Near the Raguel Church on top of Entoto Natural Park is Yishak Gezahegn’s studio and gallery displaying paintings and woven works influenced by Ethiopian history, the mystical arts, and long-forgotten old scrolls. The artist’s artwork can be found in the hut perched atop the mountain, which offers a view of Addis Ababa as well as a place for individuals who want to try their hand at the arts.
Yishak has devoted his life to capturing the beauty he has chosen to represent in his brushstrokes and in the ever-so-intense curling of old scrolls. His exquisite artwork is all based on traditional Ethiopian patterns and designs.
He was first drawn to magic, art, the stars, and beauty by his grandfather. Yishak’s perspective on the world was altered by his grandfather’s interest and knowledge, which inspired him to paint on the hut’s walls, utilizing what he had learned about Ethiopian history and art.
“I began drawing at a young age; in fact, my mother used to tell me that when I was young, I sketched on the floor with chalk. That grew, and when I finished high school, I was completely immersed in the world of art,” Yishak recounted.
Growing up surrounded by the artwork of Zerihun Yetmgeta, whose pieces incorporated elements of traditional weaving with modern art, Yishak was influenced by weaving. He learned the basics of weaving from his grandfather. He then started reading weaving books to broaden his knowledge.
Additionally, he looked at ancient Ethiopian art and started getting ideas from the shapes and objects. By fusing traditional and modern art, Yishak strives to incorporate elements of Ethiopian traditional arts and civilizations into his works. By doing this, he is able to combine the spiritual quality of traditional Ethiopian art with the freedom of modern art.
Yishak spends his time learning about talismanic art, Ethiopian zodiacs, and other topics in order to give his paintings a unique personality and keep the meaning behind each brushstroke.
The majority of Ethiopians are not aware that talismanic art and medicine were affected by Christian and Muslim ideals. Ethiopian medicine, for instance, made use of protective scrolls written in Arabic that have been extensively examined by western academics and are on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Things that were once common in ancient Abyssinian cultures have been stigmatized and avoided. In the 15th century, Emperor Zar’a Ya’eqob forbade the use of diviners and magical items and mercilessly punished those who relied on them, according to historians.
Scrolls are acceptable despite the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s disapproval of magical items because they contain Christian literature. In some forms of Orthodox Christianity, healing scrolls served the same function as home icons.
Scrolls and other traditional Ethiopian medicines are less commonly used in contemporary Ethiopia, but people like Yishak’s grandfather have been passing on what little is left for the general population to study.
Yishak, who believes that art can heal, describes the immense power and significance that talismanic art holds. “Talismanic art uses a lot of symbols, and a lot of Ethiopians use it in today’s world without knowing what it means.”
He hopes to preserve a healing art that has been avoided or disregarded for many years. Atop the mountain, the ambitious artist plans to establish his own school where people can learn the skills of reading, writing, and using various creative forms that have long been a part of Ethiopian culture.
“I already have the space to teach anyone who wants to learn,” he said. Yishak believes that the pursuit of knowledge is an endless journey and aspires to build a society in which ancient Ethiopian knowledge can be dissected and investigated rather than waiting for western experts to research it and pass it on to the original holders of the knowledge.
“There is so much beauty and so much to learn and teach. Talismanic art is largely unexplored but holds great potential. I’m interested in what the future holds,” he underscored, upbeat about the limitless opportunities that lay ahead for underground artists.