Birhanu Daniel’s exhibition Mysterious Life Stroke opened on Tuesday March 20 at the Italian Cultural Institute. After graduating from Abyssinia Fine Arts Center and Teferi Meknonen Art School, Birhanu has participated in various group exhibitions including one still on view at Lela Contemporary Art Gallery.
Mysterious Life Stroke is his first solo show and Birhanu is determined to break into the local art scene. He creates his work by immersing himself in the minute details of what it means to be an artist and dwelling on the process of creation itself.
Mysterious Life Stokes draws inspiration from color mixing palettes used by painters. His pieces are cropped and magnified subsections of a palette, an exercise in searching for right colors in the layers of mysteriously arranged colors. A process he calls Accidental Art. One piece, untitled, taken from a section of his own palette is a violent mixture of rapid and haphazard brushstrokes in red and black. He is fascinated by the relationship between a painting and the palette used in it’s making. Another piece taken from a friend’s palette is dark and brooding, with sudden long flashes of intense white, depicting the artist’s internal landscape. He describes his friend as depressive and struggling with her choice to become an artist.
This meditation on the artistic process highlighting a small element helps Birhanu enter another artist’s frame of mind and imagine his/her reality. This is all the more signified by an installation of a paint stained outfit including pants, shirt and boots. The figure wears a red hood, illustrating Birhanu’s erasure from the process as he has embodied another artist’s identity. The figure’s ensemble was one Birhanu was wearing as he painted these pieces. The combat boots, painted red and blue stand on the canvases he used as his own palette.
These abstract works are open to interpretation. One woman was taken aback to her childhood spent playing in grassy fields while another man was immediately reminded of the Red Terror. Birhanu is of the opinion that abstract art comes from reality. He also works in realism and surrealism and says these schools have influenced his style. A childlike approach to his work allows him to pay with ideas and methods of execution. He is careful not to entirely submerge himself in his work and forget his surroundings; a practice he says is common among many artists.
One of two surrealist pieces in the exhibit depicts a bound and gagged young man in a graduation cap, a crow holding a 100 Birr note in its beak to the left, a palette above his head and a bolted door behind him. He says this piece illustrates the stressful post-graduation period an artist must go through before gaining recognition. Birhanu has somehow circumvented the long and arduous journey young artists must endure before even having a solo show. At the age of 23 he has quickly traversed the road to becoming a full-fledged artist. Addis Ababa is increasingly becoming more accepting and welcoming of young painters. There are more galleries today than a decade ago; there is a burgeoning art market and several programs that bolster emerging artists like the British Council’s Creative Futures. Birhanu’s youthful energy and quiet determination have propelled him to this stage. He is now preparing for an upcoming solo show at Fendika Cultural Center in September.
Contributed by Hiwot Abebe