As Addis Ababa gears up for the 34th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on February 6th and 7th, the mostly virtual Summit (due to Covid 19), will be held under the theme for 2021 of, “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want”. A recent AU press release states “Africa is universally recognised for its rich arts and cultural diversity … cultural heritage, which is seen as an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation, including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values, will for the next twelve months, be at the centre of discussion in most events organised by the African Union.” Always the optimist while weary of these lofty themes which are often absent of support, Creatives in Africa watch but do not wait. The daily joys and pains, atrocities and advances, hopes and aspirations are expressed by artists, continent wide through film, fashion, literature, poetry, paintings and more.
One such artist is Dereje Shiferaw, an intuitive and gifted painter, born in Asmera in 1978, whose “…combined love for art and nature…has found its way into my life…” says the avantgarde Artist. Dereje’s newest body of works, entitled “በመገኘት ውስጥ” translated “THROUGH PRESENCE,” opens on Monday February 1st at the Alliance Ethio-Francaise. Be prepared for ‘in your face’ beautiful bold paintings which evoke a range of emotions from tranquility to turmoil. His signature “Continental” characters project lush illustrious lips with oversized hands and simple stylized nostrils and eyes. The subjects are familiar yet funky and fresh. Dereje’s unbridled approach is probably due to the fact that he is self-taught and therefore adheres to no particular pedagogy or formula. He freely goes where most formally trained artist dare to venture.
Dereje, a proud husband and stay-at-home-dad of two, is a consummate Artist whose work has been collected and exhibited abroad mostly. He interrogates life through his art and is well known for his philosophy of “1+1=3”. Dereje declares “…there must be a recognition of a higher power always present, amongst and with us…” . He goes on to say, “I am influenced by nature, human beings, social elements, questionable politics, culture, economic circumstance in Ethiopia, Africa and worldwide. The Intriguing dialogue between the subject’s message and the viewer is compelling…physically and emotionally invested in the subject’s story, my aim is to capture the sprit, essence and heritage of my subject and use this as an opportunity for the world to peer into the lives and struggles of people whose stories are yet to be told…”. Dereje gathers motivation and inspiration everywhere. From his infant daughter’s voice and movements to the soundscape of jazz music softly playing in his studio, to the hidden monastery cave right across from his home studio. Dereje shares his codified colorful chronicles with the world. Amongst his neatly framed 45 paper works of life-sized portraits and a selected number of water colors including cityscapes, revealing his mastery of even classical art styles. Dereje’s art is poetic, even musical; providing vision, voice and victory for his subjects.
Bob Marley also gave voice to the people of Africa and his 76th birthday will be celebrated worldwide on February 6th, the same day that African Heads of State will meet. The timeless songs of Marley motivated freedom fighters from Algiers to Zimbabwe and it is my hope that the AU will pay homage to the reggae artist who put Africa first, consistent with the 2021 theme. Marley sings in Redemption Song, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.” Many don’t know these are actually the words of the Back to Africa Movement Champion, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Though Garvey never set foot on African soil, his legacy lives on in Africa. This in mind, President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana has been requested to present a motion during the upcoming Summit, to erect a bronze bust of the Pan African Patriarch in a collaborative initiative, spearheaded by the Pan African Technical Association (PATA) and endorsed by Garvey’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey. Co-lead on the Marcus Garvey Bronze Sculpture Project, Mr. Yaw Frederick Davis states, “This is a gift from the African Diaspora to the AU. The purpose of this initiative is to honor the legacy of a pioneer pan-African nationalist who organized over six million Black people worldwide to improve their living conditions and to achieve political, economic, and psychological sovereignty. Roughly one hundred years ago, Garvey organized the largest known African mass movement in history. He was more than an activist. He was a visionary who was ahead of his time.”
In a phone conversation with Dr. Julius Garvey, the surviving son of the African Giant said the significance of the bust being installed at the AU on August 17, 2021 is an effort to galvanize Africans at home and abroad. He also spoke of the importance of ancillary events such as lecture series and the Marcus Garvey Centenary exhibition as tools to further educate Africans as to his father’s contributions which have stood the test of time. Internationally renowned sculptor, Nijel Lloyd Binns of Los Angeles has been commissioned to create the bust and it is our hope that the Member States will pass the motion allowing all Africans, who enter the halls of the AU, an artistic reminder of the role of Africans in the Diaspora towards unity and progress.
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.