“art… the pursuit of pure beauty can be more political than we think.” CNN contributor, Michael Govan

The concept of this column, Discourse with Dr. Desta, is rooted in utilizing the arts to unpack significant social, cultural and political themes while promoting the role and impact of artists. And while music has been my life long professional realm, my decade plus in visual art in Ethiopia has been profound and always on point. Dereje Shiferaw’s timely solo exhibition, HUMAN BEING, is a vibrant volume of visual questions on humanity. Filled with powerful portraits of the black man floating in colorful naïve cosmos. Dereje reminds us that we are not alone in the universe, regardless of how potent we think we are. The tribal like environ, painted with a free light handed flow, is well suited to his selected medium of watercolor which he uses to paint full circle rainbows, probing insects and all aspects of nature, coexisting. The juxtaposition to the burly black men, drawn in mixed media, may be disturbing to some, however. Why? There is a penchant to not celebrate the humanity of the powerful black man in this post-colonial universe. Part of our problem, not seeing, not valuing, not claiming and not celebrating all that we are and all that we have. Dereje Shiferaw Worku, invites you explore important yet simple questions though the exhibition and on his Facebook page asking, “What subject is more worthy than a discussion about a HUMAN BEING? What is more fabulous than a HUMAN BEING? What does it mean…what is the magnitude…relation to nature?” HUMAN BEING is free and open to the public at Guramayne Art Center in Piassa until November 30th.
Dereje is amongst several woke 21st century Ethiopian artists questioning conditions and destiny in the context of being human and in this current time and in this incredible space where undiscovered flora and fauna abound; where rich and diverse heritage and cultures from animism and ancient manuscripts in monasteries coincide with digital spaces and science centers launching satellites. Yes, Ethiopia’s parallel creative universes thrive, whether we see it-or say it-or not. The role of art in this case, is to therefore help us see; see each other and see ourselves and feel the spirit that exists when we are together. This is Dereje’s 1+1=3 philosophy, in recognition of a higher power always present amongst and within us.
The higher power is not politics, which dominates our daily discourse. Thanks to Dereje we are reminded that we can and do co-exist. I read this apt piece by CNN contributor, Michael Govan that sums it up, “… the pursuit of pure beauty can be more political than we think. Artists are always citizens of somewhere. They are also human, and thus carry the same responsibility that most of our politics, religions and philosophies suggest: that we should improve, not diminish, our lives and the world we inhabit. Great art has, through time, been made in many guises. It has been made as protest and as propaganda, made to disturb and to sooth, made to question and to express. Our increasingly globalized media-driven world brings us closer to many people’s struggles; it also brings us stories, and beauty, from everywhere.”
Though it took me twice the time, I intentionally write less this week in order to give symbolic space for new narratives; fearless voices for peace and love and visual expression in recognition of humanity and my fellow human beings. “Peace is a day-to-day problem, the product of a multitude of events and judgments. Peace is not an ‘is,’ it is a ‘becoming.” His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I.

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.