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Hierotopia: The Living Sacred Landscape – Recent photographs by Kieran Dodds



Date(s) - Saturday 09/15/2018 - Tuesday 01/15/2019
12:00 am



Art Exhibition


From the series ‘Hierotopia’ by Kieran Dodds.

September 15, 2018-January 15, 2019
Ahmanson Gallery, Irvine, CA

Saturday, September 15, 2018
4:00 pm Panel Discussion
5:30 pm Concert
6:30-8 pm Opening Reception

Irvine, CA: The Ahmanson Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of the exhibition “Hierotopia: The Sacred Living Landscape.” The exhibition of thirty-eight photographs by Kieran Dodds portray a multidimensional view of the communal and religious culture of the Amhara province of Ethiopia. Considered by numerous scholars to be one of the most vital apostolic traditions of orthodox Christianity, the Amhara region is characterized by a strong sense of family and centuries of farming at a relatively high altitude. Making up over a quarter of the population of Ethiopia, the Amhara language is spoken throughout much of the country. Scottish non-fiction photographer Kieran

Dodds is known for capturing intimately beautiful images of people and their symbiotic relationship to the landscape. The Hierotopia project, commissioned by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, is a continuation of his practice as he explores the impact of the spiritual life and the culture of the Amhara people on their environment.


Dodds’s series of photographs are organized into two distinct categories: a series of images that document the lives of people in their towns and another set of images that were shot from a bird’s eye view with a high resolution drone camera. Entering the first gallery, we are introduced to a large colorful portrait of a priest and his assistant on the far wall titled “Robit Bahita III.” The two men are standing in a vividly painted, arched wooden doorway guarding the entrance to the holy place where the replica of the Ark of the Covenant is kept. The doorframe is painted with angel heads and wings, along with religious allegorical images painted on the double doors. The draped fabrics are beautifully hand-stitched and embroidered with vibrant, colored beads. The cables and the speaker mounted next to the door, however, situate this scene in our present technological age.


In the second gallery, we see images recorded by Dodds using a drone camera, which afford the viewer unique views of the diverse topographies of Ethiopia. The first photograph in the grouping of topographical survey images depicts a church named “Entos Eyesus” with neighboring buildings on a secluded island in the middle of Lake Tana, close to the city of Bahir Dar. Adjacent to the lake is an ancient, large monastic community called Zege. Many of the island churches were built by Ethiopian missionaries in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and have continued their legacy in spite of all the changes in political power. The islands with churches are particularly lush with vegetation since there are no grazing animals on the islands. By adopting a top-down, Dodds reveals how the activity of the farmers and the roaming cattle has impacted the environment and removed many of the trees from the natural forests. Having photographed nearly twenty-five churches on this trip, Dodds makes a clear assertion that the church’s vision to preserve the forest around their parishes has had a transformative impact on the landscape. The images of Ethiopia are significant in that they address both the temporal and sacred components of the culture. Dodds has captured the reality of life in the village with a welcome frankness that makes his subjects extremely relatable. As a non-fiction photographer, he has mastered the art of connecting with people and gained their trust, allowing us to enter their worlds of meaning imbedded in the daily routines that support a wholistic community. Compared to the shopping mall aesthetic and bland coffee corners of many American mega churches, the hierotopic spaces of Ethiopia are an inspiring visualization of an abundant heavenly kingdom and represent an enduring vision of human flourishing and the gift of life.


Kieran Dodds (b. 1980) is a non-fiction photographer known for his research-driven photo stories and portraiture. His personal work considers the interplay of environment and culture, tracing global events through daily lives.

After reading Zoology at university, he trained at the Herald newspaper group in Glasgow becoming an independent photographer after picking up a string of accolades including a 1st prize World Press Photo award for his self-assigned story-The Bats of Kasanka. A Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship allowed him to finish The Third Pole, documenting Tibetan culture in flux within the context of the landscape as pastoral nomads were resettled in the highlands of China. Most recently, in the series Hierotopia we witness a new perspective on combating the ecological crisis, charting the role of ancient ideas on the protection of rural landscapes in northern Ethiopia.

*There will be a 65 page, hard back catalogue of the exhibited works available for purchase

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