dinsdag, maart 29, 2011

 

New painting in Ethiopia




Being an artist in Africa can be a perilous undertaking. The way the artist sees things may not be approved of by the public or (even worse!) by the authorities. But that’s a problem anywhere in the world.

The worst problem in Africa, also for the artist, is poverty. Even if an African artist is not really very poor him/herself, the potential audience is. Which means the artist becomes dependant on the happy few who do have money. And having money doesn’t always mean having a good taste. As such many African artists make works for that market, which means they have to attract and please their customers. This is understandable, but it easily interferes with the real possibilities of the artist’s talents.

But when artists in such an environment take up their own artistic responsibilities to show the world what they are capable of, then you might be able to see something really more special.

Take a country like Ethiopia. I visited Ethiopia in the 1990s. The country was just recovering from a vicious war against the Dergue and war victims were seen begging in the streets. Poverty was endemic to both the city and the countryside and jobless youngsters were hanging out on street corners. Apart from that, the country was immensely impressive with its unique landscape, flora and fauna, peoples and history. There was one thing i didn´t see: modern Ethiopian art.

So when reading an article on the African Colours blog about a new artistic cooperative of painters in Addis Abeba i quickly surfed to their site to see what present day Ethiopian artists have on offer.

Ethiopian Contemporary Art Gallery (ECAG) consists at the moment of about 16 artists, most of them painters, and has recently opened its doors. In the interesting catalogue (to be downloaded here) the artists are said to be young, but most of them are well in their thirties.

Herewith i present some works of three artists, who i think are the most consistent and exciting of the band. But do bare in mind that it´s always difficult to say something sensible about paintings you only know from the internet.

Copyright Nuru Abegaz, ECAG Addis Abeba 2011


Very powerful as a colourist is Nuru Abegaz (1973). His compositions look energetic but are probably carefully composed. This kind of art bares the danger in it that it might become just decorative and pleasing to the eye. But on ECAG’s website Nuru’s works are amongst the strongest. Nuru has the métier in the tips of his fingers and masters his colours while letting them speak for themselves.

Copyright Yonas Million, ECAG Addis Abeba 2011

Another remarkable artistic personality in this band is Yonas Million (1975). Here it is a great pity indeed that we only have some internet pictures, as I’m curious to know what the structures in his paintings look like. Neither do i have any idea about the size of his works. But there seems to be a good balance between structure and colour in his paintings. They seem to have grown from themselves like living organisms.

Copyright Tewodros Mhatemeselase, ECAG Addis Abeba 2011


The most recognizable as an Ethiopian artist is Tewodros Mhatemeselase (1980). He has clearly picked up aspects of Ethiopian traditional art and tries to transform them into something that suits the present day world, both in feeling and in composition. Alas, the pictures on the website are particularly unclear. So it looks promising, but nothing much more can be said about them.

There are more interesting pictures to be seen. Most artists of ECAG are trying to find their ways in a more or less modernist language. To some western viewers that might be ´modernist artistic movements of the 20th century revisited´ to others it might be interesting to see how young Ethiopian artists are trying to reinvent painting in a new Ethiopian world which is both national and international, both modern and traditional, both beautiful and poverty ridden.

For those who happen to be in the neighbourhood: there seem to be regular exhibitions and workshops at the venue. But – following a bad African tradition – until now they are not presented at the ECAG’s website.*) Which is a great pity because a good website is the first condition for being taken seriously by the rest of the world. Ethiopian artists deserve better.

BP

*) Just the other day, a few things have improved on the web site. 

For another impression read this.
More articles here.
More art here.
More visual arts here.

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