Many sectors in Ethiopia have adjusted to the new digital reality by introducing some form of technology. The art industry is no exception, incorporating technology into the visual aspects of art. The advent of digital art has allowed creators to realize visions that would have been impossible without the aid of computers. The number of artists who create their work exclusively in digital mediums has been steadily increasing over the past few years. This has provided fresh opportunities for Ethiopia’s creative sector.
Digital artists Harerta Teklu and Yeabtsega Getachew sat down with writer and poet Kalkidan Getenet to brainstorm ideas for an art show. They wanted to create something that would make an emotional impact on viewers while also providing them with a unique artistic experience they could relate to in some way.
Negus Africa and Tsebaot Tsegaye, the event’s organizers, started planning the experience after coming up with the idea of basing the exhibition’s concept around “being human” while brainstorming a broad theme for the exhibition.
Before proceeding to create the art, they wanted to get a feel for the venue, with the audience’s experience in mind as they wove poetry, visual art, and performance together.
The Kikundi Gallery, located in the Hilton Hotel and founded by a group of young, creative businesspeople, offered their space for the exhibition.
At that point, Harerta, Yeabtsega, Kalkidan, and the rest of the team got to work on putting together the art exhibition. Models, performers, fashion designers, makeup artists, electricians, and projection artists were brought in to help create the artistic show they envisioned for their audience.
The show’s plot was set up by Kalkidan, and she revealed that they considered different words while looking for a title, which was also taken from current events.
“Words like ‘traffic lights,’ ‘sky,’ ‘clouds,’ ‘machines,’ ‘sound,’ and, most importantly, ‘people’ were considered. There are people who are running for their lives, people who are lost, people who are begging, people who are crying, happy people, ignorant people, young people, and old people.”
A combination of “sew” for “human” and “sewnet” for “body” gave rise to this term. The apostrophe turns “sewnet” into “sew’net,” which refers to human nature. The truth of being human was expanded by adding “-ew”, creating the word “sew’ew’net.”
All of the other artists who participated in the exhibition, including Harerta and Yeabtsega, began creating their works using Kalkidan’s poetry as a guide. The story of the exhibition was set by a poem about how being human also means being in motion, moving, and dancing.
This motion, according to Kalkidan, was incorporated by Negus Africa and Tsebaot, who mentored young, talented models to represent the elements of fire, water, air, and earth. She says that this choreography, along with the music and narration, gave sew’ew’net life.
After deciding on the show’s name, the curators had to tackle the even more daunting task of making a statement. The statement, Kalkidan says, reflects one’s intention, vision, and truth.
“The statement is who we are and remain to be when creating a piece of art. We wanted our statement to reveal itself through poetry, which is a free-flowing form that takes the shape of both the reader’s and the writer’s souls at the same time.”
After the concept was established, the artists visually represented it in their own unique ways, using their own palettes, brushstrokes, and styles.
“Sew’ew’net is about the reality of being human. The idea that Kalkidan wanted to portray through her poem was that we are humans, and as humans, there are many challenges we face from the day we are born until the day we die,” Yeabtsega said.
He claims that the performers set out to use art, poetry, and movement to demonstrate the truth of these hardships, the essentials we require during them, and the strategies we can employ to overcome them.
Everyone, according to Yeabtsega, requires care when they are young, but it is their responsibility to provide for themselves as adults. Knowledge, aspirations, objectives, means, and the love and support of others are just a few of the things everyone needs to succeed in life, he says.
For Harerta, his intention stemmed from a deeper introspection.
“Rather than make a statement, I wanted them to ask, to wonder, and to take a second look—anything that could jolt them from just surface-level admiration.”
Each member of the team, he said, had their own unique experience and interpretation of Kalkidan’s poetry despite its beauty. He reckons that the many perspectives that were represented contributed to a more vibrant final product.