As a child, Elias Simé taught himself to sew, embroider, and repair furniture. He collected cast-off objects and materials, such as flattened tin cans, and fashioned them into his own creations. Today Simé still collects energetically—plastic shopping bags in different colors, plastic shoes, horns from slaughtered cattle—and buys some of the raw material for his work, such as buttons, at the Mercato, Addis Ababa’s sprawling central market. Just as he gathers materials for making art from the markets and streets, Simé finds the themes for his works in the streets of Addis. He documents the lives and portraits of Ethiopians living in the Cherkos Gebeya, Legaehar and Chide Terra areas surrounding Addis Abeba, where he finds most of his working materials. Simé has deep connections with the communities he documents, in particular with the neighborhood children who bring him objects they collect from the street.
Born in Cherkos, outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Simé graduated from Addis Ababa University’s School of Fine Art and Design with a degree in graphic design. His practice focuses mainly on collages, stitches, and three-dimensional sculpture. Simé has had numerous solo shows, and has participated in many group exhibitions including the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Peter Sellars’ New Crowned Hope in Vienna, Austria; the Dak’Art Biennale 2004, in Dakar, Senegal; and the Zoma Contemporary Art Center and the National Museum in Addis Ababa. Simé lives and works in Addis Ababa.