Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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MULUGETA Tafesse, Independent researcher (African art and design - modern/contemporary)

The visual and oral mast that has become a prominent insignia in Ethiopia, the legend of The Glory of the Kingdom of Ethiopia, Makeda’s travel to Jerusalem, features its oldest sovereigns’ chronicle in the first famed three monarchs perpetuating feat. Agabo, Makeda and Menelik. The last, Solomon’s 1st born to Makeda, has formed a perpetuating line of rule – all 225 monarchs. The legend fits into the most pertinent myth of Ethiopia, which narratives have shifted its chronicle from a prehistoric to a historic age, important stages succumbing to writing (and painting) as its medium. YeMakeda Tariq, the oldest known cartoon strips – a folk art and text designed on a parchment scroll – is displayed in fragments, divided in columns and rows. A legendary paragon composed of 72 frames or less, depending on the client’s demand, makes prominent a picture. Africanist historian Molefi Keti marks, “As the mightiest nation in Africa, in the 4th century CE, its long-standing empire, Aksum exercised power and authority over politics and commercial activities in the region”. Aksum’s historic locus through D’MT, as the center to Yeha’s culture, is reflected by the key place it occupies in the fabric of legends that blend and originate traditional Ethiopian history. These legend eyeing historical accounts that were produced on murals like the image of the nine saints, the Abuna Yemata rock-hewn church, “carousels ceiling of the church in Guh”, there exist other imageries painted on portable panels, manuscript illuminations or painted on grounds where devotional elements rest value. Ethiopians see applied-art as an élite affair, which resuscitates their spirit. In the folk-art tradition, art was displayed in the reception halls for the rich or healing art and talismans ordered for the sick and other clienteles. The Adwa war and other local themes address long-standing foci in modern Ethiopian art. Afewerk, Skunder and Gebre, three fêted artists effectively have adopted EOTC’s iconography, respectively consigning to it via Western Classicism, African totemic imagery and mainstream expressionist techniques. They did so uniquely to succor art and practice it purposefully worthily. Gebre, left to his own creative candor, yet he continued to produce in his individual expressionist line and technique, paintings. Solomon Deressa explains Gebre “as a painter who is perhaps overly cerebral on canvas, is so far the only Ethiopian poet, who, unwittingly, or not, has unleashed a raging controversy in the local papers as to whether his poems are poems at all”. Afewerk’s artistic forte was “intensified and diversified starting from 1959”. “Skunder remained a pioneer and experimenter” through the totemic and perpetual transformation. Vanguards in the Ethiopian contemporary painting, Zerihun Yetimgeta, Worku Goshu, Abdurahman Sherif, Tadesse Mesfin, Eshetu Tiruneh and Mezgebu Tessema’s painting opuses and exhibition updates are well documented, as they were credited to Ethiopia’s visual art and other’s heritages as well; however, the last three are always focused on their ‘realistic art’ merits, mirroring humanity’s pain and traumas. Julie Mehretu and Wosene Kosrof’s success in the art world hasn’t troubled them from calling home, home! Both exhibit their due shows worldwide; respectively Fidel calligraphy formed on medium to small-format paintings by Wosene and densely layered abstract paintings by Julie. Robel Temesgen lauds Adbar - the primordial Mother Nature - in nonconventional art (nail polishes, glitters,). Bisrat Shibabaw, Tadesse Mesfin, Eshetu Tiruneh, Mezgebu Tessema and Bekele Mekonnen are honored artists and endowed art educators, guiding their institutions with persuasive methods, which blend mainstream art and native insight.