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Bold Space: depiction of social problems 
Leykun Wondifraw's 'Bold Space' exhibition on view at Alliance Ethio-Française

Bold Space: depiction of social problems 

Bold Space is about attention. The human figures take a moment out of their daily hustle and pose in front of buses or taxi queues. They gaze earnestly at the viewer, their absolute stillness holding our attention. The buses and cargo containers present in LeykunWondifraw’s paintings are also still – snapshots of the means of transport frozen in time.

Depicting absolutely mundane, everyday occurrencesLeykun’s works demand attention. The viewer must be present to understand what’s at play.

Leykun’sBold Space opened on Monday at the Alliance Ethio-Française gallery, a space that continues to showcase new and innovative work by Ethiopian artists transforming the local art scene.

Bold Space is an exhibition of 10 larger than life pieces that take up most of the gallery space.

“There was a lot I observed as I travel out of town. Things I heard on the media or saw online influenced a lot of these works,” says Leykun.

The bold color usage and strong brushstrokes easily depict the ever-present visual landscape of city transportation. Public transport problems that are inescapable in the city and in several urban areas throughout the country are evident here. Bus lineupsare depicted across the 4-meter longcanvas painting: ‘Waiting Line’.

Inversely, a crowd of buses is depicted waiting for what seems to be a lone female figure in ‘Waiting’. The roles have reversed; the eagerly awaited becomes the one to wait.

Leykun wants to get across that queues are inextricably linked with our lives. Bread queues and ATM lines are ubiquitous.

The titular painting ‘Bold Space’ shows a man standing behind a shipping container. The container, says Leykun, represents all the electronic equipment that human society has come to depend on inour daily lives. Inside the container are smartphones and computers that define the fourth industrial revolution. With this in mind, the figure standing in front takes the role of guard, defender of a drug that would cause human society’s collapse if denied.

Leykun,an athletic and muscular man in appearance – a figure that is highly uncommon among artists, is a 30-year-old man. The detail and delicate exactness depicted in the containers is incompatible with his youthful vigor. But appearances can be deceiving. He is considerate and calm, self assured as he explains his artistic process.

The large sizes of the paintings, most between 2 and 4 meters in width, show the dominance of these material objects in the lives of humans. These materials playa dwarfing roleeven to the humans that had initially created them. People may be utilizing them but the systems we have built to serve communal needs make these objects our masters. Few gallery spaces in Addis could accommodate these large sizes without the paintings dominating too much of the physical space available. The Alliance gallery proportions worked really well with these large acrylic paintings.
“My work in Kefita Studio influenced the size of these works. I worked in large-scale mosaics and sculptures. So I guess that fed my interest in depicting these large pieces. I think the size was also important to show the scale, the dependence we have on these material objects and our relationship with them.”

Leykun’s previous works had focused on sprawling cityscapes. Bold Space has succeeded in zooming in to find the details of the human within the larger socio-economic context of the city.

Since graduating from Addis Ababa University, School of Fine Art and Design in 2011, Leykun has been working as a full time studio artist.

“My work has been influenced by a lot of artists. If we look at local ones, especially my teachers, there are TadesseMesfin and MezgebuTessema. DawitAbebe, who is also a young artist, has influenced my work.”

There are some similarities between Dawit’s earlier works and Leykun’sBold Space. The bright use of one color juxtaposed with a human figure is slightly reminiscent of Dawit’sBackground series. But Bold Space is a refreshing and considered approach to an issue that continues to plague the city.

But Leykun is cautious of defining, and thereby limiting, his paintings. “I don’t want it to be suggestive of my own thoughts. I want people to interpret them the way they choose.”