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TesfahunKibru’s never-ending experimentation
Tesfahun’s metal sculptures at Asni Gallery

TesfahunKibru’s never-ending experimentation

Asni Gallery in Ferensay is currently showcasing the works of TesfahunKibru, painter and sculptor.

Tesfahun, 40, has been a great force in Ethiopian contemporary arts in his daring experimentations. His recent works were produced at the Ethiopian Tire, Rubber, Economy Plant, a space he has used as a studio since the closure of Netsa Art Village.

Tesfahun’s works require large physical space to showcase and the expansive gallery grounds are now home to several of Tesfahun’s metal sculptures, pieces he has developed and refined over a long time.

“Art is about connecting with nature. No thought goes outside nature. So art is the basis for art. Real art is something that develops through time and can incite feelings, an emotional response. I’m in constant search for new ideas, new techniques. You might say I’m addicted to the work.”

Rigorous experimentation is what brought Tesfahun to the mediums of metal, rust and rubber. He describes the move as rebellion against academic rigidity and transcribed forms of art making.

“If I were worried about sales I would never make these. Sometimes it is concerning to think about selling your work. But, you can’t give in to that pressure. The system is designed to stop artistic work; it doesn’t encourage artists to try new things. It requires strength to continue.”

Tesfahun employs various techniques to complete metal works, sometimes assembling scrap metal pieces, other times welding or smelting. The method employed depends on the idea he wants to transmit.

“Each technique I use is a reflection of the multiplicity of characters within me.” Some are sarcastic at first sight but genuine when seen up close – like the rust painting of a family all wearing graduation caps and gowns. It critiques our culture’s obsession with formal education when true learning and the process of gaining knowledge should be a lifelong experience. Some are whimsical meditations on nature like his animal sculptures. Others are downright humorous; these must be seen to be understood.

He connects art making with memory – the amount of things he is able to recall affect the connections he is able to form to create new works. “It’s about solving problems, it’s about flexibility.”

“The saxophone player came from a lot of experimentation,” he begins, referring to one of his metal sculptures.“You see the man playing the saxophone and the lungs are exposed. This work isnot complete yet. It can be deconstructed more. Imagine it just a saxophone and the lungs. That still perfectly transmits the same amount of information.” The experimentation is not complete, the search continues.

The largest piece at Asni, ‘YeKolkoleLidet’, is a large train with three cars made in celebration of the French-Ethiopian centennial. It is assembled from varying pieces of metal at different degrees of rust.

Rust plays a large role in his works. The metal sculptures are left outdoors to the elements and the rust effect is inevitable. It is part of the process of slow decay. He also uses rust on his canvas paintings eschewed acrylic or oil. His rubber pieces use melted rubber mixed with fabric to create amorphous wonders.

“I’m bringing twisted thoughts to the visual world,” he explains. The twisting technique he employs in his metal work is a way of forging a new thought process, distorting certain parts to bring truth to light.

His trademark dreadlocks are gone but Tesfahun’s visual appearance is always striking. He constructs his clothes himself. A patchwork of jean fabric and a leather bag is his iconic outfit. Two pieces of white linen with drawings he made using rust are stitched around the knees of his trousers. He’s hoping to continue making clothes and shoes of this distinct aesthetic to a larger market.

The exhibition will remain open indefinitely and Tesfahun is working from Asni for the duration. He says it is communion time with the public and he’s looking forward to engaging with the people coming to see his works.

“There are many more twists to come. Nature is not fully explored. It’s about exploration. It’s about experimentation.”