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Ethiopian Art & Artists                                                                Bookmark and Share


 Visionary Africa: Art at Work Exhibition

2010 and 2011 mark the 50th anniversary of the independence of 22 African countries.To commemorate this anniversary and to mark the occasion of the third EU-Africa Summit, the European Commission and the Palais des Beaux Arts (Centre for Fine Arts),in collaboration with the African Union, is launching a multi-disciplinary and itinerant cultural project: “Visionary Africa: Art at Work”. This initiative is the extension and the development in Africa of the “Visionary Africa” festival held in Brussels (Summer 2000).
Fine Arts of Akililu Temesgen, Ephrem Solomon, Mihret Kebede, Mulugeta Gebrekidan and Sultan Mohamed might be on display too. 

This project focuses on the importance of culture and creativity as development tools and is directly in line with the Brussels Declaration by Artists and Cultural Professionals. It includes an itinerant urban exhibition of contemporary African artistic practices, artists’ residencies and workshops. The exhibition will be previewed in conjunction with the European Union-Africa Summit in Syrte/Tripoli (Libya, November 29, 2010).

It will then begin to travel to different African capitals at the start of 2011, beginning with Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), followed by Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). It will feature some 30 reproductions of works of art created by contemporary African artists, taken from the works presented in the exhibitions of the “Visionary Africa” festival in the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, which ran until September 26, 2010. The idea for this project was put forward during the international colloquium “Culture and Creativity as Vectors for Development”, organised by the European Commission in April 2009.    Read more.....

 ‘Ethiopian Magic Scrolls: Talismanic Art of Ethiopia’ (Through June 30.)

New York Times

 In 2005, the London dealer Sam Fogg blew us away with an exhibition of Ethiopian Christian liturgical art. Now, in association with Milos Simovic of Elizabeth Street Fine Arts, he follows up with a show of 18th- and 19th-century painted and written scrolls that emerged from Ethiopian popular religion. And they are equally, if very differently, wondrous. Figures of warrior-saints and archangels rub shoulders with demons; talismanic designs mingle with New Testament quotations. They’re all tucked away like a hidden trove in the back of a shop specializing mostly in Coney Island antiques. Elizabeth Street Fine Arts, 209 Elizabeth Street, Nolita , (212) 274-9400, (Cotter)

 Commemorating the legendary GEBREKIRSTOS DESTA
By Tibebeselassie Tigabu

As part of the official launching of the Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts, the Modern Art Museum - Gebrekristos Desta Center hosted a painting exhibition “The Life and Art of Gebrekristos Desta through his Students”, which opened on November 20 to celebrate the art and life of the legendary painter and poet Gebrekristos Desta.

Curated by the new director Aida Muluneh, the exhibition featured some of Gebrekristos’s students who, inspired by his philosophy and painting style, followed in his footsteps. Painters such as Yohannes Gedamu (1947-2010), the renowned female contemporary artist Desta Hagos, along with Sisay Beyene, Tadesse Mesfin, Lulseged Retta, Tadesse Woldearegay, Teshome Bekele, Zerihun Yetimgeta, Taye Woldemedhin and the contemporary calligrapher Wosene Worke Kosrof .

Born in Harrar in 1932, Gebrekristos was a modernist painter, poet and teacher. He studied painting and graphic at the Academy of Art in Cologne, Germany (1957-1961) and graduated at the top of his class. For his outstanding achievement he was awarded a private studio to support his future advancement in art. Upon his return to Ethiopia, he introduced his art through a one-man show held at the School of Fine Arts in 1963, where he was also a member of the faculty. He introduced a new approach and a new form of expression to art in a grand manner leaving a legacy to Africa in general and to Ethiopia in particular.

Gebrekristos Desta, who gave a new meaning to Ethiopian contemporary art, is mainly known for his abstract paintings. But he was also an accomplished poet. A collection of his poems were translated into English from Amharic by Heran Serekebirhan in a book titled “Give Me a Broad Road”. His poems, which are much sought after by young poets in Ethiopia, explore philosophical themes on the state of man and nature. While also delving into the perceptions of love and death, his most notable poem “endegena”(meaning once more) refers to his homesickness during his long sojourn in the west.

In the spirit of Gebrekirstos Desta’s legacy, the opening exhibition featured readings by young poets Mihret Kebede, Misrak Terefe, Abebaw Melaku and Andualem Tesfaye.

Located adjacent to the Goethe Institute  at 6 Kilo, the exhibition will remain open until November 28. 

 Exihibit shows skill of portrait artist
By arefe/Addis Journal

Around forty art works by an artist Tewdros Hagos is on show in Addis’s Alliance éthio-française gallery. Human figures and portraits form the basis of the pieces in the exhibit which opened on Tuesday night.

The figures shows mostly visually impaired subjects, portrayed with sympathy and authenticity. While open to interpretation, many of the works embody the silenced lives of the marginalized, thier fears, the pain they endured, their will to prevail. The somber colors and light add to embody a bold social and political statement in the portrait of the men and the women


Tewdros was born in Addis Ababa in 1974.He begun school at Atse Tewdros Elementary School and later joined Bole Secondary High School. The artist says as a child his exposure to art was limited yet he displayed a strong talent for drawing. When he was very young, he taught himself a great deal, trying to copy any picture that appealed. “I didn’t play football,’ he recalls. At high-school, the budding artist exhibited his works on the school compound which ‘created a lot of stir’.

Tewdros graduated in 1995 from the Art school of Addis Ababa with distinction. His mentors include Mezgebu Tessema, Tadesse Mesfin, Worku Mamo. He says they have all influenced him in their own ways.

After graduation, the artist took up full time painting work and started attracting attention. Few years later in 1998, he took off to Europe and took residence in Antwerp, Belgium. He said he found the experience ‘exciting’. Europe filled his head with new ideas, sights and sounds. He took Flemish language course, roamed the museums, visited other artist’s studios and became acquainted with the art community there.
During his ten year stay in Belgium, the artist has come to discover the direction of his work, in the tradition of realism, which had always appealed to the practical, down-to earth side of the Ethiopian personality. He painted faces the way he saw them.

Other than Belgium, he has had numerous solo exhibitions in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Tewdros says that this latest exhibition represents two years of work.“It’s a real development in terms of style,” he explains. “A lot of things inspired the works featured in this show.” He says doing the portrait and human figures are his way of having a dialogue with characters. “Even if you are not able to see each other, say with the blind people, you mange to communicate efficiently. That is what I am trying to show in my works.people that linger in my mind long after I met them.” he says.

In one of his works, the artist painted his wife. A close look at the work shows that it has both aesthetic allure and depth. She doesn’t appear merely as a decorative or passive pictorial element; but a character with nobility, nuance, and grace.
Throughout all of these paintings, it’s impossible not to recognize and admire Tewdros’s deft skills with a brush. His portraits are not only character studies; they also demonstrate masterful manipulations of light and shadow, color and tone.
The exhibition runs until November 22.

 Bridging between two worlds through art
.By Tibebeselassie Tigabu

Wosene Worke Kursof is an artist who revealed the mystery of the Ge'ez (Amharic) alphabets for more than four decades through his ‘word play’ art pieces and has received international acclaim for his originality.

As one of the ancient alphabets in the world, there is a mystery to the Ge'ez (Amharic) alphabet beneath its characters. Wosene tells the ancient stories by bringing them to the contemporary scene.

A graduate of the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts and Howard University, he has climbed to the top of the summit and is the pioneer in using the ancient alphabets to reveal different stories. His painting have become teaching materials in different universities. He has given international workshops and exhibited his works all over the world; he has made an impression on many artists and people in contemporary African art.

wossen painting

The Reporter caught up with him while he making preparations to stage a grand exhibition here in Addis Ababa at the National Theatre on November 13.

Born in Addis Ababa the 1950s around the Arat Kilo area, he uses the Amharic alphabets to create various images by distorting them, changing their shape and adding different colors to show different Ethiopian traditions like the coffee ceremony and religious practices.

His love for the alphabet, expressing life through those alphabets and the inspiration came when he was a child passing through a traditional school system (the church system). His neighborhood played a big role in shaping his identity.

His love for Arat Kilo is very deep and starts from the crowd, the music streaming from different sides, the cart, the life style and what he calls the conventional and unconventional elites. The university and the painter were all in the making of Wosene. They caught his little heart and influenced him in his later life.

“Arat Kilo is a place where I found the breath of life and learned how to breathe,” explains Wosene.

He grew up to be this phenomenal person and fell under the spell of the alphabets. He explains his history or  his frustration in the art and in playing with those words where through the process he transforms them into this magnificent piece of art for the audience.

The alphabets have meaning to his life. He combines them to create words that have a very influential power even in breaking or mending people.

He says we use words to implement rules, to draft rules, to bless people as well as in songs and rhythms. "The songs convey feelings; they cure people and protect people in many ways. However, in our daily routines we forget the existence and the power of words," he adds.

“Life goes on like a circle which is punctuated by sadness, happiness and sorrow. That is where the power of words becomes apparent in the healing or in curing process, they play the main role in making us human being,” says Wosene.

Through the years he was able to see how words are more than words. For him they contain many things within them. Words have a heavy burden carrying all the cultures, civilizations and the ancestors; they have the power to heal the sick. He says he feels obliged to reveal the mystery behind those alphabets and tell it to the whole wide world.

“Words are like human beings to me. For more than four decades we lived together, sometimes we love each other, sometimes we hate each other. We have a relationship like human beings, sometimes they make me angry because I try to get their voices like I do it with other people,” states Wosene.

He is like Sankofa, a bird which looks to the past to move forward. And in forty years he has mastered the art immersing him into the characters of the alphabets, studying their mystic behavior and bridging the time between ancient times and the contemporary world.

He counts his blessings starting from his graduation from the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts with distinction to the award he received from the late Emperor Haileselassie’s hand and the chance to join the prestigious Howard University.

When he came to Howard he was already an established artist. He was in between and was doing Ethiopian religious paintings and also dabbling with the alphabets. According to Wosene, Howard was a good place to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

The time to search for his true talent was a bit tough because there was no single international artist who used those words. He was confused and felt a nostalgia for his homeland. What to do with the alphabets made him struggle.

When he was in art school, like his generation who were drawn to the religious painting style, he painted priests holding crosses and the life of the community. He also started doing ancient Ethiopian paintings, iconography and scrolls.

Even though he was like the other artists at that time he was also rebellious and was drawn to unconventional things. He started making his own interpretation of the story of Ethiopian orthodox saints.

Based on his interpretation of the saints’ story he exhibited his work at Kennedy library which was a bit controversial. The feedbacks ranged from downright insults to lavish praises. This gave him space for creativity.

It was at this time where he found himself in transition from realistic (representational) painting style to his own creativity. After a while people started to recognize and give credit to his works.

His teacher, Gebrekirstos Desta, mentored him in the usage of color and his philosophy while Eskinder Bogosian showed him the possibility of being an international artist.

“When I started only doing the alphabets it was funny because I didn’t know how they could be images. But after some time I started distorting them and using them in different shapes. Through the alphabets I became myself,” says Wosene.

Using different colors he passed through different stages. First, he started doing ‘graffiti magic’ using different scrolls and symbols. After some years he started doing ‘Africa: the New Alphabet’, then ‘Color of Words’ and finally what he does now: ‘Word Play.’ He has addressed different issues in the stages he has passed through. 

He uses alphabets and Ethiopian numbers to convey his message through works like ‘Walking through Addis’, ‘Blessings of the Earth’, ‘Africa: Where it Begins’, ‘American Quilt’, ‘Lucy’s Herb Garden’, and ‘Morning News’. He expresses his feelings about civilization or his love of music or runners like Derartu Tulu and Haile Gebresellasie in his pieces. 

Owing to his reputation he is invited to different workshops, projects and exhibitions in different places. Some of the works he did include UN project for African crisis where he used the alphabets with African masks.

His different exhibitions, such as ‘My Ethiopia’, have given him a chance to show the true picture of Ethiopia which is overshadowed by poverty and other negative aspects.

Even if he had countless exhibitions, he feels his New York exhibition and his upcoming exhibition at the National Theatre are special for him from the other exhibitions he has staged.

“Sometimes ignorance seems peaceful but it is a very dangerous thing. We should offer the youth the schooling they need starting from their foundation. It's good to know about a Kenyan painter or a Tanzanian weaver, we are connected in many ways,” states Wosene.

He also tries to convey his message to the next generation through his works as he believes it is the foundation for their early childhood. However, the existing situation here frustrates him as businesspersons neither invest in art nor care about it.

“When I do things the priority is my country. I am doing this by myself and it is a long path. Sometimes this makes you depressed and sad, "says Wosene.

His biggest achievement, as many people attest, is the fact that he has made an impression on many people, even those who do not know the language, to get them to know about the alphabets and the story behind those alphabets. By exhibiting his works he has made people curious to know about the language and the country.

His journey has not been easy, he struggles every day to show his homeland, to escape from exile and to make people enjoy during the different holidays. Sometimes he is frustrated by the process but the alphabets again give him a meaning to his life.

“Art has many uses - to live in harmony, to know about our roots and identity - and I am a captive of those alphabets. I prefer to be true to myself and my identity. All the alphabets tell about the trials and tribulations of life we pass through as human beings,” concludes Wosene.

 Ethiopia Artist Elias Sime stuns international audience
By Alemayehu Seife-Selassie/Reporter

Last year, as the world-famous musical conductor Esa Pekka was preparing his last performance, Ethiopian Elias Sime’s masks and thrones were chosen to be staged.

The gifted Ethiopian artist Elias Sime presented his seven masks and thrones that he did for the world famous Oedipus Rex & Symphony of Psalms theatre play which has its musical written by Stravinsky. The Greek tragedy story of King Oedipus has been played in different forms. Yet the Oedipus Rex & Symphony of Psalms has a different style as conducted by Esa Pekka.

Ethiopian Meskerem Assegued and the internationally known American theatre director Peter Sellars directs Elias Sime’s Eye of  the Needle, Eye of the Heart  art for the Santa Monica Museum right before the Oedipus Rex & Symphony. The art pieces of Elias Sime have made an exceptional impression and were invited to be staged for the Oedipus Rex & Symphony of Psalms show in the Los Angeles Disney Concert Hall. The stage built by Frank Garey, and the musical being conducted by Esa Pekka, has made the show a major one. The fact that the piece was the last one for Esa Pekka has also gathered fans. Elias’s seven thrones and masks were placed on stage to represent the seven characters. 

The artist has used wood, leather, horn and metal in his impressive masks. There was a lot of research involved in the making of the art pieces. For Elias, however, it was not the making that was difficult. “The research was so tough. Yet we learned a lot through the process. Looking at the pieces there and getting that entire acceptance was breathtaking. I could have even made more if I was asked to,” says Elias reminiscing about the 45-day task he was given.

Peter Sellars has been working with Esa Pekka for 20 years and he has invited lots of artistically gifted personalities from different parts of the world. Peter has been in Addis Ababa to co-curate Elias’s show previously. He has also paid a visit to Zoma Contemporary Art Center, recently under construction.

After the success of Eye of the Needle Eye of the Heart show, artist Elias Sime was invited for another appearance in Sydney in February 2010. The show won the Hand Men Award after its appearance in Sydney opera which had all its tickets sold out.

As the art review website reviews it, the thrones and masks added another flavor to the internally all embracing show. “Placed high above the orchestra on a palatial battlement-walkway-stage, the visual focus of the carved, sculptural African thrones (created by Ethiopian artist Elias Sime), set a tone that placed the action as contradictorily as originally chosen by Cocteau and Stravinsky. So that, as well as the Russian's music for the Frenchman's text of the Greek tragedy (in Latin translation), the sense of timelessness and timeliness in the appearance of the singers and their setting was logical and pleasing,” the reviewer, Diana Simmonds wrote.

Dealing with professionals where most facilities are in place and having the leading actor of Star Trek Leonard Nimoy, as financer, the show was not much of a challenge as Meskerem explains. Despite the royal treatment that Meskerem and Elias experienced abroad, they were faced with lots of hassle and misunderstanding in their motherland, they are more focused on the outcome than the process that took them there.

Two Dutch artists to construct art center in Ethiopia

The construction of Zoma Contemporary Art Center has been undergoing in Dire Dawa at Harla village. Ethiopian artist Elias Sime and Artistic Curator Meskerem Aseged have stunned art fans with the magnificent anthropological mud art Gota and Teret Teret Exhibition a few years back. The artist building a rare material and the show being organized in a unique manner, it did not come as a surprise that it was an instant attention grabber. Elias, playing with mud, has built his artistic mud house which now serves as the Zoma Contemporary Arts Center’s office in Addis Ababa. But the mud house has been inspirational and the much larger Zoma Contemporary Art Center in Dire Dawa has followed its footprints. Elias is the Artistic Director of the Center in Dire Dawa.

“We are working like a turtle and we hope to finish it in five years,” Meskerem explained. The Center is going to be constructed by 12 artists and the first will be flown in a couple of weeks to start their work early next month. Nicky and Joris are the two Dutch artists that will be flying in to start their work. “We had to look for artists that can build and artists that agree to live in a place that has no electricity, no phones or water for three weeks,” Meskerem explain how they were able to get the husband and wife artists and architects.  “We are building 12 art studios and the property is sitting on an archeological site and we have to be careful when we construct,” she adds. 

The construction of the place is going to portray a highly environmental model of how to build a house using by endemic and local knowledge. We are giving the artists a unique opportunity to build an environmentally-friendly place by using local knowledge,” Meskerem said. Elias has created an artistic terrace on the unique landscape. “We are building the place in a handicap-accessible form as much as possible.”

The building of the architectural residency is expected to take five years to complete the first phase. Meskerem will be presenting the project’s aim at Tate Modern Museum in London and her efforts will likely attract international artists to take notice. With the exception of the Dire Dawa City Administration’ support, the people of Harla, Peter Sellars’s and  advice from German Cultural Institute, the artist and the curator are the people in anguish to build the place. “We are encouraging the locals not to use corrugated iron for the roofs. We are using mud roofs and cactus juice mixture to make it less water impermeable,” Meskerem said. Elias, who has been working on the project with his hands-in-mud, says, “The whole process of building the center is very similar to giving birth. The art that is involved, the transformation, and involvement of 12 artists from different places, makes the process very interesting. That is something that I am eager to see finished. I am sure most Ethiopians will also share my enthusiasm.”

Biggest art show to stage in January

With four exhibitions opening by the same artist and art curator on the same night, there is going to be a major art show staged in January 2011 in Addis Ababa. The show will present the last needle art collections by Elias Sime. “This is a very researched and large exhibition. I will not be revealing what types of materials I will be using but this will be the last time I will present the needle paintings,” says Elias.

The show will be stages at Alliance Ethio-Française, Goethe German Cultural Institute, Italian Cultural Institute and possibly at the Mega Amphitheatre. “The opening night will be one show leading to the other. The theme is all the same, yet the presentation and material are different. The research of the anthropological contemporary art has taken over five years of research,” the curator said.

The artist says that he is working on the needle stitch paintings and is anxious to see it all hanging. But he says that he has to wait with the fans to see them all at once.

 Ethiopian Artists: Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu

Julie Merhetu was born in Ethiopia in 1970 but was raised in the US, and lives and works in New York City. Even when she’s still a young artist, she’s already quite famous. She has a rich mixed background, from her family to her studies and that clearly reflects on her art.
Her drawings/paintings are very complex and are closer to a map than to a classic painting, if there is such thing as that. Her work is all about structure, architectural plans, mapping, and layers and layers of lines, shapes and marks. Abstract geometry taken to another level.
She paints by applying thin paint layers, than then she sands to get an ultra smooth shiny surface, almost erasing any evidence that the work was created by a person.
She likes to work on VERY large surfaces, so you can imagine that every painting takes her a long time until it gets finished. That’s why she works with a team of assistants that help, each person in a different specialty, to complete the final painting.
I find her work fascinating, even when geometric abstraction is not my favorite
style, and I hope to see one of her works in person.
The experience must be something unique. Imagine a painting several feet wide and high with thousands of shapes and lines, like a huge map in which you can easily get lost. I surely would love to have one of those in my house and will never get tired of looking at it.

If you live or are visiting the city of New York, there is an exhibition of Julie Mehretu works, titled Grey Area. These paintings were produced as the 15th commission of Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and were created in Berlin, Germany. This exhibition runs until October 6, 2010 in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue (at 89th Street) New York, USA

 Mosaic piece for church expands Eyob Mergia's career
Opportunity to build mural for Our Savior's Lutheran moves painter beyond central medium

Born  in 1974 and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, artist Eyob Mergia moved to Sioux Falls in 1997 because his cousin was here. He has exhibited work in many galleries and shops since then.
 Here are some of his more recent accomplishments

His work hangs in galleries and is for sale in shops across the nation and in some foreign countries, too. Mergia also has helped hospitals and schools with art projects, had his work acquired by the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science Visual Arts Center's permanent art collection, and participated in collaborative art-and-music 

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