Through the eyes of art
There are many artists in Ethiopia; some well-known and others not so much. And there are very few galleries. One of these is Addis Fine Art, located in Addis Ababa for the past four years. The uniqueness of Addis Fine Art is that it also has a gallery located in London. The aim of this is to get Ethiopian artists and Ethiopian artistry to the world stage and developing a collective base and following indigenous arts. Mesai Haileleul and Rakeb Sile told The Reporter that a lot of their work is to showcase artists’ art and artistry to the wider world. They also do a lot of art fairs in a lot of countries including the US, all over Europe, and also Africa. “Really, our job is not just to sell art works, but our work is to promote Ethiopian contemporary art to the world. The way we feel we benefit our country and our artists is to put these names and Ethiopia as a whole in the psyche of the art collecting world. So people would see our art fair and would want to come to Ethiopia to see us here. It is a digital media, so we get a lot of foreign interests. People want to come to Ethiopia to see us.”
Different places around the world have garnered tourist’s attention for their artistry as can be seen in Venice, Kyoto, New York and others. Ethiopia has many hidden artists and artistry from the world. Having a rich culture, Ethiopians can use art to promote their country. Contemporary art can be used as a tool to bring new people into the country, according to Rakeb. She told The Reporter that Ethiopia has a very old and rich artistry that hasn’t gotten enough exposure. These kinds of art galleries and art fairs will have huge impact on tourism. And artists want to tell their stories and that is one way for the world to get a better understanding Ethiopia and Ethiopian art.
The artist recruited this time by Fine Art Addis is Tesfaye Urgessa. “No country for young men” is named after one of the 20 portraits displayed in the exhibition, each one confronting the viewer with the reality of existing as a so-called “other”. Millions of young men and women, who are forced to emigrate to unknown lands, can find in Tesfaye Urgessa’s work their own stories. The powerful distorted figures are fighting for a place in a world shaken by conflict and crisis.
The gallery described the arts exhibited as “it is in this mute, heartrending reciprocity between the observer and the observed that Tesfaye, painting from memory, lets his spontaneity and experiences take over. Hushed and mature colors dominate the seemingly chaotic compositions that happen without prior planning. Brushstrokes become muscles, tendons, flesh and chromatic masses construct the rooms to contain the figures. The architecture of the scene is brief but enough.
Tesfaye Urgessa told The Reporter that he draws from stuff that he experiences in his day to day life. With this exhibition, he is not trying to convey a specific message but create emotions for the viewers. “Through my paintings, I am not trying to tell a story or make an attitude but when people look at the arts in their head, they will start their own story that resonates with them.”
Tesfaye added that he wants people to feel different emotions upon seeing his art. He said: “Not feeling anything after seeing the arts on my part I consider a failure. I want them to feel all different kinds of emotions.”
“In 2016, I heard a story that 56 million youngsters are migrating to other countries. The first thing that came to mind when thinking about migration is the footsteps, just thumping like soldiers. The constant sound of foots stomping again and again. And then were the hand movements. I started the painting first from the foot and then to the hands. It’s almost like I drew it upwards,” Tesfaye told The Reporter, adding that not everyone who emigrates are going to reach their desired destinations or feel settled afterwards and being in one’s owns country holds a different meaning. He commented on his painting saying that “Even if you see that they are still going, it’s like they are almost there.”
Many African countries including Ethiopia has had the problem with young men and women emigrating to other countries looking for a better life. Some may wonder what the need is to go to another country is while risking your own life. Well some answer that they are looking for better employment, some are trying to escape poverty and others are fleeing war torn countries. Consequently, some get lost at sea or in the desert during their journey.
The exhibition will be open for six weeks and is open to anyone who is interested. Rakeb told The Reporter that they want the gallery to be a meeting point for other artists to be inspired. She added that having these kinds of exhibition in other countries is like being unofficial ambassadors for Ethiopia.
Addis Fine Arts founders said that it is challenging to open an art gallery in Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians find visiting art galleries unusual. Mesai said that even the amenities are not in the best conditions for an art gallery. He told The Reporter that it is expensive to have this kind of gallery in Bole area because of high rent, but even with the high rent the walls are not smooth, and the floor is slightly imbalanced. However, it is a prime place making it convenient place to attract tourists and locals to visit. Many commented on their efforts to make this gallery happen that they were crazy when they started. Rakeb added that when they first started this, they hoped that they inspire others to follow in their footsteps. “If someone does not start this, then no one will have the courage to start it, which is why we started this in the beginning. This opens opportunities for artists and others in addition to being advantageous for Ethiopia.”
Contributed by Sesina Hailou