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THREATS AND OPPORTUNITIES: PRESERVING ETHIOPIAN WALL PAINTINGS IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBALIZATION [Abstract ID: 0203-05]
Ethiopia’s extraordinary ecclesiastical wall painting tradition is both an expression of its own unique history and culture, and a testament to its openness to foreign cultural influences, introduced through its trading links with the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Ethiopian Christian identity has deep roots, and the Orthodox Tewahedo church has been responsible both for fostering Ethiopian religious expression through art, and for continuing the ancient practices and traditions from which it springs. While this has protected Ethiopia’s ecclesiastical art in a state of almost unparalleled authenticity, it has also been tolerant of neglect, insensitive development, damage, and even destruction. As globalization makes increasing inroads into all aspects of life in Ethiopia, traditional safeguards for the protection of cultural heritage are being eroded. Some effects are subtle but pervasive, involving shifting values and aesthetics in response to media exposure, while others have huge environmental and economic repercussions. The impact of climate change, infrastructural developments, and tourism are particularly keenly felt In Ethiopia’s rural communities, where deforestation, diminishing rainfall and dwindling crop yields are forcing changes in traditional lifestyles. Well-managed, tourism can offer an economic lifeline through the promotion of Ethiopian art and culture, but without regulation it can increase social and economic division, environmental depletion, and encourage cultural exploitation. This paper provides an overview of Ethiopia’s rich wall painting heritage and presents a summary of the findings of the first major wide-ranging technical study of Tigray’s wall paintings, undertaken in 2013 by the Ethiopian Heritage fund in collaboration with the Tigray Culture and Tourism Bureau. Finally, the preservation challenges facing this unique wall painting heritage are outlined within the context of globalization and prevailing attitudes within state, church, and local communities.