WORLD FOOD DAY
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been observing World Food Day since 1981 as a way to heighten public awareness about world food problems and create a sense of solidarity in the ongoing struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. The theme of World Food Day 2012 is “Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world.”
WHAT ARE AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES?
An agricultural cooperative, also known as a farmers’ co-op, is a business that enables its members to make money while also providing benefits for the group. Farmers working together as a team can achieve things that would otherwise be impossible. For example, a group of people working together to grow vegetables or fruit, to fish together or simply to sell something collectively can benefit by sharing materials, experience and other resources.
WHAT’S THE WORLD FOOD DAY POSTER CONTEST?
FAO and the United Nations Women’s Guild in Italy have launched the first international World Food Day poster contest for children from 5 to 17 years of age. Children from all over the world are invited to use their imagination and artistic talent to create a poster illustrating the World Food Day theme: “Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world.” This contest gives children an opportunity to express their ideas about hunger and share their creative visions with the world. Posters can be digitally created, drawn, painted or sketched using pens, pencils, crayons or charcoal, or using oil, acrylic or watercolor paint.
WHAT ARE THE PRIZES?
Three winning posters will be selected in each of the three categories: ages 5 to 8, ages 9 to 12, and ages 13 to 17. On World Food Day, 16 October 2012, the top three posters in all three categories will be published on the World Food Day website, through FAO’s Facebook page, and with the worldwide entire EndingHunger movement. Winners will also receive Certificates of Recognition signed by a United Nations official. The first-place winner will receive the popular EndingHunger T-shirt along with a special surprise gift!
HOW DOES THE JUDGING WORK?
Posters will be judged on originality, artistic ability and expression of the theme. Each of the three age groups will be judged separately. The panel of judges will include professionals working in the arts, education and humanitarian assistance.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
Entries must be original and should not include signature, photographic images of the contestant, or other identifying information. Participants should submit one entry. Only digital files in JPG format can be accepted. If a digital photo is submitted, it must be at least 530 pixels wide and 375 pixels long. The maximum allowable file size is 1.5 MB. Submissions must be made online on the World Food Day Poster Contest webpage and are due by September 30, 2012.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To learn more about World Food Day and about agricultural cooperatives, please visit the World Food Day homepage - fao.org. For more information on rules and prizes, please visit fao.org / contest-rules.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) leads international efforts to end hunger. FAO helps developing countries and countries in transition to modernize and improve their agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices. Since its founding in 1945, FAO has focused particular attention on developing rural areas, which are home to 70 percent of the world’s poor and hungry people. FAO is present in over 100 countries around the world, and is headquartered in Rome, Italy. For more information: www.fao.org.
THE UNITED NATIONS WOMEN’S GUILD
The United Nations Women’s Guild (UNWG) is a voluntary organization of women connected to the United Nations that works for the benefit of needy children around the world. The Guild, a non-profit and charitable organization, has been sustaining small programs and raising funds for children in need mainly in developing countries for over 63 years.
We received the message below to transmit to those who are interested in film production. Please help the film maker Bazi Gete to find an actor for the film production described below… The LissanTeam
My name is Bazi Gete, I’m an independent Film producer & director from Israel. In the past 2 years, me and my partner working on a Feature Film about the cultural difference between the generations of the immigrants from Ethiopia to Israel Inspired by the immortal play - “King Lear”.
We are looking for an actor for the main lead character: “Solomon” - a 74 year-old hard, tiredandangrynot “gentle” and the head of the family. Preferably with experience in Theater & film - age 65 and above. The shooting of the movie will be in Israel and are planned for the end of 2012
We have difficulty finding the actor in the usual ways .If you can recommend on actors / agents we can approach it’ll be much appreciated
Attached a short synopsis of the film.
A short Synopsis for “Tezta – Nostalgia”:
Solomon Tadela, aged 74, is a hard, obstinate, and nervous man. He immigrated to “Eretz Yisrael” (the Land of Israel) from Ethiopia 22 years ago with his family. Solomon has chosen to zealously retain his original culture, talks very little, and hardly speaks Hebrew.
Our story begins with the unveiling of the tombstone of Solomon’s wife, the late Ivtam, after thirty days had passed since she died. At the family meal right after that, a giant quarrel erupts when Solomon wants to divide his estate among his sons and daughters, and a deep rift divides the family.
A month later, Solomon sets out on a journey that leads him through his children’s homes. Solomon comes to realize that he belongs to a rapidly disappearing variety that believes in retaining the Ethiopian culture and values and that he thought that he had managed to pass on to his children. But the harsh reality hits him in the face.
The disappointment and the ensuing waking up are too difficult to bear. Solomon, having come to know some of life’s new realities, tries to survive according to his own ways….
I don’t know what recollections my readers have of the late-poet/painter Gebre Kristos Desta [GKD] but I have two of my own. Please indulge me while I recount them.
Abstract painting by Gebre Kristos Desta
I believe I was in fourth grade when suddenly I and a bunch of classmates found ourselves jostling over pieces of yellow colored flyers being thrown into the air by the head teacher. To make it short, I managed to get my copy of GKD’s poem Ye Tteffer ByTawar when a charitable gust flew it right into my arms. True to reality in our part of the world, it was by sheer accident, therefore, that I was introduced to this incredible poet. And I never could forget him after that one incident. I hastened to read the first few lines which I also managed to commit to memory thereafter,
I care less for half jokes
let me die, die in split-seconds
and fall into an endless sleep like a corpse
make way, broad way, for me…..
I was speechless, and instantly fell for this alien and enchanting intonation of what I thought was a novel perception of reality. I did not yet realize you could do what GKD just did – refuse to abide by traditional parameters and at the same time be true to your own cultural identity. One reading and I could not do it a second time. It was simply too much for a heart of a lad my age and build. May I intimate that it felt like mounting a rocket engine onto a baby Fiat?
The range of emotions the poem evoked at the time was not easy to pin down. But I know it involved an invitation to exploration, a sense of liberation and danger, longing, and fear of the unknown. I folded the poem and quietly stuck it within the pages of my textbook. For all I remember I did not need to open to those pages every time I wanted a lick; often just thinking about it did the job for me. A [yellow] hiss here. Folded. A [yellow] sigh there. “mangad siTugn saffi… mangad siTugn saffi”, it hissed and sighed.
Eight or so years later, I was at the Commercial Bank near the National Theatre waiting for a friend draw some cash. Once again, for the second time, a friend pointed out the poet/painter to me in real time and in real life. GKD was in sanforized khaki shirt and pants ceaselessly scribbling on the back of a bank slip standing to the side of the teller’s window. Pretending to be waiting in line I had my protruding and almost bursting eyes trained on his swift hands but all I could make out was lines lines more lines angry lines confused lines crazy lines… alien lines alighting on fast shrinking space. These must have been the tell-tale signs for a man who had rendezvous with death for he did not to live to be fifty [1932 – 1981]. What struck me watching him that day was the white spots on his hands and his face which I later learned were the result of a rare skin disease. [Were the spots battle scars caused by the Arts and the Sciences dueling over his soul?](1) And the crazy lines? These I was told were the warp and woof of the Abstract painter. I had no clue what Abstract painting was or could figure out why someone did not simply copy Nature without complicating an already complex and mystery-ridden life. Alas, I could not muster the courage to get closer to shake hands or talk with him; and that was to be the last time I would see him. Talk of missed opportunity! [“Missed opportunity” being the moniker for every educated Ethiopian 45 years of age and above.] The interesting thing is that I was able, with little luck, to ransack discussion forums and the blogosphere for few GKD poems. And just recently I came across a bundle neatly compiled by Amha Asfaw(2) [himself a prolific writer, poet and translator]. What struck me this time is the poet/painter’s preoccupation with death – certainly, a subject for another day. For now I take it we’ve become fast friends already through this brief recollection. And so, without further ado, I leave you with my rendering into English of Ya Tteffer ByTawar.(3)
I care less for half jokes
let me die, die in split-seconds
and fall into an endless sleep like a corpse
make way, broad way, for me
so I can move from end to end
with the speed of light, let me go past [galactic] worlds
and be sun, radiant sun, all-illumining, like the firmaments of God,(5) let me
be a volcano, a molten lava, its ashes, flood, flood of fire
intense, a million-, nay, a billion-fold
Make way, make me a broad way
let me move in darkness, in black, pitch-black darkness, where eye sees nothing, to still regions where
time is motionless, to airless, endless empty caverns
let me flutter and survey it all … for me the star is a plaything
A piece of earth, I write about earth, on black paper, on parchment of sky
as I glide recharging with celestial spark
I move and move and ransack(6) the heavens, storm bolted gates
Till non-being comes into being, silence woken
With huge strides I move
From earth to moon to star, from world to world
I move and move and create
I make the sun my habitat,
Let me burn a million- , aye, a billion-fold than Seol, and a million more than flames of Gehanam
make way, make a broad way for me…
Happy Ethiopian New Year September 11, 2010/ Maskaram 1. 2003
Translation Copyright by Mitiku Adisu, August 2010 All rights reserved
(1) GKD joined the University College [later Haileselassie I University] to study Agricultural Sciences but changed course two years later to pursue his life’s passion; the rare disease struck thereabouts.
(2) I suggest readers contact Amha Asfaw for more information. Appreciations to Amha for compiling the poems for public use.
(3) The Amharic version [as altered] is included. My recollection is ‘indehu‘ not ‘indihu’; ‘bet‘ not ‘beten’, …For some reason I had always thought the title to the poem was ‘Menged Situgn Sefi‘ … Not ‘Yetefer Baytewar‘ or ‘Yetefer Mirkogna’. More research is needed to clear the confusion.
(4) Flow, faithfulness to the poet and his culture and avoiding excessive literalism were considerations that governed this translation.
(5) The phrase approximates Tsiriha Ariam the highest seat of power, the very Throne of God.
(6) Attests to the poet’s determination and his insatiable desire to unlock mysteries.
Among many problems and challenges that art is facing in the third World countries, copyright difficulty is the main danger to the art’s Development. In Ethiopia copyright is a critical issue which requires Serious attention and collective responsibility. The problem is now very big and forces the artists, the government and the society to realize its impacts and crave for its solutions.
Copyright problem is not an occurrence which spread overnight. It has taken root and slowly developed for more than three decades. But through all this time, the artists were not well aware enough to realize the impacts that it has today. Thirteen years ago there were some musicians who were complaining about their creative work being copied from television and radio transmissions and distributed without their permission. But no serious attention was given to their compliant and due measures taken. Now it turned out to be an uncontrollable headache to the artists and the government.
Reflection on different creative arts results
The danger of copy right problem is reflected in all fields of art.
Ideas have been robbed and claimed as original or inventions. These days it is no news to hear that novels and theater scripts have been plagiarized and claimed as original. Anyone can witness that such plagiarized works are from foreign novels or films but cheated as created. Some do not want to mention the fact that the idea is adapted or directly translated and give due acknowledgment to the owner of that particular creative work. Novels can be translated in hundreds of ways in hundreds of languages and by hundreds of people, but the question arises when these hundreds deny the source.
Even there might be a plagiarized novel, short story, short play or full length play not imitated directly form the original language (source) but from the translations (secondary sources). However no such acts have been taken to court for ownership trials due to long distances or deaths. So the stolen works are simply left with scandals and such acts have gained encouragements and licensed to continue illegitimately. The absence of legal registration to creative works and certified ownership is one thing which serves as a hindrance to proper judgment when such ownership claims arise.
The same is true in theater productions. It simply becomes a tradition to take some theater productions directing (such as the style of blocking), stage craft, stage design, costumes and music and apply them in other theater productions without giving any credit to the first creator. In most of the theater houses almost all the ideas the plays and the materials presented on the stage are similar so much so that the audience senses that he/she is watching the same theater production. Everyone can take those similarities as a series of boring clichés but no one regards it as stolen creativities.
In choreographic works, particular movements and costumes were copied and placed for use as if it is public wealth. Photographic works, paintings, sculptures and architectural designs have been copied and sold such that the creators’ ownership is denied and excluded from the rightful benefit that artists must have from those particular creative arts results.
Copyright and audio/video production
Copyright problem is true for all creative arts but music and video film productions however seem worse and exaggerated. That is because the musicians are the ones who only tried to take such cases to court and took initiatives to provoke other artists to press for copyright revolution. But indeed the problems are wide on audio and video productions that outshine other creative works which also forces the artists to speak out loud. Illegal copies of musical albums and video film cassettes were made and distributed. Stickers and covers were imitated. Imitation songs were sang, produced and distributed without the permission of the artist who played it first. Even the only state owned television and radio stations use musical works to accompany commercial advertisements without giving the due payment to the artists, which obviously encourages criminals to consider their actions as right. No agreement is needed with the artists to take one or two best songs from the articular Album and different musicians and produce a collection of music album. This is also common among copyright problems.
The case of video film productions are almost the same but the copied product distributions are for international market.
All this illegal acts and accumulated oppositions led for open demonstration and strike. Few years ago artists were organized to fight this illegal copying and distribution. On august 21st 2003, a demonstration was held to demand measures to be taken to address the copyright problem and to have a well reformed copy right law. Musicians, producer’s audiovisual publisher’s association members and art admirers participated in the demonstration. After this, there followed a strike for seven months.
Within these seven months, artistes were not to produce any audio video productions. Every one can understand the negative impact that this strike had on the development of art. For more than half a year audiences were banned to enjoy new artistic works, the necessary taxes which the government should have get was stopped. But still the artists were the victims because they were denied a livelihood. At that time more than eighteen musical productions were ready to be released. The market crowd was high that many of the audio video productions were left unheard, which also has a double consequence on the artists. However, that organized opposition movement to copy right problem forced the government to form a temporary committee of copyright to work on the copy right law.
Copy right law in Ethiopia
There is actually a copyright law in principle which was formulated in
1959 Ethiopian Civil Law that the issues of creative and artistic rights were included as part of it. It clearly stated the protection of such rights and all the necessary guides to safeguard from any violation are found in detail.
Considering the fact that any such violations are criminal actions The Ethiopian Criminal Law which was formulated in 1960 also protected such rights. According to the law, any one who disobeys this law should be fined or imprisoned on account of using someone elses property for personal benefit. That is if that punished individual did not agree with the owner of that property and the owner was not beneficiary from that particular work.
The absence of benefit then would be calculated in money and to the maximum of 1000 (one thousand) Ethiopian birr (which is not more than 120 dollars) will be paid to the owner as compensation for any material loss and moral damage that have been caused according to artists. What seems clear here is that this law lacks constant revision, because no reforms were made since 1959, which would definitely need an attention with regard to current technological and societal changes. That was also one factor for the artists for not relying on the law because it lacks some potential to solve problems, and of course there was a problem in implementing it in to action.
Awareness of copy right law
Among all the challenges that copy right had awareness seems the major one. There were no understandings of copy right law what so ever to claim such rights.
Most of the artists understood that there is no copyright law in Ethiopia which was revealed in that demonstration because they requested to have one. That may be one reason for not going to court for justice and gave time for the criminals to be more organized that nowadays the have become complicated to all concerned bodies. It was even amazing some of the culprits who have robbed peoples’ creative works were at the demonstration wearing T-shirts and carrying flags with inscriptions that read: respect to creative art results! They are also influential enough to be represented in the copyright committee and audiovisual publisher association and they have an undeniable vote. They know each other with the artists, they discussed the matter informally but no one dares to take them to court. Even if they wanted to, they need objective evidence and most of all they must be caught red-handed.
Copy right problem and the revised law
As time passes, the former copy right law is being thoroughly discussed and the revised one is ready for use and all the committees is formed but the problem is wide and deep as it was before and now it got even more complicated. According to the recent information that we have from the copyright committee the problem seemed over when they started that organized movement but now it has started all over again. The pirated copies of audio cassettes are on the market side by side with the originals. People are still doing their illegal doings. They even distributed the forged material to some regional towns.
The 2003 demonstration was to have the revised copyright law which is now available for use but does not seem to have power to solve the problem yet. Some efforts have been made to take some cases to court but the police will ask for evidence and addresses to arrest the criminals. Who is going to search those illegal materials and evidences is the question which every one asks. Those materials which are used to copy are imported to the country untaxed. The problem is still beyond the control of individual and the government but it is there and it is alarming to the art and its development.
READ MORE IN THE LIBRARY about COPY RIGHT AND NEIGHBORING RIGHTS PROTECTION
My wife Maeve has always supported me in my sometime madcap endeavours and in this one, the Ethiopian art exhibition, she has as ever remained constant. The idea of for Macfish Art arose after my daughter Caoimhe and I visited Ethiopia in 2008 to trek the Simian Mountains raising funds for Concern International. We both were overwhelmed by the experience and were left with such a positive impression of the peoples and its culture. The trip had a profound effect on both of us and on the rest of our family.
Title: Kolo Students, Artist: Addisalem Zewdie
Some months later, my other daughter Fiona introduced me to Connect Ethiopia, a Non Government Organisation that believes in the concept of Trade not Aid. Connect Ethiopia are working to develop trade networks between Ethiopian and Irish businesses . It was with Connect Ethiopia that I returned to Addis Ababa on a Trade Mission in 2009. By this time, I had already spoken to Loretto Meagher of the Leinster Gallery about the idea of holding an exhibition of Ethiopian Contemporary Art in Dublin in 2010.Loretto was open to the idea. My son SHane agreed to help me to organise the Exhibition. Based on the concept of Trade not Aid MACAFISHArt was born
Macafish Arts aims to create a sustainable model of social entrepreneurship working with emerging artists in Addis Ababa. Irish, indeed Westerners in general, often see Ethiopia through the lens of a third world country but there is so much more to this amazing country and culture. Addis Ababa is a cool happening place for modern art. Macafish Art wants to expose Irish audiences to the vibrant art scene that exists in Ethiopia and express the positive aspects of what is going on there. The young artists exhibiting at The Leinster Gallery represent a tiny fraction of the artistic population working, training and teaching in the city.
All the artists taking part in this show have exhibited in Ethiopia and some have exhibited in other parts of Africa as well as Europe.
The success of setting up such a venture during these challenging economic times with the idea of making it financially viable and sustainable will be judged in time and if we have a repeat shop in 2011! Either way we hope you enjoy the exhibition.
THE ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“Meet Meline tells the story of a little girl whose curiosity is sparked by a mysterious creature as she plays in her grandparents’ barn.”
“Meet Meline” is a 3D animated short film created independently and without any budget by Virginie Goyons and Sebastien Laban (Sound Design: Cedric Denooz, Music: Guillaume Roussel) .There is a 12-MINUTES MAKING OF with behind-the-scenes footage, shot breakdowns, exclusive interviews, talks about the story, the characters and the environments, and much more: the Art of making a short-film! >>> THE MAKING OF MEET MELINE : www.vimeo.comMore information on the official website: meetmeline.com
Kseniya Simonova, the winner of Ukraine’s Got Talent, has become a YouTube phenomenon by telling stories through sand animation. Who needs Susan Boyle?
Ukraine’s Got Talent? This much we already knew. There’s Mikhail Bulgakov, Olga Kurylenko and the Klitschko brothers. We can now add Kseniya Simonova to that list who has won the Ukrainian version of Britain’s Got Talent with sand animation. Yes, you heard right. She tells stories through sand.
Here, she recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the second world war. She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman’s face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes - with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene “you are always near”.
Simonova is a real piece of work. Watching her in action calls to mind Rolf Harris (”can you tell what it is yet?”) and his passion for popularising art. Yet you wonder how she would fare in the UK’s version of the show. Piers? “Tony Hart’s dead, love - move on.” Simon? “It was all a bit cabaret, sweetheart.” Amanda? “I’m loving the dress! You go, girlfriend!” Ant and Dec would think her canny, at least.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps it’s not just Ukrainian sophisticates who can appreciate Simonova. If Susan Boyle can become a YouTube phenomenon, popularise classical singing and send Demi Moore into tweeting meltdown would it really be so strange for Simonova’s compelling animations to do the same?
It might just happen. Her war story has over 400,000 views on YouTube and is provoking an interesting debate in the comments section. Jgoo24 notes that “sand is her bitch” and few would argue with this. “Maybe the most magnificent master piece of art of all time” says DevinsDad90, not a man prone to hyperbole. And also “i just jizzed in my pants” (thank you, deaddevil6).
Leaving aside the never less than disturbing thoughts of the YouTube massive, it’s clear that Simonova has achieved her goal as an artist. If we take it that art’s purpose is to illuminate the world in a new way, provoke a reaction, somehow alter the consciousness of the viewer then her work is a huge success. And that high art can come from a format that produced Stavros Flatley and that it can be popularised and sent around the world is surely some kind of modern miracle.
We can only hope that some young British artist is inspired by this and queues up in the rain with the spoon players, acrobats and Michael Jackson impersonators and makes a similar impact. But whatever happens, after Simonova’s triumph, don’t ever badmouth the TV talent contest to me.
The first portion of this text was partially translated from the article by Jürgen Walburg for the Newspaper “Frankfurter Neue Presse”.
Mesfin Woldamlak, the founder of Gallery Lalibela (photo: Admassu)
Way beyond Africa and in the pulsing point of Frankfurt, the Black Continent is advancing to be the center of attraction and curiosity. Particularly in the Klingerstrasse, near the main headquarter of AOK, Lalibela Restaurant has been an insider tip for those who enjoy exotic delicacy for the last 20 years; and latterly also for artists and art lovers. Since April 1, 2008, for the twenties anniversary of Lalibela, the owner of the restaurant, Mesfin Woldamlak, opened an art gallery as a present to his customers and himself.
Mesfin with artist Rose-Marie Rychner
(Excerpt from Frankfurter Neue Presse)
On the opening day, the gallery has displayed the lifework of a German artist Rose-Marie Rychner. The artist, whose work is mainly influenced by African Art, was born in Aschaffenburg (Germany). Although she is living now back in her home town, Rose-Marie Rychner has spent 25 adventurous years in Africa where she traveled to teach art and handicraft in countries like Senegal, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Botswana.
One of the works from artist Rose-Mary Rychner (photo: Admassu)
As we have visited Gallery Lalibela, Mesfin told us that it has been his long time dream to get involved in the world of Art. His ambition is to give artists a starting push to make their work available and known to the public. Mesfin knows how expensive for unknown artists it is to organize their own exhibitions in the center of an important financial metropolis like Frankfurt. Most galleries are oriented to displaying works from already known artists.
Part the gallery from inside (photo: Admassu)
Because of its central location, Mesfin’s gallery is a great opportunity for new comer artists. Art lovers will also benefit from this combination because the gallery and the restaurant are on the same road and next to each other. Means, those who are visiting the exhibitions can be served with beverages and food for an affordable price.
Mesfin with a customer in his restaurant Lalibela (photo: Admassu)
Gallery Lalibela is a new way of serving the public. This project is different and innovative; a Restaurant with its own gallery next door. Mesfin is obviously spending his hard-earned money on this project to keep the exhibitions running.
Inside view of the restaurant (photo: Admassu)
We highly value his motivation and encourage artists and art lovers to visit Lalibela and enjoy the art works and have a productive chat with Mesfin about future exhibitions.
I`m a woman of 42, and I live in Norway.
I`m trained as a nurse and as an artist. As a nurse, I worked as a foreign aid worker in Nicaragua from 1993-1995. Both my parents used to work in foreign aid. I spent some of my childhood in Uganda, but mostly in Norway.
Through this letter I am asking you to help me out with my current art project.
The aim of the project is to investigate what would happen if the current roles in foreign aid were reversed. What would the consequenses be if current aid recipients were to be the providers of aid for countries in the West.
This idea took form while I was an aid worker in Nicaragua, trying to impose changes to the lives of the people in four villages in the south-west. I was wondering what kind of values they would have wanted to impose on us, and how we would react to having them imposed on us.
The question I am posing is therefore: Given the challenges facing Western nations, what aid programs can we envisage as being the most urgent? How could these changes be implemented in the society?
Given the premiss of my work I feel that this question is best answered by those of you living in countries receiving aid from the West, or having spent most of your life there.
I would like all readers to give me tips of to whom I can send this letter, and everyone is ofcourse welcome to comment on the project.
With your permission I would like to use your answers in an art exhibition.
“My goal is not to be an artist. My goal is to examine complicated feelings.” Daniel Taye, 2000
While many contemporary artists worldwide, particularly those from the southern hemisphere, are showing a fascination with issue-based art, where art, activism and media are fundamentally being intertwined more and more, in the works of new exit generation Ethiopian artists, committed or activist subject matter is missing. Many of these artists tend to get their creative satisfaction from the inherited artistic cocoons and mediums, and from their own artistic enclaves and do not seem to be interested in formulating an existential situation or statement from their social or real life experiences. However, it is believed that they are creating their work not for the benefit of the new generation of technocrats, bureaucrats and ethnocentric individuals. Rather, it is that their oeuvres, as a matter of principle, are directed at these individuals – not to amuse and entertain them but to create malaise and chagrin.
The forces and the mechanisms in the works of some of these artists generally emanates from what they see in Ethiopia: the parade of events such as societal confusion, the AIDS epidemic, poverty, and ethnic conflicts. The artist community as well suffered as much as the rest of society from these events. Many of their classmates, instructors and fellow beloved artists suffered and died during the 1990s and to this day. This situation exasperated and penetrated the minds and the creative spirits of some of these artists, and is transformed into spiritual treasure. Five of the outstanding earliest exit generation artists in the past decade who have come out with their signature styles and thus have gained both artistic and financial success are Daniel Taye, Meseret Desta, Mekbib Gebertsadik, Shiferwa Girma and Fikru G. Mariam.
Daniel, who initially wanted to live in Hammer Bako before he fled Addis Ababa and settled in Washington D.C. — and who in 2000 declared to the whole world that his goal is not to be an artist but to examine complicated feelings — was a highly sought-after society painter. All Addis demanded to be painted by him. At one time, Daniel talks of his dream to change the current building of the Defense Minister into a creative art center right in the center of Addis Ababa. His paintings are derived from live rather than imagined models. They are not the reflection of his external study only, but also reflect his mental pictures. His ability to blend and manipulate color and form ever more expressively through his passion and emotion endows upon his models a piercing look; his several self-portraits are unforgettable images of a suffering artist. His swiftly painted, petrified portraits of artists, authors, friends etc. are unforgiving, questioning, penetrating and analytical.
The artists Meseret and Mekbibe are a couple who live and work in Arlington, Virginia. The neighborhood environments Meseret creates on canvas with bits and pieces of rainbow colors are enchanting and radiant. She forms her tableau in a manner similar to that of most other contemporary Ethiopian women painters. Mekbib can be fully understood with a careful analysis of his vertical and horizontal bold brush strokes. His brilliant strokes are masterly. Figures shown dancing, gazing or doing other activities are usually engulfed with carefully picked colors.
Shiferaw, who lives in Las Vegas, is one of the most brilliant and imaginative painters. He collaborated with several other veteran artists and made a lasting acquaintance with the works of several artists of the 1970s. He meticulously and rigorously triumphs over the teachings of his instructors and has created his own unmistakable style. His fragmented, superimposed, inviting and tantalizing figures and faces seem miniatures against the sweep of the canvas in his semi-abstract and decorative and fantasy paintings; they have the flavor of all that is achieved in Modern Ethiopian art.
Fikru, who graduated from the School of Fine Arts in 1997, and who owns a studio both in Addis and Paris, stole the hearts and minds of his admirers by using what he observed — and distilled to his own advantage — from the works of his instructor. We see in his work the style of Waka, a wood sculpture monument on a gravesite of the Konso and the African masks. His models are mutilated and even shattered, but idealized; they somehow attract the sensibilities.
Just like several other artists of their generation and previous generation, the female models played as object and motivation for many of these artists. Their association of ethnic minorities or women with sensuality or primitive motifs became lavishly visible. It is believed this association is of purely aesthetic necessity. From these new exit generation artists, who have come out with this trend and style include: Abera Mehari, Addis Gezehagn, Assefa Gebrekidan, Baye Lakew, Benyam Eyassu, Bereket T. Michael, Berhan Asmanaw, Berhanu Mekonnen, Bharu Jemal, Daniel Asfaw, Dawit Abebe, Debebe Tesfaye, Elias Sime, Elias Worku, Emac Eshete, Engdaget Legesse, Eyob Tefera, Girma Kifle Meskel, Hailemariam Dendir, Kerim Ahmed, Matewos Legesse, Matiyas Lulu, Mekasha Haile, Merid Tizazu, Merikokeb Berhanu, Mihret Dawit, Mulugeta Gebrekidan, Naizgi Tewolde, Nebyou Tesfaye, Nigatu Tsehay, Seyoum Ayalew, Sisay W Giorges, Solomon Assefaw, Tamrat Fekadu, Tamrat Gezahegne, Teferi Teshome, Tegene Kunbi, Tesfahun Kibru, Tesfaye Legesse, Tesfu Assefa, Wondwossen Beyene,Wondwossen Tadesse, Yared Wondwossen, Yenatfenta Abate, Yohaness Tesfay, Yosef Kebede, Zeinu Mudeser, Zeradawite Abate, Zerihun Seyum, Zerihun Workineh .
In reshaping their future, these artists have chosen a much different strategy and approach than their predecessors. They are successfully entering the millennium due in part to an unprecedented interest in art shown both by younger-generation Ethiopians and by Ethiopians residing and returning from abroad. The number of art dealerships and art galleries provide connections to new clienteles and bring great possibilities to these artists. They are perceptive enough to garner support in order to send out their work for shows or to obtain travel visas. The new, exit generation artists are in a different situation from their predecessors in that they go frequently in and out of the country and are not isolated from the dynamics of art marketing or from current contemporary art world trends.
Just like contemporary artists anywhere, the new, exit generation artists live in a linear art culture. Unlike the era their predecessors lived in, the new generation artists live in an era where every point in the globe is thoroughly interconnected. They will not go on repeating and emulating the visions and experiences of others before them. They simply cannot afford to remain interested only in the aesthetic pleasure that can be derived from their works. Their goal is not to be artists in the traditional sense. It is rather to examine complicated feelings and create aesthetically, socially and technologically meaningful and significant work. As it happens, Ethiopian artists are the least likely to be indifferent to human issues and conditions. It is hard to imagine that their higher levels of education would not have helped them confront the threats facing them and society - become sensitive of human conditions - as opposed to only art in and of itself —the kind of art usually produced now by retirees, housewives, amateurs who fancy themselves as painters, kindergarten children and even four-legged creatures.
Some may argue that committed and activist art — art that convinces, inspires and reminds — will lead to unwanted or even passé forms of artistic expression. But it is also impossible not to believe or suspect that contemporary Ethiopian art helps maintain the status quo by idealizing, mystifying and distorting the facts. Whether contemporary Ethiopian art’s activist commitment is its strength or its weakness is a matter of subjective judgment. It has, however, become an increasingly complex matter, if not pure idealism or wishful thinking. Art, indeed, is not a savior, a redeemer or anything else that has been said about it. If it were so, the millions of iconic and decorative works in the valleys, mountains and plains of Ethiopia would have saved the nation from every catastrophe it has experienced. Beyond and above its intended purpose, ancient Ethiopian art did certainly help alleviate suffering by reaching into hearts and minds with hope and compassion. To believe or hope now that contemporary Ethiopian art can help alleviate suffering, incite action, or awaken, disrupt, provoke or change the public and the authorities perception of life may be valid for the individual artists’ commitment and their patrons.
The art of the 1960s and 1970s of Ethiopian activists and social critics includes subject matter that goes beyond merely the story that the painter wants to tell. They were not illustrations, but art that consciously intended to emphasize the self-respect of Ethiopian men and women, often under deprivation. They suggest much concern for the human condition. To this day, their subject matter and results manage to keep us engaged, and they feel timeless despite the fact that they were painted over 30 years ago. In fact, just like the Zemenay artists — some of the important activist artists of the 1970s showed great creativity in a number of their pictorial devices. Many of their artistic solutions ultimately formed a practical guide and approach for others, including the new and exit generation artists — their students. It now becomes only an afterthought —or even regarded as marginal — it will not be so much because it reflected the horrors of the city, the shabby streets, the famine-stricken mothers and children. Nor will it be for its inferior quality or its passé forms of representation, or because it lacked intellect, continuity or other aesthetic and psychological factors. It is in part because of the influential and overwhelming popularity of the Zemenay formal approach, with audacious concepts and the influence of other, more effective mediums.
Incidentally, what makes the leading Zemenay and their works still significant and important is not their trivial, trendy and ephemeral successes but their character and involvement. They were committed to communicating a philosophical and activist intent, and reflected the Ethiopian spirit aesthetically as well as its political strife. They were never accused or suspected despite their radical theory and involvement by the establishment or the public. Just the opposite; they were acknowledged as heroes by all sides. Even those artists of societies that nurtured all kinds of technological and scientific achievements and those involved and influenced by the ‘isms’ of the last century, the modernists, are acknowledged and admired not for their aesthetic or philosophical approaches alone, but for reflecting their deep-felt concern for the human condition and for their art that convince and inspires.
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.The major development in the dynamics of the art market is one crucial factor where the new exit generation artists are a step ahead of their predecessors. 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.
Three decades ago, the art scene of Addis Ababa was dominated by the three maestros: Afewerk Tekle, Gebre Kristos Desta, and Skunder Boghossian, recipient of the Haile Selassie I fine arts award. Afewerk was important for his contribution as the first to introduce contemporary techniques to Ethiopian subject matter and content, Gebre Kristos for being responsible for introducing non-figurative art into Ethiopia and Skunder for trying to give the linear-graphic ancient Ethiopian art a new image. All three were European-educated, which was typical at that time. Many others did not achieve that status in imperial Ethiopia, and even today are not honored and recognized by their compatriots, as they should be.
//Bale Gariw, by: Behailu Bezabeh, oil on canvas//
At the beginning of this century, the Christian Ethiopian painting 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. 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.
//Black Sun, by: Getachew Yosef, oil on canvas//
The first is the realistic or naturalistic style that describes both Ethiopian pathos and glamour. Like the literature of the time, the subject matter of these paintings was based on a new reality–Nationalism. Second is the myth of Abstractionism, Expressionism and Surrealism, the inquest of spirituality in the style of the Western avant- garde movement, which, in most instances, turns out to be an assertion of Ethiopian/African identity through the visual arts. The last is represented by an impressionist, expressionist and social realist style intended to be sentimental and political in nature with its depictions of the cluttered, shabby streets of the cities, urban scenes and the downtrodden masses. These three main artistic traditions existed side by side until 1974 with the overthrow of the emperor.
In 1977, when the country mobilized its professionals for a cause, the newly organized Ethiopian Artist’s Association show opens at the Addis Ababa City Hall Gallery as a testament to its solidarity with the “Ethiopia Tikdem” motto of the Derg. Out of nationalistic feelings and hope for a better future, even such figures as Maitre artists Afewerk Tekle and Gebre Kristos Desta submitted their works to the show. With few exceptions, all artists were involved in one way or the other in the dubious future of the socialist revolution and were therefore producing an Ethiopian style of socialist realism in painting and sculpture. This kind of artistic practice dominated in the late 1970s and 1980s. The very few who adhered to the previous artistic tradition were the odd men out. Either they were not understood or were left to practice their passion alone. Thanks to their political astuteness and knowledge of how to survive, artists like Woku Goshu , the late Tassew Chernet , Zerihun Yetmgeta ,Teshome Bekele, and Tebebe Terfa risked their lives in their quest for individual expression. However, they were fortunate to be able to show their works frequently to keep the tradition of the late ’sixties and early ’seventies alive. With the exception of lesser-known artists’ shows, which were taking place here and there in Addis Ababa, supporters of socialist realism were not interested in showing their works, but were instead encouraged to conform by a system of rewards and privileges through commissions. Many, like the respected artist Abdel Rahman M Sherif saw this sort of compensation as a “fulfillment, genuine enough, of their professional ideals.”
//Coffee Ceremony, by: Tesfaye W. Selassie, oil on canvas//
Although explicitly political art had been created in Ethiopia since the end of the Italian occupation, it reached a peak during the Derg era. The military government of was the first to try systematically recruiting and training artists for propaganda and other specifically political purposes. The comrade militants, who believed that art would help advance their principles, advocated an artistic language that would deny and overlook the complexity of the country and the peoples’ collective psychological make-up. Later, the Ministry of Culture became the mobilizing force. With the help of the socialist-oriented Ethiopian Artists Association, it tried in vain to instill socialist realism in the artistic culture. The artistic freedom and experimentation that flourished during the imperial government was discouraged. The concept of religious, spiritual or historical values and the subjective psychology of the artist were totally rejected. The result was a body of work that was merely hot-headed and pompous. The only works worth mentioning from this period are the murals in Debre Ziet at Gegnoch Amba by Afewerk Tekle, Besrat Bekele and Demissie Sheferaw, which are, of course, too political for the artistic tradition of the country but in accord with general aspirations of the time. All said, any truly artistic approach did not come directly from above in the form of governmental instructions or policy, but from peer pressure at the sides. After the formation of the Workers’ Part of Ethiopia in 1984 and the establishment of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1987 North Korean artists took over the primary role of the Ethiopian Artists Association at least tacitly. They set about immediately to embellish the image of Mengistu Hayle Maryam–the party leader on all of their work.
Today, not even a decade later, these propagandistic art works are considered as nothing more than archeological or historical objects, far from inspiring the masses as they were intended. The artistic situation of the late 1970s and 1980s has dissolved once and for all. However, since the new generation of artists is affected and was even a result of the tumult of the recent past, the mind-set as to what to do and how to define what is done still lingers. Nonetheless, the creative force of freedom seems to have taken the upper hand and transformed the artists for the better. Themes, techniques and subject matter repeat themselves in endless yet lively variation in an attempt to gain a sort of approval and recognition. The urge and the passion to match the efforts of the past, to catch up with lost time (not so much vis-a-vis the international art movement–but as painter Taddesse Mesfin puts it vis-a-vis the time wasted during their own “self-imposed slavery”) is so evident that most found it essential to regroup and find comfort and reassurance within themselves. Since 1993, the silence of the Ethiopian Artists Association has forced many young artists to defend their profession on their own. Artist/painter groups are sprouting up in all forms like never before.
//Galler Wise, by: Geta Mekonnen, mixed media on paper//
These groups are not specifically formed to enhance one type of art style, approach or artistic philosophy. Instead, they are simply alliances of artists who have something in common–social problems and situations that in themselves do not encourage or foster artistic activities. Without sacrificing their individuality, as a group they hope to be more visible in order to approach cultural centers, or institutions for help and sponsorship of exhibitions and exhibition spaces. As a group they also hope to be taken seriously in their attempt to teach the people about art. Among the many artist groups formed in the last seven years, the most visible are the FOWA, the Point Group and the Dimension Group. Addis International which was one of the first groups to be formed, organized a show of the works of about 40 artists in 1991, but has since curtailed its activities while newcomers like the Double Blue group are becoming increasingly active.
FOWA (Friendship Of Women Artists), with its motto “We are more than one,” informally named 36 Ethiopian women artists in the early ’90s as members, the first group of its kind in the country. At present, it is left with only 12 members. In September of 1997 it released a 40-page Amharic and English language catalogue which contained a kind of manifesto. The Royal Netherlands Embassy in Ethiopia, Pact, Alliance Ethio-Francaise, the British Council and Goethe-Institute and numerous individuals helped finance the publication of the catalogue. It includes color reproductions of all 12 members’ works and their pictures, along with a fascinating interview with each artist. Each one has a sensible and contemporary outlook about art in general and about the role of Ethiopian women artists in particular. As indicated in the catalogue, the purpose of the group is to encourage and enhance the opportunities of underrepresented women artists of all ages. The group’s objectives are to promote Ethiopian women artists in any way possible, nationally as well as internationally, and elevate the artistic awareness of the Ethiopian female.
Members of the FOWA group include: Embet Aweke (b. 1955), exhibition expert at Addis Ababa Fine Arts School; Embet Belete (b.1968), art instructor at the Greek Community School; Fanaye Tesfate (b.1968); Kelemua Hailu (b.1969); Ketsela Mengistu (b.1969); Mahelet Abrham (b.1969); Mihret Dawit (b.1969); Mahlet Worku (b.1957); Naomi Tesfaye (b.1968); Selamawit Aboneh (b.1968); and Senafkish Zeleke (b.1967), all graduates of the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School, as well as Sofia Asefa (b.1954), who studied at the Surkov Academy in Moscow and is presently an instructor at the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School. The group had its first exhibition at the German Cultural Center in Addis Ababa in March of 1998.
//Forest, by: Emebet Aweke, oil on paper//
Embet Aweke, a mother and the most recognized artist of the group, and whose late father was also an artist, addressed the role of mother and artist (in a conversation with Assfaw Damte in 1997), saying that “each of the two roles is very difficult by itself. Obviously, playing both roles simultaneously and maintaining an appropriate balance between them is doubly difficult. In order to succeed, one needs patience and unwavering commitment. Otherwise, either one or the other will be sacrificed.” The president of the FOWA group, Embet Belete, who thinks that patrons of fine arts in Ethiopia are mostly foreigners, says that an appreciation of beauty and the visual arts among Ethiopians needs to be encouraged early in the schools. Embet, along with the rest of the group, hopes that the catalogue, “will inspire other women artists and women of all ages who are interested in the fine arts.” Women artists are in a much more precarious situation than their male counterparts; however, given the right situation, they can overcome their disadvantages to be on equal footing with male artists.
//Seated Figure, by: Muze Awel, wood//
The Point group was formed in the early ’90s by a group of artists in their 30s. These artists are all graduates of the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School except Ayele Assefa (b.1958), whose education was in the former Soviet Union. Point group started with nine artists but currently numbers seven members, including Addisu Worku (b.1964), art instructor at the Indian National School; Gebreleu G Mariam (b.1965), graphic artist in the ministry of Health; Luel Sahele Mariam (b.1966), art instructor at Addis Ababa Fine Arts school; Mesfin H Mariam (b.1966) artist s with Mega Art Production; Samuel Sharew (b.1966), the only artist in the group and probably in the country who earns a living as a painter, and Tesfaye (Tesfu) W Selassie (b.1966), art instructor at Addis Ababa Fine Arts School. This group gained wide recognition with its first show at the Alliance Ethio- Française in 1992 as well as its successful show in 1994 at the National Museum. They seek to bring about a change in art activities and situations. As Tesfay W Selassie states, “The Point group’s motives are not to foster an elitist attitude, with the indifferent multitudes lost in oblivion, but rather to impress and influence it without any mystification whatsoever.” By so doing they hope to cultivate their audience and grow with them. Beyond their love of popular culture and their mingling with the contemporary life of the people, they show an abiding interest in both the historical and traditional iconography of Ethiopia and Africa. According to Ayele Assefa, the group doesn’t adhere to any specific artistic style or philosophy, nor does it discriminate against any artistic style. It is open- minded and is interested in discussion and analysis of any form of art, past or present.
The next group, called Dimension, features another nine artists, in their 30s and 40s. All but three received their art education in the former Soviet Union. This group includes: Geta Mekonnen (b.1965), a studio artist and commercial video producer, who studied in Great Britain; Muze Awal (b.1961) , instructor at Addis Ababa Fine Arts School; Mulugeta Tafesse (b.1960), who studied in Bulgaria and is presently working for his Ph.D. in art history and aesthetics in Belgium and Spain; Mezgebu Tessema (b.1960), instructor at Addis Ababa Fine Arts School; Behailu Bezabih (b.1960), Addis Ababa Fine Arts School graduate and presently art instructor at the Bethel Makane Yesus School, Addis Ababa; Taddesse Mesfin (b.1953), instructor at Addis Ababa Fine Arts School; Eshetu Tiruneh (b.1952), advisor, Ministry of Culture; and Kidane Belaye ( b.1950), instructor at the Fine Arts School.
//Scarecrow, by: Geta Mekonnen, oil on canvas//
According to its spokesperson Geta Mekonnen, the Dimension group was formed to overcome an artistic trend that has been going on in Ethiopia for quite some time: an artistic style which is largely interested in representing the traditional icon-like Christian Ethiopian figures. All members of the group believe that this kind of artistic fashion has too long dominated the market, with little or no regard for the standards of the art-loving public of Addis Ababa and the efforts of contemporary Ethiopian artists. According to Mezgebu Tessema, the group was also formed to help “serious” artists participate in group shows regardless of the number of works they are able to produce. He believes that, given the situation in the country, this type of occasional group show may be the only way for the public to see any of their works. Bekele Mekonnen believes that because of their successes in organizing these types of shows, their works have been better exposed to the public with greater attention and awareness. The Dimension group, formed after the earlier groups got more recognition, after it organized an exhibition of works of the late artist/poet Gebre Kirstos Desta in 1996 at the Alliance Ethio-Française.
Outside of these groups, there are numerous artists, veterans and novices, who are experimenting and pursuing alone the most challenging part of creation: giving a special and diverse flavor to contemporary Ethiopian art. The concept of their art reflecting their Ethiopian identity so important to the early painters and critics is not much of a concern to the new generation of Ethiopian artists. Unlike their predecessors, they don’t seem to be worried about projecting their identity in their art. Leuel, who never worried whether his paintings reflected his Ethiopian identity states: “My concern is how to achieve what I wanted to do and whether I succeeded or not …If my work in the end looks European, American or Arabian, so be it. I never questioned myself if I am an Ethiopian or an African.” Taddesse Mesfin said, “I will be glad if it is recognized as Ethiopian, but if there is anything Ethiopian in my work, it is a natural outcome. I never intend on making my works Ethiopian.” Mezgebu states, “Whatever technique or style we employ and follow in our art, there is something in all of us that is Ethiopian that can be deciphered in our work–it is up to the critic or the historian to search for that particular characteristic.” Bekele Mekonnen said that “any work of art done by an Ethiopian is by definition Ethiopian; consequently, in the broadest definition, anything done on Ethiopian soil that remains in Ethiopia for a considerable period of time must be considered Ethiopian.” Geta Mekonnen addresses this age-old artistic question by noting, ” We are only artists doing art works: painting, sculpture, video art, etc. These problematic notions of identity are as ridiculous as affirming that an Ethiopian can only do art works like the Christian Ethiopian type of painting and that Africans can only do masques and figurines. We all hope that our works are true representations of ourselves and not caricatures of Ethiopian or African culture.” Nevertheless, the relation between Christian Ethiopian painting, African traditional art and contemporary Ethiopian art, a subject dear to Ethiopian artists of the late ’sixties, particularly to the home- grown “Native Modernist” Zerihun Yetmgeta, remains a topic of much discussion among the young generation of Ethiopian artists.
//My Same, by: Mulugeta Tafesse, acrylic on canvas//
In late ’60’s and early ’70’s, most works by graduates of the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School reflected the social conditions of the country. Whatever its style and technique, it was an art of social commentary and social solution. At present, with social conditions worsening, this kind of theme is back again. The trauma, the crisis, the spiritual illness and the painful reality of the country’s past and present are subjects of interest to many artists. Bekele Mekonnen creates amazing assemblage sculptures using non-traditional materials, to depict pathetic and down-to-earth street personages. So does Getachew Yossef with his series “Under the Sun,” as well as Tesfay W. Selassie and Behailu Bezabih. While a significant number of artists, including Geta Mekonnen and Addisu Worku are involved with satirical comments on contemporary myth and evils; renowned artists like Taddesse Messfin and Eshetu Tiruneh have given up their favorite theme of the downtrodden masses and the huddled, ordinary people in favor of experimenting with styles similar to the American abstract and abstract expressionist painters of the ’30’s and ’40’s.
Members of these groups, as well as those more established individual artists, are more regularly exhibiting their works, recreating the rigorous artistic activities of Addis Ababa of the 1960s and 1970s. Even more so, the scene has been gaining an international flavor with an exhibition of expatriate artists and Ethiopian artists living abroad. A number of new galleries devoted to contemporary art, coupled with enthusiastic new collectors, are heralding Addis as an important art center once again. As far as the impact and validity of the contemporary paintings and sculptures on the society are concerned, it is hard to imagine any sort of immediate change. Posterity will likely consider it a significant cultural achievement of the age and will marvel at the artists’ audacity and commitment.
Given the fact that a strong cultural infrastructure found in most developed countries is totally lacking in Ethiopia, and is not likely to exist any time in the future, bringing about a new tradition that is more a result of local processes must be expected of our artists. History has put on their shoulders the burden and excitement of being their own dealer, curator, historian and critic. Among their many concerns, they need to consider reaching a wider audience. Rather than the traditional fashion of opening exhibitions at the customary places in a conventional way, they need to think of alternative ways of displaying their works. They have to look for more effective ways of popularizing and disseminating their works and try to move away from traditional patronage, including the government. Their achievements as artists become more meaningful only when their works reach a wider audience rather than a handful of the usual patrons. One way of doing this is to create a community-based art project that benefits that community.
“Since the artists in our country are once again rightfully following contemporary trends of creating and refining, we have great hope for the future.” Ale Felege Selam, 1968
On the threshold of a new century — a new millennium — talking and writing about 20th century Ethiopian art by nature includes talking and writing about art education in Ethiopia, as well as the path to modernization. There is no better way to accomplish these tasks than by focusing on one significant individual, Ale Felege Selam Hiruy. 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.
Before continuing with Ale’s history, let us first take a look at historical context. Sele, which means “art,” has a long history in the country. Thus anybody wanting to do Sele required an art education of some kind. The concept of “art education” was distinctly different from “craft training” and was considered a product of the learned. An art education had existed in the nation for several centuries; the church school system prepared scholars, known as Arat-Ayna (Four-Eyed Ones) who were also artists. They were sought after as scholars and as masters of the arts of traditional instruction and scholarship. However, as the 19th century progressed, ancient teaching methods gradually waned and faded away — including art education.
The concept of modernizing Ethiopian art education was born as part of the overall modernizing of Ethiopia, which began during the second part of the 19th century. This was a period that saw the beginnings of unification, military reform, the birth of fairly well developed literary Amharic, and the establishment of schools. As the foundations of modern educational institutions moved, in less than a century, from Gafat, Maqdela, and Tamben to Entotto – where it finally flourished in Addis Ababa — so did its artistic foundations.
As a matter of practicality, we set the clock of the modernization of art education in 1887. This was when the church trained artists; self-taught artists from all around the nation were lured to Entoto. Atse Menelik decided to send Afewerk Gebre Yesus to study art in Europe. In less than a quarter of a century, the art modernization movement shifted from its center in Entoto, where it all began, to Addis Ababa in part and to its primary center in Arat Kilo. In the 1940s, the modern art movement began to bloom — first with figures like Abebe Wolde Giorgis, Agegnehu Engeda and Zerihun Dominique, and moving on to the parliament studio, the Kine Tibebe School and the Prince Shale Selassie School. It finally reached its peak in 1959 at the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts. There, Ale Felege stayed on as the director until he was forced to resign in 1974.
Ale Felege was born in Selale, Fitch in 1924 and moved to Addis Ababa at an early age. After graduating from Technical School in Addis Ababa, he worked in a garage until the emperor granted him a scholarship to go abroad and study engineering. But engineering aside, Ale received his B.A. in Fine Arts from the Institute of Art, Chicago — reputedly the most influential art college in the United States — in 1954. Shortly thereafter, he traveled to Europe; after returning home, he joined the Ministry of Education and Fine Arts.
Ale organized the first show for himself and his students in his own studio in 1955. During the couple of years he worked with the Minister of Education and Point Four, he painted, organized, and participated in shows and work as jury member. He served as a committee member at the 1958 first annual Ethiopian Students’ Arts and Crafts Exhibition. He also participated in several group shows and helped organize the 1967 Montreal show, representing Ethiopia.
His paintings exhibited in public places include those at the Trinity Cathedral St. Mary in Addis Ababa, and at Kulubi Gabriel Church in Harerge. He also designed postage stamps, illustrated books and designed several portraits and flyers. Apart from his commissioned works, Ale is interested in landscape and portrait painting. His paintings, we know, depict pensive individuals against flat dark backgrounds that are all the more powerful for their simplicity, psychological statements and articulations in rigorous, formal terms. It seems evident that he influenced some of his first students in this regard. Many of the early 1960s-era art school students displayed a similar vitality and the influence of Ale in their somber landscape and genre paintings. Ale respected the themes that traditional art had come to represent. If it appears to some observers that he turned his back on tradition, they should keep in mind that such a rejection was only on the surface. His theory about art was similar to those of many of his contemporaries and did not seem to have any set of aesthetic preconceptions. Many things remain to be said about his artworks; however, the research has not yet begun.
Ale had naturally seen many Western modernist art while he was studying in Chicago. But his interest in mainstream art was puzzling and complicated. Nobody, for example, indicated why Ale, who studied in America in the 1950s, failed to follow the art movement of the time. At this point in time, until all historical materials are compiled, the matter of how best to characterize Ale’s artistic achievements is very complex.
Why did he, on the other hand, dedicate himself to encouraging and helping Ethiopian artists who favored the international mainstream art movement? Ale was able to anticipate and distinguish between short-term benefits and long-term benefits. He was quite aware of the changes that transformed the art world at the beginning of this century, and knew that Ethiopian painting lagged behind the times by several hundred years. Thus he made sure that the school didn’t embrace any one particular artistic style or theory nor abandon the art of the century. Despite the fact that his style of art identifies with the official style of art — as evidenced by the fact that he decorated churches and government buildings and painted portraits in a more conventional style — he did not show any determination to make the school reflect his kind of art. It seems that Ale had clear ideas about the function and role of the art school. He was not totally convinced that students should be trained as illustrators like those of Kine Tibebe School.
In the modernist building of the school, that maintains a certain likable architecture, even by today’s standards — there does not exist much signifying the ancient or the near past that would have burdened and overwhelmed its students. Neither the parliament studio artists works, nor the Kine Tibebe School artists’ works — not even the works of the first Western-educated artists —were considered important or good enough to be displayed in the new school’s gallery. It is no surprise that consequently; the students highly favored Western modernist art.
In fact, Kine Tibebe School was closed because it was considered conservative and out of touch with the modern art world. Once the School of Fine Arts was up and running, the Ministry of Education and Fine Arts gave Kine Tibebe School artists monthly stipends and studios behind the new building to continue their painting. As many of these artists were founding members of the first Ethiopian Artists Club, founded just before the school was opened, students were encouraged to visit them in their studios.
In the 1970s, there were still over 300 paintings by these artists in the store at the School of Fine Arts. Following the trend in painting portraits of women, started by Agenhu and later adopted by Afewerk and Ale himself, many of these artists played a critical role in depicting urban and rural Ethiopian women in their daily activities. Middle-class yearnings, morality, reformism, patriotism and activism are fundamental factors in the work of these artists. They would depict Ethiopians’ way of life and paint historical scenes even before such subjects had gained popularity via the occasional photography exhibit. They are all-Ethiopian to their bones and reflected the emerging middle-class; they are not in any way “traditionalists” or “traditional” artists. They are among the pioneers who modernized 20th century Ethiopian art. However, due to the backgrounds and education of the artists, their works are technically less convincing and less influential, and they remain obscure or unknown.
Ale had to exclude all these generation artists when establishing the school. As was the case at the time with higher-learning schools, Ale had to recruit instructors from the foreign community residing in Addis Ababa. Of these generation artists, only one, Yigezu Bisrat, succeeded in becoming a staff member of the school. (Yigezu would prove to be an innovator and pioneer of Ethiopian calligraphy).
However, though he had made a clean sweep of nationally trained artists from the school and hired foreign instructors, he knew he could not change the direction of art in the country alone. He solicited the aid of influential officials, including Kebed Mikael, in order to realize his vision. Many enlightened individuals got involved in helping Ale in his efforts. In addition, since Ale boasted more connections to members of the royal family and several high officials than any of his contemporary peers, his way of handling the school was favored and praised by the authorities. The Emperor, his most important patron, frequently visited the school, even more than any famous poets, authors or other cultural figures. Since political propaganda, commissioned artworks and royal portraits were done either by foreign artists, former parliament studio artists, Kine Tibebe school artists, Afewerk or by Ale himself, he did not expect or even want see the school as promoting his doctrines. The Emperor’s visits were to display encouragement and support and he was pleased with what he witnessed. It was only during the Ethiopian revolution that instructors, as well as students of the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts, were expected to be part of the propaganda machine for the government.
Ale’s objective and the official’s interest was to prepare independent professional working artists who could express their artistic personas with free will in a modern setting and environment. It is also important to consider the artistic interests of Ale in relation to the kind of art that was taught and practiced at the Kine Tibebe School. As a founder and the school director, Ale wanted to have it both ways — teaching the elementary and conventional aspects of drawings and paintings while keeping the school in touch with the currents of the art world. Despite his broad-minded goals, Ale nevertheless had preferences for certain kinds of subject matter, chiefly those expressing important national values. But overall, he encouraged a broader range of national themes. For example, there was no indication that he tried to make the school reflect Ethiopian identity. Nor is there any evidence that he persuaded students to create any kind of modern icons reflecting Ethiopia’s faiths or cultures. Rather, he believed in a healthy future for Ethiopian art education and encouraged students regarding their performances. Most artists, graduates of the School of Fine Arts, present instructors at the school and important artists elsewhere say that Ale allowed for any kind of artistic approach and tendency in the school. From every angle, it seems that he left a level field for a pluralistic art scene to flourish in the School.
Ale’s all-inclusive intention became even clearer a couple years after the school’s founding. In accord with the Ministry of Education and Fine Arts, he worked hard to prepare students to be art teachers. He hired as staff members Zemenay, Ethiopian modernist artists educated abroad. Gebre Kristos Desta, Skunder Boghossian, Tadesse Gizaw, Bisrat Bekele, Abdel- Rahman M Sherif, Worku Goshu, Tadesse Belyneh and Tadesse Mamecha joined the school as instructors between 1962 to 1972. The grammar of art — perspective, anatomy and academic drawing in general, narrative representation that evolved at the parliament studio, the Kine Tibebe school and during the first year of Ale’s school — were slowly beginning to look rather irrelevant. The dimensions of this trend projected not only upon an artistic freedom but also included a celebration of eclecticism wherein several contemporary international styles can quickly be identified: realism, impressionism, critical realism, surrealism, abstract, abstract expressionism, symbolism and expressionism. All were introduced to the school by these instructors.
The school’s most notable modernist achievements clearly represented pan-Ethiopian will, character, feel and spirit. This new esthetic expression become apparent at the landmark annual exhibitions of the school, held between 1963 and 1973. While the desperate concern Ethiopia’s people regarding the state of the nation continues, the Ethiopian art world provides a glimpse of hope and a common ground through its genuine expression of national spirit. If pluralism is the style of 20th century Ethiopian art, then the credit, or the blame, goes to Ale and the way he ran the only art school in the nation. Whatever definition and standard was given for 20th century Ethiopian art, its modernization phase has been attained and may be completed by the school. If, half a century after its establishment, the school did not achieve an academic or higher institution status, it is due to administrative and cultural complexity.
A decade after Ale first led the school, during the early 1970s and especially after the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, it was widely predicted that his glory days were over. He would be the subject of more iconoclastic scrutiny. Such scrutiny included unsubstantiated rumors that he was involved more with his farm and hunting affairs than with the day-to-day activities of the school. Ale only contributed to his sinking reputation when he interfered regarding the works of graduating students’ subject matters during the time of the mayhem. Ale was unhappy to see contemporary and radical subject matter displayed on students’ diploma works. Staff members were unhappy with his involvement. Although there have been no seriously researched accounts on these matters yet, the caricatures students drew depicting Ale sleeping on the roof of the school would provide the final blow. After 15 years as founder and director, Ale was intimidated by radical students, and the new government was forced to compel him to resign from his position.
Described by many as a fine individual with a charismatic character, Ale did not attract public attention. And despite the fact that art exhibitions have become a regular activity since the school’s opening —including its own annual exhibition—Ale never had his one-man show after 1955. He is the most reclusive and reserved of all artists. To the young students he was as remote, and as irrelevant, a personality as he would later appear to the young military juntas. There was something private and withdrawn, almost unapproachable, about him. He fits what the renowned artist Mezgebu Tessema said in general about Ethiopia artists: ‘introverted’. Students and staff members alike do not talk about him, especially in public. For the older generation of artists, for whom the school is most associated with Ale, any impolite action toward him appears incomprehensible and ungrateful.
Since his resignation, many things have changed. Presently, the school is affiliated with Addis Ababa University under its new name, Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts and Design. At last count it had six directors: Abdul Rahman Mouhamed Sherif, Tadesse Belaynh, Getachew Yosef, Bekele Mekonnen, Melaku Ayle, and Muze Awel. All are school alumnae.
In becoming part of Addis Ababa University, the school risks losing its semi-autonomous tradition. It is very unlikely that the kind of spirit that fermented for several years at the school will ever be resuscitated, even with the same kind of structure. But as it is, affiliating the school to the University may well dismantle what little there is left of its 50-year-old modern art tradition. If Ale had been consulted on this matter, he would not have approved it. One may also ask that, if up until now the University had never affiliated specialized schools, such as the Teacher Training Institute, Commercial school or Technical school, then why would it want to affiliate the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts now? Since it is believed that the school had contributed a lot and attained its goals; it should have been helped to become a charter school and left alone to follow its own course. If, at this point in the national modern education, an art department or art school is crucial — which it is — then the University would have been much better off opening its own School of Art and Design, or a department that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a wide range of arts disciplines.
Ale ultimately wanted to be remembered as a painter. In 2006, at the age of 82, he traveled from Ethiopia to Maryland in the United States to decorate Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However, Ale is still associated with and admired more for his role as the school’s founder, director and educator rather than as a painter himself. Even in his heydays, he never garnered as many honors as, say, Gebre Kristos or Skunder for his art. The Haile Selassie I prize for Fine Arts was awarded to these two artists in 1965 and 1967 respectively. In 1972, the fourth award for Fine Arts went to the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts, rather than to Ale.
The true spirit and legacy of Ale lies in the history of the school and within the field of art education. Nobody before him and to this day accomplished so much in promoting Ethiopian art and Ethiopian artists. No one has come close to approaching his level of contribution in popularizing and teaching art. Many successful and not-so successful artists are, in some way, his pupils. Clearly, Ale is among those who can be called pioneers of art education in Ethiopia, and he remains among the most renowned group. 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.
Christian Ethiopian painting flourished for hundreds of years, in the churches and monasteries of highland Abyssinia. (1) But at the beginning of this century, it was giving way to a new kind of artistic representation. The forerunners for this new art were the church-trained dissident painters, and other self-taught artists who received some commissions for their work. These artists, along with those who got their art education in Ethiopia and Europe in 1920s and 1930s, brought about a new practice in the visual arts culture in modern Ethiopia. (2) By the 1940s, this new class of painters were being hired by the government and recognized as professionals. And by the 1950s, the number of painters, those coming from abroad with a new artistic style grew steadily. The graduates of the Addis Ababa Fine Art School followed this in the 1960s, resulting in three main artistic movements that remained popular until 1974 when the Ethiopian revolution broke out.
First is the realistic or naturalistic and “naïve” style used to represent Ethiopian passion and glamour. Like most Ethiopian literature and the music of the time, the subject matter of the paintings was based on a new reality - Nationalism.
Second is abstractionism, Expressionism and Surrealism; the examination of spirituality in the style of the Western avant-garde movement, which, in most instances was an assertion of Ethiopian and African identity through the visual arts.
The Third is an impressionist, expressionist or social-realistic style. Intended to be sentimental and political in nature, it depicted the cluttered shabby streets of the cities, urban scenes and the downtrodden masses.
These three main artistic trends coexisted until the overthrow of the emperor in 1974.
In 1977, when the country mobilized its professionals for a new cause, the newly amended Ethiopian Artists Association (3) organized a show (4) at Addis Ababa City Hall Gallery. It was intended to be the annual exhibition of the Ethiopian Artists Association. It was also to show the solidarity of Ethiopian artists with the “Ethiopia First” slogan of the Derg. There was no indication at the show of a new style or artistic expression per se. The Paintings and Sculptures displayed portrayed basically the same subject matter as before, and were produced by the same artists. The works concentrated more on the famine, the revolution and rural life in a simplistic narrative manner. Soon after, the revolution changed its course and the military government of socialist Ethiopia systematically recruited and trained artists for propaganda and other political purposes. (5) The militants who believed that art would help advance the cause of educating the masses advocated for Socialist Realism, an artistic language that would simplify the complexity of the country and her people. This new artistic style dominated the artistic scene of the country in the 1980s.
Today, the artistic practices of the late 1970s and 1980s seem to have all but disappeared. However, since the new generation of artists are influenced by the country’s tumultuous past, doubts linger as to what to do and how to define it. Themes, techniques and subject matter repeat themselves in endless yet lively variation in an attempt to gain approval and recognition. The desire to match the artistic efforts of the past; to make up for the time wasted, is so onerous that many artists sought comfort and reassurance within the arts community. Since 1993, the silence of the Ethiopian Artists Association has forced many young artists to defend their profession on their own.
Artists groups are sprouting up as never before. These groups are not specifically formed to promote one type of art style, approach or artistic philosophy. Instead, they are alliances of artists who have something in common - social problems and conditions that tend to discourage artistic activities. Without sacrificing their individuality, they hope to become more visible as a group in order to approach cultural centers, and institutions for assistance and sponsorship of exhibitions. They also hope to be taken seriously in their attempt to teach the general public about art. Among the many artists group formed in the last seven years, the most visible are the Friendship of Women Artists (FOWA), Point and Dimension groups. Addis International which was one of the first groups to be formed, organized a show of the works of about 40 artists in 1991, but has since curtailed its activities while newcomers like the Double Blue group are becoming increasingly active.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, most works by graduates of the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School reflect the social condition of the country. Whatever its style and technique, it was an art of social commentary. At present, with circumstances worsening, this kind of thematic is making a comeback. The trauma, crisis, spiritual illness, and the painful reality of the country’s past and present are subjects of interest to a large number of artists.Members of the artists groups, as well as more established individual artists, are regularly exhibiting in a fashion that is reminiscent of the gregarious artistic activities of Addis Ababa in the 1960s and 1970s. This rejuvenated art scene has taken on an international flavor with the exhibitions of expatriate artists and Ethiopian artists living abroad. A number of new art galleries dedicated to contemporary art, coupled with an enthusiastic group of new art collectors, is once again turning Addis into an important art center.
1) The basic structure of Christian Ethiopian painting and its decorative motifs is presently applied by artists hired by the Tourist Organization, as well as by commercial artists who produce for the tourist and commercial markets. It also serves as an inspiration for formally trained professional artists in creating a more complex contemporary style.
2) See Taye Tadesse, “Short Biographies of Some Ethiopian Artists” Addis Ababa, Kuraz Publishing Agency, 1991.
3) The first Ethiopian artist organization was formed in 1959. The main idea of the Artists Club, as indicated in the brochure published on the occasion of the formation of the club, is to develop the national arts.
4) Ethiopian Artists Association’s last exhibition was held in March of 1991 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Victory Day and the 11th International Conference on Ethiopian Studies. The late Girma Kidane wrote the catalogue. The last major group art show before the fall of the imperial regime, was given by seven prominent Ethiopian art instructors and held at the Haile Sellasie I Theater in 1971. Professor Stanislaw Chojnacki wrote the catalogue for the show. The show closed the first chapter of Ethiopian modern art.
5) Most young artists took this opportunity to get scholarships in socialist countries. Many ended up in western countries as refugees and did not return home after they finished their studies. Those who did return, played more of a bureaucratic role rather than an artistic one, and tried to implement socialist oriented art in Ethiopia.
2006 died in Berlin where he build an Ethiopian village under the motto of “Mesob” in the center of the city and exhibited for over a year.
Have you ever heard about Said? No?
The only reason for that would most probably be that Said was a hard-working artist with no spare time to deal with the thought of making himself famous. Said’s communication medium was his art work.
2005, Said building his village in Berlin. (photo: http://super.tacheles.de)
I met Said in 2001 in Frankfurt. After a fiend of mine introduced us we ended up discussing about his works. Said’s usual topic was his art. That time he has already found his working title “Mesob” and Mesob was like his universe. It was reflected in all his sculptures, wood carvings, and paintings. “In our country people gather around Mesob….” he said. “…Mesob is a symbol of unity, peace and togetherness.”
Said had no limitation of technique to present his point of view around his topic Mesob. As he was still living in Darmstadt near Frankfurt he saw old and dead trees in the town’s public park. He went to the municipality to ask for permission to use those trees for his art. He managed to convince the authority because it was actually a better idea to turn dead trees in to an artwork and making the park more attractive for the public.
2005, Said building his village in Berlin. (photo: http://super.tacheles.de)
Said spent after that working on those old trees turning them in to huge and amazing sculptures. He did that without using supporting machines. The town Darmstadt has received this priceless present gratefully and Said has earned a certain respect from the authority and from those who saw him sweating and working daily on those trees using his old unmotorized tools.
2005, Said’s village in downtown Berlin. (photo: http://super.tacheles.de)