Lemma Guya Gemeda, one of Ethiopia’s most renowned contemporary artists known for his innovative “Lemmism Art” style, left an indelible mark on Ethiopia’s art scene with more than 10,000 original creations before his passing in 2020.
Born in 1928 in the Oromia region, Lemma used locally available materials like goat skin as canvas to produce distinctive paintings. His painting style, which is emblematic of his singular aesthetic vision, is studied in art schools across the country.
To carry on Lemma’s artistic legacy, the Lemma Guya Foundation opened in Addis Ababa after his death. The Foundation aims to nurture imagination and support emerging artists through its inclusive programs. It is also establishing a training institute where students can receive instruction in Lemma Guya’s Lemmism style and advance his distinctive approach for generations to come.
Artist Selam Lemma, daughter of Lemma Guya and founder/president of the Foundation, explains that the foundation’s main purpose—alongside continuing her father’s legacy—was to establish and support galleries and museums. The Foundation is currently training 150 students in techniques inspired by the pioneer’s distinctive style at the Lemma Guya Art Centre in Bishoftu.
“One of the main missions of the Lemma Guya Foundation is to reconnect humanity through fine arts,” Selam says. “Through fine arts, we want to connect globally by sharing Ethiopia’s diverse heritages and arts representing their culture and give everyone insight into who they really are.”
The Foundation conducts research into the various cultures and arts of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups. It also works in education, especially early childhood education and for children with special needs who lack access yet possess many hidden talents typically undeveloped at home.
“We want to help these children express themselves through digital art and art training so they can communicate what is difficult through speech through the medium of art,” stated Selam.
The Lemma Guya Foundation leverages various art platforms, including digital art that continually evolves due to technological advances. It offers training for students of all ages where they can create art and present their artwork in gallery exhibitions at graduation. The next generation of artists can learn the famed style through the trainings and showcase their artwork at different exhibitions
On June 20, the Foundation partnered with the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in a joint venture to collaborate culturally and digitally through art, heritage preservation efforts, and cultural exchange initiatives.
The event, themed “Promoting and protecting the arts and cultural expression,” aimed to foster a positive relationship between the UAE and Ethiopia showcasing each other’s culture and heritage through various activities and provide training and exhibition opportunities for Ethiopian artists.
Henok Belay, who organizes different activities at the Foundation, explains that the event served as an opening for an exhibition showcasing paintings created by Lemma Guya artists. The exhibition is scheduled to run for the next month.
“The exhibition will be a place where people can come, experience the art, learn about the Foundation, and potentially form a relationship with it,” Henok said.
The Foundation is doing important work in promoting and preserving Ethiopian culture and heritage through art. Its efforts to educate and train the next generation of artists in the Lemmism Art style while promoting cultural exchange and preservation are commendable.
The exhibition showcasing paintings created by Lemma Guya offers an opportunity to experience the beauty and uniqueness of Ethiopian art and culture, and to learn more about the Foundation’s efforts in supporting artists and safeguarding cultural heritage for future generations. Selam says the launch event promoted the preservation of cultural heritage and the responsibility of passing them on.
This partnership between the Foundation and the UAE Embassy demonstrates how cultural exchange through the arts can foster greater cross-cultural understanding and goodwill. By sharing and celebrating each other’s art and heritage, it can help Ethiopian and Emirati citizens appreciate their own cultures while developing respect and appreciation for different cultures. Through such efforts, the Foundations work can make a small but meaningful contribution to building stronger ties between nations.