm waves in the upper half of the work.
photo from

In the lower right-hand corner of almost every work was a flattened bottle cap, with holes poked all along the edges, sewn onto the fabric. My friend speculated that it was possibly a signature of sorts.
What is Love?-1 (2007) photo from

Finding transcendent beauty in ordinary and found objects was a recurrent theme throughout the exhibit.
This work is made of clothes, paper, peanuts, and oil paint. photo from

If this were a local exhibit, I would have returned over and over to stare at the hypnotic works, think about the time and vision it took to create, and draw inspiration. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any pictures inside of the exhibit, but I'm glad I got to share these images I found on the web with you.

Mewled (2006) photo from

It's hard to choose a favorite from these phenomenal pieces, but I loved the vividly-colored mosaic of sorts made of hundreds of gorgeous buttons sewn into an abstract pattern on the canvas. I was touched by the piece. It's significant to use buttons in art, as they represent the garments that they were once a part of, and by extention, the people who once loved those garments. In a way, these buttons, sewn together on this canvas, were a testimony to their lives, and how interconnected we all are whether we realize it or not. Sime himself was quoted as saying "they have a story. Like the old buttons I use in my work, I can feel the people who wore them." (

The other impressive part of the exhibit was the curation. The curators chose to include a varied body of work, almost a retrospective of this artist's life's work. One could certainly see a progression in the works, and also appreciate the variety of mediums.

This is an example of one of the many sculptural pieces. photo from

The exhibit also included a technological component. Patrons were able to see the artist's hometown of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia through a video projection. The video speed could be controlled with a touch, allowing patrons to scan the video carefully, or simply watch at normal speed. There was also a video of the curators and the artist, so one could follow the creative processes and even peek into the artist's home. It was clear even before the video that community and environment were strong influences for Sime. One of the coolest parts was when they showed him mixing mud and straw to build up a column on his house. His hands molded the base material into something visually interesting and incredibly useful. It was the same material used to make all the little figures that lined the floor. (As seen in the third picture above.)

I wish I could go back. I wish I could own every work. Yet, alas, I will have to settle for my memories now. Watch out for this artist- he's amazing. And if you ever get the chance to see his work- GO!

For other perspectives on the work of Elias Sime, click here.