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Reflections on Ethiopia in Art 2010

This year has gone by so fast and has been filled with changes, challenges and a host of triumphs for Ethiopia in art. We have seen new art spaces in Addis; leading Ethiopian artists exhibiting in distinguished spaces abroad; Ethiopian artists abroad making their mark; a blockbuster movie galvanize Black pride; and Prime Minister, Dr. Abiyi Ahmed’s special meeting addressing artists. Whew!
So let’s get started on this glimpse of 2010 in art.  Leading international education expert, Andreas Schleicher asserts, “Your education system today is your economic system tomorrow.”  That in mind, the always ahead-of-the-art-curve, Meskerem Assegued, has just opened Zoma School in Mekanisa where the focus is on four year olds being educated in an edible school yard! Get this – cows for milking, gardens for growing fresh vegetables and a kitchen for the kindergarteners to learn through hands on experience; all based on the Zoma pedagogy of art. Anthropologist, curator, writer and founder of Zoma Contemporary Art Center, Meski has simultaneously opened the Zoma Museum stating, “The museum is here to expose vernacular architecture, meeting local needs through the use of local materials and techniques, which have lasted thousands of years. It is an opportunity for all to look into local traditional knowledge in a public place…traditional space filled with uplifting and futuristic art.”
On the other side of town in Bole Rwanda, though not a permanent space – Yours Truly – Capital Newspaper celebrated their 20th Anniversary in collaboration with the Tesfahun Kibru Show, a convergence of art, industry and innovation at Yucca House, Capital’s Head Office. It was a first on many accounts, exposing visitors to art up-cycling and applied fine art. “The show was a culmination of three years of experiments by the talented artist Tesfahun Kibru in a park within an industrial setting. Furthermore, it underscored the necessity of convergence across boundaries to elevate Fine art to a higher realm,” said Gossa Oda.
On the artists-exhibiting-abroad-scene, illustrious photojournalist Aida Muluneh’s works were featured in a MOMA show entitled Being: New Photography 2018. According to the US National Public Radio commentary, “…she’s been creating bright, primary-colored portraits that both celebrate and transcend Ethiopian culture.” From Aida’s perspective, “The key thing about my work being shown internationally is the global visibility and showing the world all that is taking place in Africa in the form of self expression through art.” Aida’s commitment continues with her upcoming bi-annual Addis Foto Fest in December.
Then there’s the Germany based Girmachew Getnet and Tesfaye Urgessa, both of whom are making waves through the creation of paintings that break the cycle and stereotypical notions of ‘what is Ethiopian art’. Girmachew offers, “Have confidence in yourself first then in your work and you will succeed,” wise words from Girmachew, a founding member of Habesha Art Studio. His work tackles social and cultural concerns that touch on all sectors of society. While Tesfaye Urgessa pushes borders based on his experience as a migrant from Ethiopia to Stuttgart, where he was forced to confront and contend with discrimination and all the baggage of ‘otherness’ that strikes when we leave the safe space called home. Trust me when I tell you, Tesfaye is on my ‘ones-to-watch’ list.
Across the pond in the USA is Blue Chip-Yale Grad, Awol Erizku, called the “Art World’s New It Boy” in 2015 by Vulture Magazine. He came into the international spotlight after shooting Beyonce’s famous photos of her twins in utero last year. Though a trained painter, Awol clearly works across all media with a passion for “the people” saying, “There are not many colored people in galleries that I went to [growing up] or the museums I went to. I was like, when I become an artists I have to put my two cents in this world.” That he has. PROJECT: AWOL ERIZKU an intellectually provocative and compelling spread by Night Gallery is featured in Artforum’s September issue.
Then there was the blockbuster Black Panther movie that took the Black world by storm, bringing a sense of pride back to Africans at home and abroad. Costume designers integrated numerous African patterns including Ethiopian crosses; Mursi, Nilotic cultural lip plate and other references to a ‘country never colonized’.   Which is a great Segway for the final highlight for Ethiopia in art. H.E. Dr. Abiy Ahmed met with Ethiopian artists of myriad genres and passionately expressed his expectation from artists to do their part in creating works that promote unity, love, respect and patriotism that may subsequently reflect a rich history for Ethiopian arts in the future. According to supporter of arts Dr. Eleni Gebre-Medhin, “History is every day that we make a new start, a day that changes us forever.” So as you plan for 2011 consider every day a new day to make history. Melkam Addis Amet!

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.


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