Tsedaye Makonnen, Aberash | አበራሽ | You Give Light and Nefsé Nets’a Mawt’at | ነፍስን ነፃ ማውጣት | Soul is Set Free, 2023. Photo by Joey Kennedy.

Tsedaye Makonnen

Astral Sea: Views

On View: April 25

The Video Viewing Room series presents recent video works and archival recordings. This online initiative revives The Kitchen's longstanding Video Viewing Room—a dedicated space within our buildings from 1975 through the early 1990s.

This Video Viewing Room features the film Astral Sea: Views (2024) by Tsedaye Makonnen, a multidisciplinary artist, curator, researcher and cultural producer whose practice is driven by Black feminist theory, firsthand site-specific research, and ethical social practice techniques.

This presentation is accompanied by an introduction by Tsige Tafesse, 2023-2024 Curatorial Fellow, and an excerpt from a conversation between Makonnen and Tafesse.

Tsedaye Makonnen: Astral Sea: Views is organized by Tsige Tafesse, 2023-2024 Curatorial Fellow.

In Astral Sea: Views, Tsedaye Makonnen brings forth an exploration of resilience, memory, and migration through a series of performances and sculptural activations. Drawing from her heritage and the currents of ecological extraction, xenophobia, and socio-political issues affecting Black communities, Makonnen's work resonates with the narratives of survivors of displacement.

Here, Makonnen shares her journey as a multidisciplinary artist driven by Black feminist theory and her experiences as a daughter of refugees. She describes her artistic and political awakenings, rooted in the complex interplay of growing up in the DMV, enriched by a range of Black influences and a profound sense of community. Her work, she explains, “is an ongoing dialogue between her identities and the discourses of migration.”

In this Video Viewing Room presentation, Makonnen's Astral Sea not only captures the physical crossings within her performances but also the metaphorical crossings of her evolution as an artist. The series is a meditation on collective healing, showcasing her commitment to creating spaces for critical reflection.

Therein, Astral Sea: Views is a mesmerizing examination of Makonnen’s performance art, installation, and filmic practice that invites us to traverse these complex landscapes of history, identity, and transformation.

Tsedaye Makonnen, Astral Sea: Views, 2024. Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

"I started with the first 'Astral Sea', which are a series of blue and black textiles adorned with mirror pieces cut from the negative space of Meskels, indigenous Ethiopian & Eritrean Coptic designs, used in my light sculptures. Each stacked lightbox, working in tandem, holds the names of women, femmes, Black gender non-binary and trans women who’ve died at the hands of state sanctioned violence and in the course of migration. The mirrored textiles were directly influenced by my netelas, Ethiopian scarves, that I print Amharic spells on top of in the tradition of magic healing scrolls. That led me to create my own visual language with the Astral Sea textiles, abstracting Black spiritual designs from the mirrored Meskel pieces. Since I have a performance background, it was natural to embody and activate my objects through performance, evoking water, land and the night sky, reflecting the cosmologies and the histories of Black people constantly crossing various bodies of water and borders … from the Atlantic to across the Mediterranean. Each performance is a cleansing, a shaking, a crashing—meant to look and feel violent, yet cathartic, as I fall into a trance state, opening myself to the spirits of those who have transitioned. This is about carrying all of the fracturedness of being Black across the world, honoring the names and stories that have been drowned out or forgotten, creating a space of resolve and healing through the violent yet hopeful reflection, based in Black spiritual practices.”

– Tsedaye Makonnen as told to Tsige Tafesse on March 27, 2024


Tsedaye Makonnen is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, researcher and cultural producer. Tsedaye’s practice is driven by Black feminist theory, firsthand site-specific research, and ethical social practice techniques, which become solo and collaborative site sensitive performances, objects, installations, and films. Her studio primarily focuses on intersectional feminism, reproductive health and migration. Tsedaye’s personal history is as a mother, the daughter of Ethiopian refugees, a doula and a sanctuary builder.

In 2019 Tsedaye was a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow and staged two interventions at the Venice Biennale titled When Drowning is the Best Option feat. Astral Sea I. In 2021 her light sculptures were acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art for their permanent collection and she published a book titled Black Women as/and the Living Archive. Tsedaye is the recipient of a permanent large-scale public art commission for the city of Providence. In the Fall of 2022 she was invited to perform at the Venice Biennale for Simone Leigh’s ‘Loophole of Retreat: Venice and was Clark Art Institute’s Futures Fellow. In Fall 2023, Tsedaye exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Africa and Byzantium with textile collaboration with Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop,, The Walters Art Museum Ethiopia at the Crossroads where she is also the guest curator of contemporary works, Bard Graduate Center SIGHTLINES on Peace, Power, and Prestige, UT Austin If we are here. This 2024 in collaboration with DC Public Libraries, they are recent recipients of the Library of Congress Connecting Communities Digital Initiative award for Documenting the Ethiopian Communities of DC. Additionally she has been commissioned to perform for MetLiveArts for the Africa and Byzantium exhibit, returning to Clark Art Institute as a research fellow and so much more. She is currently represented by Addis Fine Art. She lives between DC and London with her partner and children.

Video Viewing Room was initiated with the support of the NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund in The New York Community Trust; annual grants from Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation and Howard Gilman Foundation; and in part by public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.