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The Eye That Follows: Photographs by Dawit N.M.
The Chrysler Museum of Art

Achieving your first solo exhibition is no small feat. But having your inaugural solo show hosted by a distinguished museum is a significant milestone. And when that museum happens to be the very first one you ever visited, well, it's nothing short of mind-boggling. This extraordinary turn of events became my reality when I presented my photography and film work at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia—the place I had first called home after immigrating to the United States from Ethiopia.

Upon receiving the news, a swirling mix of excitement and nervousness gripped me. I was merely 24 years old at the time, still a budding artist in the grand scheme of things. The outside world might not have perceived it that way, but I certainly did. Nevertheless, I did what anyone does when they feel unqualified—persevere and figure things out along the way. Thanks to the invaluable assistance of the Chrysler Museum's dedicated staff, we managed to curate a magnificent exhibition that captivated and inspired many. However, something gnawed at me.

As I strolled through the exhibition, I couldn't shake the persistent thought that a particular professor would have been a more fitting candidate for this opportunity. Their work seemed more polished and meticulously thought out, while my own felt like it was still a work in progress.

Towards the conclusion of the exhibition, I decided to visit this professor. Just before I headed back home, I candidly shared my feelings with them. Fortunately, they responded with unvarnished honesty. They acknowledged that I had earned this opportunity in some ways, yet also pointed out areas where I might have fallen short. They emphasized that it was up to me to discern the valuable lessons from this experience and recognize that the world isn't always equitable. What's fair to one person may not be perceived the same way by another.

From that moment onward, I became acutely aware of how to navigate such situations. I could fully appreciate the moment while not becoming too fixated on it.

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