Wednesday, July 17, 2024
ArtDigital brushstrokes: Ethiopian art in the age of AI

Digital brushstrokes: Ethiopian art in the age of AI

Traditional Artists, tech visionaries weave a new creative masterpiece 

Digital brushstrokes: Ethiopian art in the age of AI | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

The advent of digitalization has unlocked new horizons for artists, enabling them to reach audiences far and wide. Ethiopian artists are capitalizing on this opportunity by leveraging the capabilities of social media platforms and online galleries to showcase their creations, which now transcend borders, captivating international buyers, and fostering vibrant cultural exchanges and a deeper appreciation for Ethiopian art.

Digital tools and platforms have revolutionized the way artists create, share, and monetize their work. Digital media, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), has become a catalyst for collaborations and cultural exchanges, enriching Ethiopia’s artistic landscape. Professionals in the sector, speaking with The Reporter, highlighted how technology has preserved traditional Ethiopian art forms through digitization, safeguarding them for future generations. They also noted that technological advancements have inspired contemporary artistic expressions, seamlessly blending heritage with modernity.

A key figure in this digital transformation is Achamyeleh Debela (Prof.), director of the Computing Center for the Arts. An internationally celebrated curator, his work delves into Ethiopian and African history and contemporary culture. In the eyes of professionals, Achamyeleh stands as the foremost Ethiopian expert in digital art. Beyond his curatorial prowess, he has mentored and trained Ethiopian art professionals in digital artistry and computer graphics.

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During his visits to Ethiopia, Achamyeleh has developed lectures and courses that integrate computer graphics with digital art. Likun Nahusenay, a full-time studio artist, credits Achamyeleh for opening doors for Ethiopian artists to embrace digital technology.

“Despite initial fears that this technology would spell the end for traditional artistic methods over a decade ago, it has instead amplified their creative capabilities,” he said.

New technology often evokes fear among professionals that their work might be replaced, Likun observed. “However, with digital media and AI, we have more opportunities than ever before. Social media platforms are crucial for gaining exposure.” He emphasized that technology empowers artists to express their inherent identity, merging Ethiopian heritage with modern elements in their contemporary works.

The only downside, according to Likun, is the risk of disconnecting from digital platforms. “Stepping away from digital and social media reduces one’s exposure to the modern technological world,” he said. “These platforms are instrumental in creating distinctive artistic works that reveal the artists’ identities.”

As the curator of Black Madonna (Ye-Mariam Menged), Likun urged Ethiopian artists to embrace advanced digital media technologies, now more accessible than ever.

Reality Technology, a local tech company, exemplifies the integration of Digital Media and AI technology in daily operations. Though not specialized in artistic creation, they produce educational materials enhanced with AI-generated visual effects.

Ermias G/Sellassi, a software engineer at Reality Technology, explained that AI technology adds artistic value to their content, streamlining tasks and boosting performance and production rates. He highlighted the platform’s cost and time efficiency.

“The technology can produce anything according to your request, though mastering it requires time and training,” Ermias said. He expressed concern over the platform’s impact on copyright, noting that AI uses previously uploaded images or artistic works as references, potentially undermining artists’ copyrights and benefits. “Despite its advantages, the copyright issue is a significant drawback,” he told The Reporter.

Ermias further noted that young people are rapidly adapting to the technology, enhancing their skills through self-learning or online training.

“With the right ‘prompts,’ you can obtain quality content, images, or artistic work from the AI platform,” he said, adding that this emerging field has given rise to a new profession: ‘prompt engineers.’

A study by McKinsey Global Institute in April 2024 predicts that by 2030, AI could generate 20 million to 50 million new jobs globally. These roles will span various sectors, including healthcare, technology, and finance, marking a new era of opportunities in the digital world.

Wondemu Beyene, a seasoned artist, poet, and art teacher, stands as a beacon of traditional artistry in an increasingly digital world. Though he hasn’t fully immersed himself in digital media, Wondemu acknowledges the potential of AI technology. Yet, he remains steadfast in his belief that AI cannot replicate the authentic emotional depth inherent in traditional artistic work.

“Traditional paintings have the unique ability to convey artistic emotion,” Wondemu explained. “AI can replicate images and some technical aspects, but it cannot replace the originality of artistic work. It merely imitates human thought.”

For Wondemu, art and emotion are inextricably linked. “Unless real emotion is incorporated into artistic work, it remains soulless,” he said, adding, “Since the platform is man-made, I hope it will evolve to better express artistic feelings. However, based on my experience, AI can simplify certain tasks and serve as a shortcut for technical work.”

Wondemu’s exposure to AI-generated digital prints has been limited to digital media, not physical paintings, and he believes the technology needs more time to mature before it can be fully judged.

Elias, a young painter and graphic artist who prefers to go by his first name, represents the new generation of Ethiopian artists navigating the digital frontier. He believes contemporary painters must align themselves with current digital media technology.

“It is the artists’ responsibility to adapt to technological advancements,” Elias said, noting the transformative impact of this shift on the sector. However, like Wondemu, Elias holds that technology cannot replace the authentic artistry of traditional painting. “The true essence of painting lies in genuine feeling and emotion,” he stated. “The majority of Ethiopian painters still adhere to traditional methods, with only a few using digital platforms as a source of income.”

He believes the conventional method of painting remains largely unaffected since professionals in digital media are still relatively rare.

Elias highlighted that the advent of digital media, including AI, has created new job opportunities, making digital art a viable profession. He pointed out that this technology has not disadvantaged the sector, as many artists effectively integrate it with traditional painting methods.

In Ethiopia, the digital transformation of the art sector has faced significant challenges, with market imbalance being one of the primary issues.

Elias and Likun have observed that artists who utilize digital media tend to earn higher incomes and achieve greater global exposure compared to traditional painters. They attribute this increased visibility to the broad reach and accessibility of digital platforms, which enable artists to showcase their work to a worldwide audience instantly.

“Those leveraging technologies such as AI are not only expanding their market reach but also enhancing their financial prospects,” they said.

They emphasized that traditional painters must adapt to these technological advancements to achieve comparable success. The integration of digital tools allows painters to connect with both local and international markets more effectively, ensuring they remain competitive and relevant in an increasingly digital world.

The introduction of AI in the art world marks a ground-breaking period, redefining the intersection of creativity and technology. In this domain of artistic creation, AI emerges as a transformative force, unlocking new avenues for expression and collaboration. The blending of traditional artistry with cutting-edge technology heralds a new era of creative possibilities.


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