Addis Fine Arts Gallery is currently hosting a group art exhibition titled Alle Legends, which opened on January 8 and closes on March 25, 2023. The exhibition features the work of 19 artists who have had a significant impact on subsequent generations of the Alle School of Fine Art and Design’s alumni.
These artists have devoted their careers to passing on their knowledge and encouraging artistic curiosity at one of East Africa’s oldest art institutions. The newly launched exhibition places the emphasis back on the teachers to display not only their individual works but also the impact they have had on contemporary art in Ethiopia.
The gallery, which showcases modern and contemporary art from Ethiopia, was founded in 2016 by Mesai Haileleul and Rakeb Sile. They sought to connect Ethiopian art, artists, and western audiences.
Mesai, who has been in the art scene for the better part of the last quarter-century and worked in Los Angeles to promote Ethiopian art, particularly to the US market, met with Rakeb, a consultant who once worked in corporate America, and the two have since agreed to collaborate.
“We started putting on exhibitions in London. We both saw and understood the need to build a bridge between the global market and Ethiopia,” Mesai said. He says that the global market was a place where most Ethiopian artists did not have a chance to be represented.
Seven years ago, they opened the Addis Fine Arts Gallery, showcasing Ethiopian art, knowing the challenges they would face, especially the lack of acknowledgment of art even among Ethiopians. The main gallery is now located in London.
The gallery had intended to celebrate its fifth anniversary of opening two years ago, but they postponed the event due to global events such as COVID-19 and the unstable political situation in the country since then. However, this year they decided to recognize the local Ethiopian art community in honor of their seventh year in business.
“My mind has been mulling over possible next steps for us. Then I considered the teachers, who have been the drive and inspiration behind the whole thing,” says Mesai.
He claims he had the idea for an exhibition and approached Agegnehu Adane, the art school’s director, with the suggestion of showcasing the works of artists who teach there. As opposed to selecting artwork for a thematic exhibition that required preparation, Mesai suggested doing a display with two pieces from the work they already had.
The gallery will then display these works of art, selling them if the artists wish to do so and returning them if they change their minds.
The entire exhibit was a huge “thank you” to the educators for providing a venue for their pupils remaining in Addis to view their work, as well as an audience of art enthusiasts, according to Mesai. He claims that since the school’s founding in 1958, its instructors have influenced and shaped numerous generations of artists.
“I’m glad we were able to shine some light on these pioneers of modern art, even if only in a little way. I appreciate that we were able to do it,” Mesai remarked. Through the gallery, Mesai and Rakeb seek to provide a venue for Ethiopian artists to introduce their work to Western audiences.
Mesai thinks that there is still a long way to go before Ethiopia’s rich artistic heritage—whether in furniture, textiles, or religious architecture—is properly appreciated abroad.
Around ten artists per year are featured at Addis Fine Art Gallery, with at least one group show featuring the works of five different artists. The artwork is on exhibit and for sale for around two months during the shows.
Throughout the year, the gallery sells a wide range of artworks to art lovers, but many artists are discouraged by the 30 percent tax on each artwork they sell and the tax paid on the tools, both of which are viewed as luxury items.
This makes any attempt at curation of an artist’s work seem futile.
He claims that the fact that the vast majority of his business’s customers are not natives of Ethiopia is its greatest obstacle, even if these customers provide the means for him and his colleagues to keep doing what they love.
Mesai and Rakeb aim to keep working despite the difficulties they’ve encountered thus far. They want to make sure that Ethiopian artists, including the teachers who make a difference, have access to a global audience for their creations.