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The not so inspiring sacrifice

The not so inspiring sacrifice

Sacrifice is a new exhibition at the newly renovated Fendika Cultural Center by Etsegenet Girma, Beza Hayleleoul, and Mehari Birhanu. All three are graduates of Teferi Mekonnen School’s (TMS) graphics program and showed their work together at Addis Ababa Museum last year. 

This exhibition is unfortunately not very different from last year’s. The artists are evidently skilled but the ideas behind the works need honing. Arduous conversations with a curator could have led to stronger concepts and a more effective selection of works. 

Titled after Beza Hayleleoul’s works, Sacrifice mainly features woodcuts and lithograph prints. Beza graduated from TMS in 2016 and has a degree in Information Technology. He says working professionally in advertising and part-time as an artist is a balancing act. 

Beza’s woodcuts feature figures posing against a sunset-colored background, shrouded in red barbed wire. Although the transition between light and darkness is intriguing, the figures are overproduced. Clinging to each other or curled up on the ground, the scene does not strike the intended note. Sacrifice appears to be a theme that’s indulged in so much that it’s lost all sincerity. The addition of the red barbed wire seems insipid, stripping these pieces of whatever level of empathy they were supposed to gain from the viewer. 

Beza is clearly a skilled craftsman but one wonders how he chose these subjects for his artworks. 15 of the 34 pieces in this exhibition are his. There are several woodcuts and prints featuring mundane sunsets, savannahs, and pedantic depictions of birds in flight that would be readily available in any tourist market. It’s difficult to see what value he’s added to these common scenes. 

Two stained glass works are also included in this exhibition - Sacrifice Mom 4, the largest work in the exhibition at two meters long, and Sacrifice 5. The gallery was too large to accommodate a large piece like Sacrifice Mom 4 and the lack of proper lighting to highlight the colorful glass of the work detracted from a full viewing experience. 

Etsegenet Girma has included large striking charcoal drawings and smaller lithograph prints. A few of the prints are charming and deceptively simple. She has succeeded in telling a story and imparting moving details that can let the viewer imagine the reality of the events depicted. 

Some of the other pieces feel more like sketches. Perhaps proper curation under a theme that can tie different artists’ works together with more cohesion can bring Etsegenet’s work clear context. Talent can only go so far without the ideation process that makes a piece of art notable.

Mehari Birhanu’s pointillist works bring unexpected levity to a show titled Sacrifice. Mehari also included woodcuts and woodcut prints in this show. He explores two themes in this show - homes and priesthood. The first includes earlier pieces Mehari made as part of his TMS graduation work and the latter are current ideas on searching.  

The houses are mud and wood constructions that Mehari explains are reflections of the residents’ identities. “The pillars of the houses are tied together with rope. Any attempt to remove one home requires destroying all of them. In that sense, we’re all tied together. There is a lot we have in common. We share taboos all across the country. This is a sign that we’re all similar inside,” explains Mehari. 

The idea works at first glance but is suspect at further inspection. These depictions of the commonplace in an attempt to reach an extraordinary point fall short of such a feat. Mahari is technically skilled but the application requires stronger ideas to drive the point forward.

If one approaches this exhibition as a simple showcase of skill, it could be acceptable. However, if it’s attempting to reach a more elevated space, Sacrifice needs work. 

A visit to Fendika is always a great idea. As the space is now open throughout the day, one can view Sacrifice and hopefully see it in a better light than this reviewer did.