L’Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and South Arabia have been part of his universe for nearly fifty years. Through his research, his work, his exhibitions, his conferences and his publications, this eternal traveler, author of some twenty books, including two with his friend and fellow missioner Theodore Monod, still loves discovery and encounters. In the space of Reine-de-Saba, a cultural center dedicated mainly to Yemen, the country where he ensured the restoration of the Maison Rimbaud in Aden and the preservation of incense, José-Marie Bel has assembled an extraordinary collection of several hundred photographs. a hundred years ago, when Italy was in East Africa, the Red Sea, Eritrea, Tigray, Abyssinia. The result of a very long study revealing touching and magnificent places, landscapes, scenes and portraits.
Twenty years ago, the ethnologist purchased from an Italian bookseller an album of almost three hundred old black-and-white photographs dated 1900-1936. The title on the cover is engraved in gold letters “Fondazione dell’Impero” and supplemented with the date “IX”. maggio anno XIV”, in an elegant 1930s Art Deco typographic style, celebrates the establishment of the Italian Empire in East Africa on May 9, 1936, AOI. Inside is a priceless collection of ethnic photographs, unknown scenes, poses, wonderful portraits of men, women and children, amazing places and sublime landscapes. The researcher wonders about the history of his discovery. “Was it the result of a specific official order? Could this have been a gift from Mussolini, a product of the glorification of conquered territories, representing sights, landscapes, animals and exotic peoples? A sort of exhaustive catalog of trophies? A proof of the merits of the invasion and thus justification for the exorbitant cost of the operation, financed in part by the gift of wedding rings offered by Italian women for the cause? »
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An album with a luxurious cover made by professionals, but the result is artisanal. “There is no organizational sense, omissions and errors in carelessly typed, cut and pasted signatures. Like Sherlock Homes, Jose-Marie Belle scrutinizes all revealing evidence: medals from a noble and proud veteran, texts on panels or signs, household items, historical relics, stone buildings, huts. He manages to date some images of Aksum (Tigray), the center of Ethiopian Christianity, to the 1910s, and discovers other clues. This era is…