Adwoa and Art

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“In the decades following the Adwa victory, Ethiopia was an object of interest among the black literatri who drew on its antiquated history…inspiring poems…” Prof. Kinfe Abraham

As we celebrate the Victory of Adwa and all it means to Ethiopians, Africans and all Black People of the World, I’ve been engaging in conversations as to what imagery and message best represents the glorious, Sunday 2 March 1896. On that fateful day, Emperor Menelik II with his strategist wife, Empress Taitu, flanked by loyal and patriotic fighters, with women doing their part; forces were marshaled nation wide to thwart the efforts of Italian invaders seeking to conquer and colonize the ancient empire. So what does that mean for artists if anything? Discussions range from traditionalist artists expressing the importance of familiar (some may say cliché) imagery including horses, shields and white robed jegenas baring flags. On the other hand more ‘cerebral’ artists say it is what we are living now because of that victory that shaped our today, that is equally important to document. I say yes to both with leaning towards the latter.
Ask and you shall receive is the old saying. On exhibition at Addis Abeba Museum (AAM), located behind Meskel Square is a group art exhibition commemorating that proud day. Mixed media, paintings and all forms of expression can be viewed, reminding us while reassuring Ethiopians of the trials and triumphs that are the very fiber of the resilient Ethiopian nation and identity. Birtukan Dejene, one of the prominent female artists featured in the exhibition says, “This show is important for all to see. It is our story and our pride.” Her painting entitled “The Leader” depicts an upright Emperor Menelik on horseback surrounded by soldiers with the imperial flag flying high, and priests carrying the tabot from St. Giorgis towards the frontline. Her classic painting style creates a graceful and light atmosphere, with a bright blue sky, representing what is to come. Birtukan depicts it all in the “The Leader.”
Addis Fine Art (AFA) Gallery, known for its international approach for successful exhibitions, presents Adiskidan Ambaye, a female phenomenon. Her “abstract sculptures are nearly preceded by gestural two-dimensional sketches, which delineate the foundations for her three dimensional compositions” which Adiskidan describes as a process of sculpting “from inside out.” The AFA press release goes on to say, “These cyclical markings also conjure images of the naturally occurring concentric circles found in trees, signifying age, and life and death as they are only visible once the tree has been cut down…the sculptures as visualized emotions and life stories.” I did get a sneak peak thanks to AFA owner/curator, Mesai Heileleul. Trust me, this is another must see and buy show.
These two shows are on opposite sides of the art spectrum yet to me in the context of the Victory of Adwa, they both speak volumes. On one hand with the AAM group show puts us in the place and time depicting the circumstance and leading characters that sacrificed life and limb to preserve sovereignty. On the other hand, “Liberty” the title of the AFA solo exhibition for Adiskidan, we see the journey, we see the pain, contortions, a painful process that emerges into an incredible work of art that exudes a fresh and free spirit filled with hope and aspirations. Both narratives are the result of Adwa. If not for the victory, chances are Ethiopians kwonkwa would be Italian. And as much as pizza and pasta are loved here, enjera may not be the national bread. Oh my, perish the thought of the “could have beens”. What we have instead is indeed a proud moment in tine that impacted and even propelled the Pan African Movement. Hope was provided for Black people in bondage, particularly on the continent.
rofessor Kinfe Abraham writes, in Adowa: Black Political and Cultural History From 1796 to 2007, “In the decades following the Adwa victory, Ethiopia was an object of interest among the black literatri who drew on its antiquated history.” He goes on to share a poem as a manifestation of how “black attitudes changed from docility to gallantry as the result of black achievements such as those of Adwa…” I close as I share with you, wishing you a Happy Victory Day and may we fight the good fight every day towards a greater love and respect for humanity, the one thing we all have in common.

“Once they feared the white man, now they despise him. Our judgment stands written in their eyes…Once they were filled with terror at our power…Today, when they are themselves a power, their mysterious soul – which we shall never understand – rises up and looks down upon the whites as on a thing of yesterday.”

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.