Aleka Gebre Selassie Adil

As in all aspects of Ethiopian life, nationalism and patriotism played a prominent role in the development of secular art in the country. During the twentieth century there has been a tradition of heroic and patriotic works in art that symbolically represent Ethiopia’s heroes and rulers. These figures are seen as representations of Ethiopia itself and act as icons for Ethiopian unity and integrity.

Following the Italian invasion in 1935, Ethiopian artists decidedly focused on issues that are still important today: the country's prestige, well being, and national unity. Since then, the image of Ethiopia or of being Ethiopian is represented in many artistic creations.

In the visual arts as well as in secular literature, drama, poetry, and music, the symbolic representation of Ethiopia becomes a subject of the utmost importance.

Esseye G Medhin, 1987
  The Most Hon. Maitre Artiste World Laureate AFEWERK TEKLE


The Most Hon. Maitre Artiste World Laureate Afewerk, who helped reincarnate through his art the founding mythology of Ethiopia--its history, heroes, religion and legendary and historical figures who had never been depicted --had a loftier image of his country. In 1963, 10 years after his return from abroad and three years after he completed his best known work, THE STRUGGLE AND ASPIRATION OF THE AFRICAN PEOPLE on stained glass for Africa Hall and establishes himself as one of the most significant painters in the world he began his next major undertaking. Fresh from his triumphs, he began on his own, with no commission or orders, and created an icon of his beloved country, personified as a mourning Mother-Mother Ethiopia.

Esseye G Medhin, October 22,2002
Gebre Kristos Desta

By the end of the second half of 1970s, the activities of the Eritreans in the north, and the move of Somali solders and the attack on the hinterland in the south were global news. It was troublesome and disturbing news to all Ethiopians. The general population was completely devastated and angry. The situation however, became like a blessing in disguise for the Derg since it won considerable and unprecedented nationalistic and patriotic support and prompted aide from communist countries. At this crucial and uncertain moment in the country’s history, poets, writers, intellectuals, dramatists, musicians, and the politicians responded in their own ways. Gebre Kristos searched for Pan-Ethiopian symbol and icons of modern Ethiopia, and went beyond the matter of the story to finally find his and his generation answer in the tricolor of the Ethiopian Flag: The Flag that creates in many both awe and respect. Fascinated by his country’s history, religious myths, legends, and cultural issues, without forsaking historical accuracy or advocating myths, Gebre Kristos chose the Ethiopian Flag, which allowed for freedom of his personal insight as well as his personal expression.

Esseye G Medhin, August 17, 2001
Tecola W Hagos

Artist and Patriot
  Contemporary Ethiopian Art and Globalization

Modern Ethiopian artists of the last century were educated in almost every major city of the world. For contemporary Ethiopian Art, global is a fait accompli. Globalization, however, is more a question of artistic and cultural survival and avoiding artistic isolation than it is an unrealistic fight or inclusion in a destabilizing, and menacing international art market and commerce environment.

Now a days, when nations of the world are regrouping according to their spiritual and cultural strength, namely as Arabic speaking, Francophone, Latin speaking, Anglophone, etc., or with special ties to their ex-colonial rulers or religious affiliations, it is only her arts which can spiritually and culturally connect Ethiopia globally. Since currently globalization is associated with Americanization and since Ethiopian art has a long-standing history and interest in American art, it cannot afford to dissociate itself from the best of American Art. It can, however, dissociate itself from the heavily commercialized mainstream American art movement.

Esseye Medhin, June 1, 2004
  Artists’ Groups of the 1990s:
Motivating Forces Behind Contemporary Ethiopian Art

The grouping movement of the 1990s did help individual members to be successful in their artistic commitments. However, collectively, their ambitious and challenging goals still remain up in the air. For example, the Friendship of Women Artists (FOWA) — whose main purpose was “to encourage and enhance the opportunities of underrepresented women artists of all ages and to promote Ethiopian women artists in any way possible, nationally as well as internationally” — has directly or indirectly contributed to the sudden increase and successes of women artists. But FOWA did not come even close to achieving its stated goals. The Point group whose “motive was not to foster an elitist attitude, with the indifferent multitudes lost in oblivion, but rather to impress and influence it without any mystification whatsoever,” did not keep its promise either. The Dimension group, which claims it was “formed to overcome an artistic trend that has been going on in Ethiopia for quite some time - with little or no regard for the standards of the art-loving public of Addis Ababa” has not really come up with a solution. Its annual exhibition caters to a specific type of audience and not necessarily to the art-loving public of Addis Ababa - Ethiopia. Although working in a country with a growing demand to learn about and from art, even their catalogues were written only in English language. Moreover, the artists have been preoccupied in arguing with critics who question the validity of their group’s origin.

Even if these artists cannot fairly be criticized as being too elitist, ultimately many of their attempts on behalf of the art-loving public end up being fodder for nay-sayers who still associate art only with intellectuals and academia. It will not be a surprise if the next generation of artists continues to complain about the inability of the public to grasp and understand their art.

Esseye Medhin, January 14, 2007
  Contemporary Ethiopian Art for the Nation

Modern Ethiopian art flourished in the absence of the Western art world and its institutions. The network of collectors, critics, dealers, scholars, galleries, patrons, art press, open art markets, museums, auction houses, galleries, and art schools so prevalent in the West did not exist in Ethiopia.

Given the artistic culture, practice, public interest, and the state of the national and international art situation, there are several reasons that favor maintaining and promoting this 50-year-old tradition of exhibiting, promoting, patronizing, and marketing artwork.

At present, there is no other logical option than to permanently display the nation’s contemporary art in its hundreds of schools, colleges, universities, libraries, city halls and other public, private, or government offices and community buildings.

Esseye Medhin, September 24, 2006
  Addis Ababa Art Scene Revisited

At the beginning of this century, the Christian Ethiopian painting (1) that had flourished for hundreds of years in the churches and monasteries of highland Abyssinia was fading and giving way, leaving behind a unique form of art for a new kind of artistic representation. The forerunners of this new genre of painting were the many church-trained dissident painters and other self-taught artists, some of whom enjoyed commissions for their works. These artists, along with those whose art education was in Europe in the 1920s and '30s, brought about a new tradition in the visual arts culture in modern Ethiopia. (2) By the 1930s, the members of this new class of painters were hired by the government and recognized as professionals. And by the 1960s, the number of painters following the first graduating class of the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School, and those coming from abroad with a new kind of painting, (known as international style) grew steadily. As a result, three main traditions of painting developed.

Esseye Medhin, 1998
  Elsabeth Atnafu:
Artist who painted Celebration of Makeda

Celebration of Makeda—a series of work devoted to a subject intricately related to ancient and modern Ethiopian mythology—is on display at the Addis Art Gallery in Los Angeles. By painting Celebration of Makeda, Elsabeth Atnafu seems to be making an allegiance—not to the tale of the Kibra Negast, her national or racial identity, but more so to her female identity.

Elsabeth, who left her country when she was a teenager, is most at ease in being a female artist. Her Celebration of Makeda, adopted as a symbol of female power intended as an empowering artwork that liberates those who have been intimidated for so long by sexism including “isms” of any kind.

Esseye Medhin, October 28, 2006
  Zerihun Yetmgeta
His Artistic Odyssey

During the 1960s, Addis Ababa, when the criterion for Modern Art was the same, the shortsighted criticism launched to attack Zerihun is predictable...He remains willingly and consciously faithful to his instructors’ artistic spirit and principles, which he makes his duty to continue and develop further.

Zerihun is probably the first formally trained artist who successfully and enthusiastically assimilated everything ancient and modern Ethiopia achieved. The two paths of the ancient and the modern, which seem far from each other, turn out to be one in Zerhihun’s art, establishing his successes and artistic identity.

Esseye Medhin, January 20, 2004
  The State of Ethiopian Art in the Diaspora and its impact in the future

Currently, it is no exaggeration to say that Ethiopian Art is more visible in the Diaspora than in the country. One reason among several for this is that the best and the brightest artists are exiting the country in unprecedented numbers. Many of them stay in the Diaspora indefinitely.

This has changed the ways that Ethiopian Art is publicized. Whereas Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church paintings, religious folk art or Ethiopian folk art exhibitions once were the major representations of Ethiopian Art, nowadays it is examples of Contemporary Ethiopian Art that are exhibited in the Diaspora. However, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church painting, religious folk or Ethiopian folk art exhibitions do remain of interest and are still favored by foreign institutions.

Esseye Medhin, July 17, 2006
  Julie Mehretu:
Africa’s Gift to the 21st century Art World

Julie Mehretu is surely one of the best artists of her generation. For better or for worse, if in the last century, Europe offered Picasso and the rest of the avant-garde artists to the art world, then simply put, Julie Mehretu can now be said to be one of the finest artists Africa has to offer to the 21st century art world.

In the post communism digital world, and post 9/11, where the reality of murderous religious and ethnic strife and right-wing and fascist revival is rampant, Julie’s works, and in particular, Dispersion is charged with power and duty of art that is equivalent to Picasso’s Guernica. With this painting, Julie raised subject matter that deals with a savage atrocity committed on defenseless people, similar to how Picasso expressed the similar emotions from the Spanish Civil War in his Guernica nearly 70 years ago. Both Guernica and Dispersion embody “a terrible beauty” and are “visions of life’s terrible beauty” and horrible truth. However, Picasso’s commissioned work, Guernica, was localized and constrained by model elements taken from past symbols and legendary history and became a pure cry in the avant-garde style of the last century. Julie’s Dispersion, in the style and language of postmodernism aesthetics, popular culture and cyber design is a deep felt feeling and sorrow born from the pensive and creative power of an individual.

Esseye Medhin, July 29, 2004
Ethiopian Artists in America

Of all the cultural activities and expressions, the visual arts are the most accurate to illustrate the direction an expatriate community is heading in an alien land and culture.

The Ethiopian/Ethiopian American artists movement in America and particularly the Annual Blen Art Show is a specific trend/moment in time that will reflect the conditions and desires of the Ethiopian community in America. The participants in the last two Blen Annual Art shows, except one were all born in Ethiopia. Their struggle to create their own form and symbol and their constant flux in terms of art and identity are evident.

Esseye Medhin, October 10, 2004
  Yohannes Tesfaye:
The Abstract Expressionist of the Third- Generation Artists

While several other artists of his generation at home and abroad are struggling for a cultural identity through their art, for Yohannes Tesfay who graduated from the Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts in 2001, abstract expressionism has become a viable artistic and stylistic identity.

In this post-modern age of ethnic cleansing, political and identity crises and religious fundamentalism, the sincerity and determination of Yohannes and his conscious decision to follow the tradition of Ethiopian modernists needs to be acknowledged.

Esseye Medhin, 2005
  Lulseged Retta:
A Renowned Artist Who Has Traveled Far from Addis Ababa to the Addis Art Galley in Los Angeles

As much as we love to talk, discuss, or even write about our contemporary artists and their works simply because art and artists do matter and have significance in our culture and lives, we hardly can be objective and dispassionate. Our personal interpretation and criticism of the works is always prevalent. These artists and their works do not yet have the essential sense of distance that can let them receive the reverence and the respect that a span of time provides, so there is the danger of our dumping on the art our own subjective, personal experiences. After studying his statements and works and seeing his recent works exhibited at the Addis Art Gallery, I still cannot say I have reached the point where I can communicate their meaning with complete certainty.

As Lulseged told me repeatedly, the exaggerated, wide opened eyes we see here, there, and everywhere in his work are not simple decorations or represent a pointless idea. They are pictogram of wisdom and symbols of the future still waiting to be hatched.

Esseye G Medhin, August 2005
  Addis Art - Shiferaw Girma

Shiferaw Girma grew up creating art, and later he took art instructions from the most influential and qualified Ethiopian contemporary artists. The element of these artists can be found in many of his paintings - a rare and encouraging cultural achievement that is, however, scorned by some critics. Shiferaw thoroughly mastered many of the artistic experiments, approaches and achievements of accomplished 20th century Ethiopian artists. He incorporated these approaches and techniques into a complex and meaningful style, which grows more beautiful and masterful as he matures. This mark of maturity is observed in both his first show of March 15, 2003, in Oakland, and at the Del Mar Theater in Los Angeles on August 9, 2003.

Esseye Medhin, August 14, 2003
  My Ethiopia
Recent Paintings by Wosene Worke Kosrof

During the first half of the 20th century, the western world educated early African Modernists successfully revive African aesthetics. Since that time, in the more pressing cultural concerns of early African Modernists, Wosene’s generation of African artists has managed to imprint their own artistic style. Their approaches perplex scholars and entice them to wonder and speculate about the many possible sources and expressions of these artists. In the context of twenty-century Ethiopian art, heroism and patriotism have not gone out of fashion.

The ancient, with their talismanic letters and spellbinding inscriptions were able to heal and protect the believers. The modern incorporates their writings, poetry and music, constantly swaying us to lament the condition of Emama Ethiopia. In the midst is the postmodernist work of Wosene.

Esseye Medhin, February 8, 2004
  Contemporary Ethiopian Art:
The New, Exit Generation Artists

So far, no one has claimed with certainty if anyone from the new, exit generation has succeeded in making any kind of artistic originality or activist commitment. Perhaps it is that so many cultural activities are more effective in getting more attention, that visual art noise is irrelevant, inconceivable and incompatible in this postmodern flattened world.

Without their financial success, none of their achievement would have been noticed. Despite the fact that the buying potential of the Ethiopian public for art is still in its infancy, it seems likely that as we move into the new Ethiopian millennium, these homegrown artists will somehow push and transform their artwork into a breadwinning strategy. No matter what, without effective training in art skills, art theory and art history, any kind of artistic originality is inconceivable.

Esseye Medhin, February 18,2007
  Getahun’s Musical Arada

An attempt to analyze and associate Getahun’s musical Arada or, for that matter, works of any Ethiopian artist based exclusively on the artist’s personal experience, philosophy, or the internal necessity and the spiritual nature of the work, is almost always insufficient or incomplete.

Typically, an important Ethiopian artist’s work lives on, and gets admired and treasured, not necessarily for the sake of the artist's personal deeply-felt experience, mystical experience, or internal reality, but for the collective feeling and experience it reflects. The public feels empathy with important works of art as a symbolic cultural form and achievement—responsive and sensitive for their spiritual, historical, social, and creative conditions.

Esseye Medhin, December 31, 2004
  A Tribute to Skunder

In the few years Skunder stayed in his native land, he expanded the possibilities of painting and played a decisive role in emancipating 20th century Ethiopian painting from a dependence on Western academic art. His creative genius made possible many innovations to meet the demands of twentieth century Ethiopian art. He gave Ethiopian painting its untapped and yet unexplored world, the frontiers of which had been crossed before only by the tableaus of Gebre Kristos Desta. By masterfully manipulating his craft and depicting images imagined or dreamed and symbolic images from the ancient and the present Skunder –combined his talents with his influential personality and became the right man at the right time for an artistic reincarnation in his native land.

Esseye Medhin, June 8, 2003
  Ale Felege Selam
The Modernization of Ethiopian Art

In 1959, Ale Felege Selam played a decisive role in the foundation of a modern art school: the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts. He would become its director. This accomplishment was in stark contrast to the 1940s wherein the first group of Western-educated artists — Abebe Wolde Giorgis, Agegnehu Engeda and Zerihun Dominique — failed, one after another, to do similar.

Considering the national and international achievements of the school’s alumnae, and the growing public interest in art during the past fifty years, it is not an overstatement to dub Ale Felege Selam Ethiopia's Artist-Educator of the Century.

Esseye G Medhin, May 29, 2007
  Some late thoughts on the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Painting

According to the teachings of the Church Tewfit, tradition embraces not only religion, church rites, culture and history; but also the rites of worship that have been handed down from ancient times without any distortions or changes. As the country was blessed from the outset and accepted the three religions of mankind, like no other country, there was no room for the Ethiopian Church to show any sign of suspicion or distrust for the artistic expressions of these religions.

The interesting and intriguing artistic paradigm of the Ethiopian Church painting is its systematic resistance, negation and suspicion to dominating and threatening artistic forms. It remained an indisputable symbol of independence and survival, not only of the Church, but also of the Nation.

Esseye Medhin, April 20, 2003
  Bisrat Bekele:
The Other Pioneer of Abstract Art

Just like their counterparts in other developing countries, several Zemenay artists followed in the footsteps of the pioneers of Western modernist art movements. Just like the best Ethiopian students of engineering, medicine, science or political science, the best Ethiopian artists of this period did not intend either to revitalize Ethiopian ancient practices and culture with the help of the new nor go against them. Rather, they wanted to use the new to advance the present.

Esseye Medhin, March 25, 2007
  Bekele Mekonnen
The Breakthrough Years

Bekele Mekonen work depicts a contemporary enigma. Like the most conscious and sensible musicians, poets, writers, comedians and human rights activists of the present-day Ethiopia, it is a statement by the sculptor. As seen in his recent works, his artistic language is murky, gruesome and stupefying. At first glance, one is either repulsed or attracted and capitulated by its aesthetic configuration and execution, rather than its moral, national or ethnic identity. The subject matter for his works is as much complicated as the execution of the work and materials used. Despite the fact that his work has the experimental spirit of Tadesse Gizaw, the force of Tadesse Mamecha, the detailed fascination of Bekele Abebe and the symbolism of Tadesse Belaynhe, it must be understood that his point of departure and objectives are different from his instructors.

Esseye Medhin, December 23, 2003
  Worku Goshu in the1980s

The paintings of one of the prominent Ethiopian Modernist artists, Worku Goshu, in the 1980s, are specific meditations on themes and iconography taken from the Holy Scriptures and Christian art. Their archetypal subjects were chosen not only as vehicles of communication in order to convey his message and disclose new dimensions of contemporary reality but also as a reflection of his artistic style.

Esseye Medhin, 2002
  Abdel Rahman M Sherif
Director of Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts and Secretary General of Ethiopian Artists’ Association

Abdel Rahman M Sherif, like his colleagues the modernists of the 1960s, did not belong to the left or the right of the Addis Ababa intellectuals. In the art and thinking of the modernists, radical political thinking was not reflected. Equally distinct in their works was the deliberate absence of an explicitly political content. But they were optimists, openly elitists, socially and culturally conscious and responsible. And they lamented the condition of the country they wanted to see changed.

Esseye Medhin, 2002
  Behailu Bezabih (Kine)
Towards a New Realism

How does an artist who spent several years in a rigorous and strict disciplinary training indulge in aesthetic configurations hitherto employed by “non-artists” such as children, folk artists, and self-taught amateur artists? It is kind of unfashionable question to artists, and probably irrelevant to anyone who does not have the cultural obligation to care. But it points to an interesting, broader issue. How can one describe or express his feeling intensely and fully particularly in painting? .

Esseye Medhin November 21, 2001
  Mezgebu Tessema
Paying homage to the World of the Ethiopian Peasant

Mezgebu is paying homage to the world of Ethiopian peasant through his clear, clean, exhilarating figurative painting. The deep-rooted memories and encounters allow Mezgebu to create beauty and to make a far-reaching and meaningful commentary as clearly as any contemporary Ethiopian love songs and Novels. His interest in the rural Showa, with its powerful and enduring experience, and the nearly spiritual encounter between him and the subjects are revealed in his works.

Esseye Medhin, 2001
and the Provocative Object

The portrayal of erotic and nude figures, although the symbolical representation might well be universal and date from antiquity, is definitely a characteristic of western art after the Renaissance, and even more so the fascination par excellence of artists from industrial countries. For better or worse, Mulugeta reflects values symptomatic of the society where he studied, and where he works and lives, although he is a product of a cultural setting where even a pinup nude figure is not tolerated.

Esseye G Medhin May 14, 2001
His Florida Connection - Symbolism of the Ancient

Tadesse is more urbane and artistic in mimicking --his new works' are devoid of content in the traditional sense. There are no codes, or metaphors in his colorist, almost subject-less, nonrepresentational works. In the narrow sense they are decorative and purposeless; at close look they evoke nostalgia. Unlike the Ethiopian modernist painters of the late sixties, whose works read like scripture and depend on literature, dreams and even philosophy--more analytical in their approach and style and consequently more complex and inquisitive--the significance and reality of Tadesse's work is the tableau itself.

Esseye G Medhin, 1999
  Zerihun Yetmgeta

What is most striking about Zerihun's work and retains a viewer's attention is his daring and lively assimilation of modern painting trends and techniques with traditional art production, combination of modern and traditional materials, and the use of modern ideas with traditional themes. He applies modern painting methods such as grattage, collage, frattage, or decalcomania on traditional supports such as wood and sheepskin. Unlike other artists, none of these pictorial devices are used for their own end. Instead he intervenes on the free forms at a conscious level with his imaginative and technical fertility thus making works with familiar, traditional images or composed of strange creations and simply-formed decorative motifs from artifacts. He constantly references Ethiopian yet he is able to assimilate and master a variety of artistic trend and styles.

Esseye Medhin, 1985
A Romantic Artist

In the late70s and early 80s, in his boring pre-artistic life as an exile and refugee in Paris, young Kenfe Michael had absolutely no idea why he was doing what he was doing--nothing. He knew he had the choice of either spending his time doing the things his peers were doing, which pretty soon got boring as far as he was concerned, or do some kind of work--something, anything, while he was living alone in his small apartment in the12th arondissement in Paris.

Esseye G Medhin, 1995
  Ethiopians Collecting Ethiopian Art

In addition to those who collect Ethiopian contemporary paintings for personal satisfaction, as cultural relics or for pleasure, there may be others who intend to collect art as an asset, for monetary profit. If you are interested only in the monetary value of contemporary Ethiopian art or, for that matter, of any objets d'art, you should think twice before investing in it. For the moment, what you as a collector of Ethiopian contemporary art receive is the satisfaction of owning it, which may be the pleasure of looking at it, of inviting others to look at it and of knowing it belongs to you.

Esseye G Medhin, 1996
  ¨Hz ¡`e}e
g`vWª W®H& 1882 1960

v®HT {]¡ lej vê{. vmHT. vOÀx. v±`. vD¾RF|CEv` d¾¨ce Hcxgª* Ox| OHv`C Hõ|F ¹{ÉH# x±#kV fEÃH# fClnHE"" HzmvH#| `Q¿z ®HTC HOÀwAl/
  v+z O±¡` H±OCª* g&|¿å¼ H&K jvw|

v¼³Kl ±OE ®HRª*/YÒª* H&K jvw| wÉ]z% vcòl Ol×|C O{¹| HÊO\ ¨ÂF vjm*| ÓHcyV HQÉU%| exex H+I. ¹m\| OV gEÀzW\C RE fEÀW^Al ¹QÉJé oj ¼Hl jC{ª* Re[Í ¹HT""

All articles © Debre Hayq Ethiopian Art Gallery. All Rights Reserved.