Amen Badeg’s nature is to defy the odds and attempt something no one else does; it is a trait shared by all real artists. Despite a paucity of sculpting space, he works hard to leave his imprint by producing art out of scrap metal.
However, the lack of outdoor installation sites, as well as the bad vision of urban planners, is preventing Amen’s masterpieces from seeing the light of day.
Despite Ethiopia’s rapid urbanization, the number of sculptural installations is almost non-existent. It’s easy to see how a country with millennia of civilization and history is missing its aesthetic qualities.
True artwork has the ability to bring thoughts to life and transform the dead into immortals. Some artists employ words, paint, sound, or rock stone carvings to create their ideal personalities.
Amen’s interest has always been to mold metals, wood, and rocks into the shapes of his imagined masterpieces. He spent his childhood fiddling with wires and bending them into art that he had no idea was valuable.
His dream became too loud for him to ignore as he grew older. Amen pursued what most people would consider a reasonable career ambition: becoming a professional metal craftsman.
“I rekindled my interest and skill about six years ago. I ultimately decided to devote all of my time to it and pursue it full-time. I exhibited my work in the Czech Republic embassy, where it was met with surprise and admiration from those who saw it,” he said, recalling how people began to support him after seeing his ability and how all those who doubted him became admirers and supporters.
Amen’s talented hands transformed recyclable fragments that appeared to casual spectators as rubbish into eternal works of art that left observers speechless. He recognized beauty where others failed to see the potential that lay inside.
Despite critics telling him he should give up after spending hours locked in his workshop, pouring every ounce of his ingenuity into his work, and his family saying he was wasting his time on a pipe dream, Amen believed in the potential of his sculptures.
Indeed, Amen’s top creative talent is not only successfully sculpting waste things, but also perceiving a life in them first and making it evident to others.
“I just had this burning desire to sculpt, to put my ideas into works of art utilizing discarded materials. Money has not been on my mind for a long time. I believed in my ability and worked on it around the clock, and I assume my passion was reflected through my work, and the feedback has been positive,” Amen said.
He eventually received the acclaim and exposure he needed to launch his art at the Czech embassy, the national museum, and numerous other places. His clientele ranges from local and international organizations, as well as embassies. Local enterprises such as Oromia International Bank, Zemen Bank, and others have approached him, captivated by his talent in recent years.
Tariku Asrat instructs sculpture and design courses at Addis Ababa University’s School of Art. He says that Amen is one of the few artists who pursued sculpture to the maximum extent and is now achieving success.
“Amen employs installation techniques in his workshop to transform waste things into art. Metal sculpture, like cement sculpture, is a growing art form. These sculptures are typically designed for outdoor use,” Tariku said.
Tariku, on the other hand, agrees that cities and towns in Ethiopia have limited opportunity for such aesthetic values, which he believes are essential to every civilization.
“In Ethiopia today, such aesthetic values are appreciated by a small percentage of the population. In Addis Ababa, for example, there are two metal sculptures, one at the Zemen Bank headquarters and one at the DH Geda building,” he said, highlighting how most sculptors, like Amen, must keep their work in their workshops for extended periods of time.
Although sculpting has been practiced for thousands of years, its popularity does not reflect this. Amen, a great believer in showcasing nature’s beauty via art, did more than only transform society’s perception of his endeavor, knowing and embracing this weak appetite.
He now periodically opens his doors to young people in his community with the aim of motivating them to dream greater and chase their aspirations regardless of who stands in their way.
“Many young people believe the journey will be easy and pleasant, but it is not. I had to overcome a great deal of adversity to get to where I am today, and I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. Any young person who intends to take these steps must be aware of and understand what it would take to get there,” he said.
He went on to say how he spent two years locked in his studio developing his trade, only to emerge as a trailblazer and surprise everyone in the industry. Amen, a man of strong convictions, was able to combine his technical knowledge of metals with artistic ideals.
His sculpting power has now transcended his own legacy, becoming Ethiopia’s legacy. Amen’s vision has now broadened to include raising a generation capable of carrying on this national legacy.
“Now I have bigger goals. In the future, I hope to extend the craft by founding a school. I also hope to create timeless pieces that will serve as proud monuments to Ethiopia. I want to demonstrate how this art form may be used to carry lessons down from generation to generation,” Amen concluded.