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Tibebe terffa’s Smashing book launch
Left smashed pots, attendees of the performance contributing to the collective mosaic

Tibebe terffa’s Smashing book launch

Wirshato’ – A Pot Smashing Performance, a performance piece by acclaimed artist Tibebe Terffa, took place this Thursday at the Goethe Institute. The performance was first presented in 1995 at the Goethe Institute. The repeated performance consisted of Tibebe inviting attendees of the event to smash jebenas, declaring, “we must break to refashion and create new form … The outside of this pot is so black and burnt that we must break it to see inside.”

Participants, first with trepidation, then with glee, smashed the pots revealing brightly colored shards in yellow, blue and red that attendees then used to form a collective mosaic by gluing the pieces on a large black board. Gasps of shock and nervous giggles accompanied the pot smashing while some took it as a cathartic release and broke many pots and others still refused to break any jebenas. Pots were dropped from high up, hurled angrily or kissed and gently returned to the ground. Tibebe likened the frenzy with opening Christmas presents–some carefully remove the wrapping while others eagerly tear the paper apart. Artists, art lovers and followers of Tibebe’s work mingled and drank wine while the piece was built over the next hour. One artist commented that alcohol encouraged people to contribute to the collective piece more freely.

The jebena plays a significant role in Ethiopia’s social and cultural history and the breaking of the pot carries upsetting connotations for many. Tibebe and Tenagne Tadesse, a Program Assistant with Goethe Institute, recall his first performance 23 years ago and the shock it incited. The outdoor performance shocked attendees and received a great deal of backlash from the press. Tibebe believes the performance to be even more relevant in today’s political atmosphere in breaking of status quo and rebuilding from the shattered remains. “We must listen to ourselves. There are things to question. There are things to acknowledge. We are entering the change process,” he said.

The performance accompanied the launch of The Artist Tibebe Terffa: From Ethiopia into the World a book about the life and works of Tibebe Terffa. The authors Eisabeth Biasio and Peter R. Gerber conducted interviews with Tibebe between 1993 and 2015, following his career and understanding his works. Published in Germany the book consists of photographs of his paintings and a brief outline of Ethiopian ancient and modern art. The authors stated that Tibebe holds a significant place in Ethiopian modern art and hoped this book will spread recognition of his oeuvre.

Tibebe, born in Harar in 1948, has been a practicing artist since his graduation from the Fine Art School in 1973. His abstract sceneries are highly influenced by Harari colors, patterns and cultural elements. They have been exhibited in various galleries in Ethiopia, Canada, Germany and the United States. The Wirshato performance was not the only work of Tibebe’s that stirred controversy. During the Derg regime three of his works were censored for depicting taboo subjects and ‘a better way than socialism’.