“I am always thinking of this life and what it really means.” Artist Teferi Teshome
A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing this column for my avid readers this week. Let me rewind. In considering how I can add substantially to the art scene in Ethiopia, specifically and Africa generally, I decided to begin featuring an Ethiopian artist in this weekly column. Fast forward. There was a successful international art fair where one of our own Ethiopian artists had a sold out show! That is great news for the artist, the market, the country and therefore media worthy. My family has known and admired this talented and deserving artist for years, so it was a no-brainer for me to call the artist on Tuesday to request a short phone interview for the following day. After speaking to the artist to confirm the phone interview, I texted the artist to send me the biography and said I will send questions beforehand. I always find that helpful, even if the interview expands beyond. Appropriately, the phone interview would be in Amharic, as interviews in first language are always best, even if it means getting translation for my use. Long story short, when I called the artist, at the agreed time, there was no answer, additionally no biography had been sent. I then get a text message, “sorry today I am very busy. I will send my bio on the evening…send the questionnaire and let me write you my response.” As I usually write late Wednesday evening this would not work; plus hearing the artist voice is an important part of my process as a writer. Keeping on open mind, when I did get the “Bio” it was a four sentenced crafted description of the artist’s work, targeted to – let’s just say a different audience. Hmmm… I asked myself the greatest question in the world…to me anyway…WHY? I promise you that we will answer this at another time, as the answer may help in unpacking and overstanding some of the challenges and obstacles existing in the Ethiopian fine art industry, which in my estimation, require reckoning.
However, as I always see the glass as half full, and committed to presenting our incredible Ethiopian fine artists, emerging or established, I reflected on an exhibition I viewed a few days before at the Gebre Kristos Desta Contemporary Museum. Artist Teferi Teshome’s short life was memorialized in this well curated exhibition entitled “ሕያው አሻራ”, very loosely translated means ‘your life is an eternal print’. The visual journey into Teferi’s life in art opened with an installation shrine including three distinct elements that spoke volumes. A worn wooden loom used to create the distinct Ethiopian white cotton cloths or ‘shemma’; a bust of Teferi with piercing eyes, flowing locks and partial smile; and a couple of Ketchene style clay pieces, a distinct representation of his roots, his home and his space where he blossomed; best captured the artist. Teferi, a seasoned graduate of Ale School of Fine Arts and Design, passed shortly before leaving for a major group exhibition in Germany, called “Ethiopia Today”. Ethiopian Airlines had sponsored his round trip ticket and he was ready to go and share his inspiration and perspective.
The “Ethiopian Today” colorful 50 Page exhibition catalogue includes a photo of Teferi and this excerpt from his statement. “Since my childhood skilled artisan workers in the Ketchene area of northern Addis Ababa have inspired me. The work of the potters, weavers and jewelers…left a lasting impression on me and continues to influence my artistic life. I am constantly searching for meaning in my life as I create things in connection with the four basic elements: water, soil, air and fire. I am always thinking of this life and what it really means. I need documenting life, death through happiness, sorrow and birth – with the joy and fashion of the creative process.” Wow! I find Teferi’s words, much like the art exhibition, profound and prophetic in the sense that folks who knew him and those who did not, could imagine the places he had been, the people he had seen, and the narratives he felt worth of recording for posterity.
Suffice it to say, that Ethiopia is endowed with talented artists, proud of their culture and country and ready, willing and able to share with the world, in their own words and on their own terms, the source of their inspiration, the meaning of their work and their quest and curiosity to explore life from their perspective. We will bring you these artists. I am thankful for this platform in the Capital, whose commitment to journalism, combined with a history of support for the arts, allows us to chronicle all things related to art, for your consideration.
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.