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 Scholar, associated to HISK, Gent, Belgium and ULL, La Laguna University, La Laguna - Tenerife, Spain

Paper presenters:

ADMASU Abebe; MULUGETA Tafesse; Colette VESTER; Lacy N. FEIGH; Fathi BASHIER

Currently researching the contemporary and modern visual art of East Africa, my work explores the Ethiopian art scene that is in the limelight at least for the last four decades in the Ethiopian/African political, economical and cultural metropolis, Addis. My focus for this panel therefore emphasizes the practices of those mostly Addis based contemporary artists. I will try to show also the less researched, Ethiopian designers who have adopted in their creative skills and aesthetic manifestations, something from the old Ethiopian painting iconography (icons, frescoes, and the illuminated manuscripts). The Ethiopian high landers’ traditions and folkloric art (popular songs, traditional clothes, household items, kitchen settings and utensils, interior decorations, war armories, mule saddles, metal and silverwares, etc.,) are source spots for the mostly Addis based Ethiopian contemporary artists. These traditions solace artists to incorporate them in the art medias. Familiar ornaments or humorously drawn artifacts found in the local pubs or eateries echo and contemplate the old precious reserves existing in the high lands and the steep terraces of Northern Ethiopia locales. In general, these cultural and spiritual reserves have created a favorable ground for the prior artistic practices to thrive as a vigorous visual culture hub, which can start anytime en masse to tour the globe - attracting a bigger audience and extended researches in the fine art and knowledge production.



ADMASU Abebe, lecturer at Mada Walabu University and Ph.D Student of Social Anthropology, Ethiopia

This study examines the artistic values of Manchela (decorated sleeping hid mat) and to explain its significance in social interaction among Dawuro society. It is a kind of ethnographic inquiry on indigenous art objects or visual art in the pre-colonial or colonial societies typically “primitive” art - now called as ‘Ethnographic Art' (Gell 1998:1-7). An evaluation and categorization of non-western aesthetic scene needs ‘Ethnographic’ studies to grasp culture-specified meanings behind the art objects. It is also the way of seeing a cultural system that focuses on particular artwork production, circulation, and utilization and evolution in particular social milieu. So, its' emphasis is not on aesthetic principles, but its' mobilization in the course of particular social interactions. Therefore, the main objectives of this paper were to investigate Manchela making, symbolic meaning embedded in socio-cultural spheres, and to explain the roles in social interactions. Data collected through field observation (exhibition conducted in November 2016), interview and document analyses. Thus, it found that Manchela is a decorated and local made sleeping hid mat that mainly used for sleeping and as gift object provided for the bridegroom. It is produced by an occupational minority group called Degela. Oral tradition traces their origin claim to Jewish (Bet-Israel or Flasha). It is decorated by using local made color, handmade painting tools and depicts publicly constructed styles and symbols. Skins tanned by using stone tools (ancient technology) that are a long vanished tradition in many parts of the world. However, it survived in the study area (Alula and Gebre 2012; Abrham 2013). This might be due to an artistic value embedded in that culture and its steady social interaction transited in different human development stages. Furthermore, it argues that due to change, if the survivals (tanners) failed to practice it for their livelihoods, the tenacity of products' social value and its consumer is changing does institutional intervention is capable to preserve an art? Is the involvement of “primitive” art in modern industry (tourism and fashion) per se able to open new opportunities? How can local art in South Ethiopia be categorized in a production of “Self-image” and maintaining “public image”?



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.



Colette VESTER, Art & Education consultant, The Netherlands

Art Education and the development of the art curriculum to include academic responsibilities in Ethiopia are factors of great importance in a changing society. It is well known that there is a close relationship between art and societal development. Everywhere in the world, art both reflects and influences the culture and politics of societies. Sometimes art adapts to changes in society, sometimes it brings innovation and change and or revives the past. Art can play a role in fulfilling social needs, but more importantly art is vital to developing balance and creativity in young minds, openness and capacity for innovation, as well as team spirit and respect for others. Art can bring people together, can contribute to the economy and to cultural awareness. It provides references as well as positive impact. In education, the art curriculum should make students sensitive to the visual world, should develop skills and knowledge both in potential future artists, and in young people who will apply their sensitivity to the arts to improving their world and innovating for development. Today in Ethiopia new programs in the visual arts are widespread and recognized, and recent graduates coming to teach. As a result, there are more opportunities for art in the Ethiopian academic world. Institutions, universities, and their teachers therefore need to work together to create a clear vision of the direction of art development in relation to the rest of the continent and the world. With its rich legacy of tradition and culture, Ethiopian heritage has much to offer the arts. In the conference presentation, we will report on interviews with new students and fresh graduates on their vision of the future of art education and art in Ethiopia. Good quality education is achieved when there is good communication, teamwork and a vision for training teachers of the arts and artists.



Lacy N. FEIGH, University of Pennsylvania

Historically, race has played a central role in Ethiopian artists’ depictions of the Battle of Adwa. Using what has been termed “Ethiopian secular art” of the twentieth century, this paper traces the development of race-making in Ethiopia. Racialization of artwork in the twentieth century illustrates that Ethiopians, like others across the globe, consciously engaged in a process of race-making that was intimately tied to imperialist projects on the recently consolidated frontier. One of the earliest known paintings depicting the Battle of Adwa shows little, if any, racial differentiation between Italians and Ethiopians, but increasingly in the twentieth century Ethiopians began to paint themselves as racially different from Europeans as well as from each other. Blackness came to represent those populations recently brought into the Empire, particularly those along the southern frontiers. This paper argues that the process of racialization reflected in art illuminate a larger narrative of imperial race-making embedded in twentieth century Ethiopia. Painting racial difference of Ethiopian bodies reflected the Othering of people along the periphery-- those people who were perceived also as religiously or linguistically different, and culturally inferior. Also, this paper complicates and enhances the frameworks of ethnicity and frontiers in the Ethiopian historiography. Beyond economic and political centralization, it highlights racialization and identity formation as crucial components of imperial processes which attempted to define the modern Ethiopian state. Utilizing art representing historical events as a reflection of broader social and cultural historical processes creates a more dynamic archive on which to examine Ethiopian history.



Fathi BASHIER, Wollega University, Ethiopia

Education-research was introduced as integrating research approach providing link between teaching, learning and the research activities recently conducted in the master studio at Wollega University, Ethiopia. It is proposed as a dual research approach within which two research methodologies operate: the teaching-based and studio-based research methodologies. However, as the research progressed, the increasing awareness of the failure of traditional design, has led to a significant shift of orientation in the studio away from research-based design to design-based research directed towards the development of new knowledge in collaboration with the architects in practice. In this study, examples of the research collaboration between the architects both in the studio and in the practice are reviewed and the role of each one of them examined. The benefits of including the world of practice into education-research nexus approach is discussed and assessed.