Decolonial Embodied Historiography: Female Performing Bodies, Revolutions and Empires in Ethiopia

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Decolonial Embodied Historiography: Female Performing Bodies, Revolutions and Empires in Ethiopia

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This dissertation is about the struggles of Ethiopian female performers like Telela Kebede, Asnakech Worku, and Merry Armde. It examines the resistance that women artists enacted on inter/national stages, in the nightclubs of red-light districts, and in their everyday lives. Ethno/national discourses take Hegelian and Rankean historiography for granted making identity politics the only avenue to citizenship/subjectivity. Deployed to create a neoliberal structure of belonging, this politics obfuscates multiple articulations of freedom particularly feminist struggles in the past and closes off epistemic and embodied multi-genre possibilities in the present (1991-2018). Using performance as a mode of thinking, as an object of analysis and as a site of struggle, my dissertation probes into the staging of a ‘burden of history’ that moves around in Ethiopian historiography just as an issue of longue durée. I argue that history needs to be interrogated as a colonial/modern discipline and profession. Then, I re-singularize the 1974 Marxist revolution to show how Ethiopian female performers articulated their desires in collaboration with male revolutionaries such as the prolific playwright and thinker Tsegaye-Gabre-Medhin. Though he staged Ethiopian socialism (negritude) to create possibilities, Tsegaye rendered female performers as ‘impure’ bodies that ‘obliterated’ the socialist progress because they had nightclubs in the red-light districts. These women fought to change their condition enacting tactical resistance on and off stage by expanding the notion of the performative and the political. In order to complicate the notion of ‘abject’ body, the dissertation genealogically looks into the emergence of the raced, classed, gendered, sexualized, commodified, and dis/abled female bodies at the beginning of the twentieth century. Ethiopia’s position as un-colonized yet colonized country (in terms of coloniality of power) informed participation of performance in the invention of dangerous liaisons and translations of governmentality. Nevertheless, female performers negotiated empires’ (global-local) spatial segregation through multiple performances as other women of red-light districts joined the resistance as spect-actors. Using decolonial embodied historiography as a concept, method, and praxis, that attends to the undoing of the Eurocentric model of the human (Man), open spatiotemporal dialectics, and ethico-political act, my dissertation opens epistemic avenues to endlessly co-recreate a better humane world.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. November 2018. Major: Theatre Arts. Advisors: Michal Kobialka, Rachmi Larasati. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 329 pages.

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Abebe, Surafel. (2018). Decolonial Embodied Historiography: Female Performing Bodies, Revolutions and Empires in Ethiopia. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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