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Modern African Art : A Basic Reading List


Eastern Africa : Ethiopia

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Äthiopien in der volkstümlichen Malerei; [exhibition] IFA Galerie, Stuttgart, 1993. Stuttgart: Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, 1993. 99pp. illus. (color), bibliog.

This exhibition catalog deals with the history of Ethiopian painting, but what is of particular interest to modern art is the section devoted to post-revolution art in Ethiopia, after 1974. Jacques Mercier prepared the catalog essay on this recent phase of Ethiopian art history ("Die traditionelle Malerei in der Zeit der kommunistischen Mengistu-Regierung (1974-1991"). What is revealing is the socialist overlay to Ethiopian secular folk painting, which itself derives from Christian painting. Girma Fisseha wrote the portion of the catalog on twentieth-century folk painters, and Walter Raunig opens with an essay on the Christian art of antiquity. The paintings were borrowed from several European museum collections and the private collection of Mercier.

Biasio, Elisabeth. "The burden of women: women artists in Ethiopia," volume 1, pp. 304-334. In: New trends in Ethiopian studies: papers of the 12th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Michigan State University, 5-10 September 1994 / edited by Harold G. Marcus. Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1994. illus., bibliog. (page 334). Abstract, page 304. DT371.2.I57 1994 AFA. OCLC 31121185.

What is the position of women artists in contemporary Ethiopia? Clearly men dominate the modern art scene in this patriarchical society. Schooling for girls in Ethiopia is low, and those who manage to reach higher education levels are few. Still there are those who have succeeded in rising through the education rungs to become professionally trained artists. And they are the ones that Biasio seeks out in this study. She met and interviewed eight women from two generations to see how they balanced an art career with other family and professional responsibilities. They also discuss their art work, inspirations and themes, though they generally agree that women's painting is no different than men's. Biasio detects no formal difference, but senses "a difference of life experience, of perspective and of consciousness." The eight include: Desta Hagos, Emebet Awoke (1954- ), Mahilet Worku, Katsala Atenafu, Berekti Berhe (1965- ), Emebet Belete (1968- ), Elizabeth Tadesse (1967- ), and Fanaye Tesfaye (1970- ). Also includes discussion of women in the Fine Arts School of Addis Ababa (where these women trained) and the position and struggles of women artists in Ethiopia today getting exhibitions and recognition.

Biasio, Elisabeth. Die verborgene Wirklichkeit: drei athiopische Maler der Gegenwart = The hidden reality: three contemporary Ethiopian artists: Zerihun Yetmgeta, Girmay Hiwet, Worku Goshu. Zürich: Völkerkundemuseum der Universität, 1989. illus. (pt color), map, notes, bibliog. Text in German and English. N7386.B57 1989 AFA. OCLC 20878295.

While African artists clamor to be exhibited in art museums and galleries in Europe, this exhibition of three modern Ethiopian artists poses a different question: why shouldn't modern art be exhibited in ethnographic museums? Elisabeth Biasio, curator at the Völkerkundemuseum of the Universite of Zürich, answers unequivocally in the affirmative and reinforces that position with a supporting essay by Wolfgang Bender "Modern art to the ethnographic museums!" Völkerkundemuseum in Zürich has begun collecting Ethiopian academic art to complement its existing collection of popular Ethiopian paintings. The three artists selected are Girmay Hiwet, resident in Switzerland, Zerihun Yetmega and Worku Goshu, both of whom live in Ethiopia. Each painter works in a different style and was asked to personally select the paintings for exhibition. Refraining from art historical analysis, Biasio allows the artists to speak about their own work -- or not, as the case may be; Goshu feels his paintings should speak for themselves. She does provide some biographical and contextual background for each. Equally important she contributes two substantial background essays, one on traditional Ethiopian painting (pp. 36-64) and one on contemporary Ethiopian painting (pp. 65-86). Together these essays give an excellent historical perspective and contemporary frame of reference with which to better understand the three artists whose works are on view. In the chapter on traditional painting, the focus is on stylistic development in religious painting, especially the church murals and icons, and the shift that took place in the twentieth century to secular painting. In the chapter on contemporary painting, she examines the art that evolved in the studios of those trained in formal art academies in Ethiopia or overseas, particularly since 1960. The towering figures in this recent period are Gebra Krestos Desta and Skunder Boghossian, who emerged before the profound changes brought about by the revolution in 1974. A concluding section reviews the growth and development of the Fine Arts School in Addis Ababa.

Chojnacki, Stanislaw. “A survey of modern Ethiopian art,” In: Äthiopien (Stuttgart: Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, 1973), pages 84-94. (Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch, Sonderausgabe, 1973). illus., bibliog (p. 94). DT378.2.A84 1973 AFA. OCLC 42447878.

A thorough and detailed study of modern artists in Ethiopia beginning with Agegnehu Engida (1903-1947) and continuing through the roster of accomplished artists, some familiar, some less so. Chojnacki also recounts various attempts to establish an art school in Addis Ababa, the art scene, patronage, and the art market up until the time of the Derg.

Ethiopia. YaBahelena sport guday minister. 'Ityopya ba sena tebab : la 50 naw `amat ya de le qan ba `alena la 11 naw ya'Ityopya `alam 'aqaf tenat guba`e matasabaya yatazagaga = Ethiopian [sic] in fine arts: on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Victory Day and the 11th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies / [prepared by Ministry of Culture and Sports Aff[a]irs in collabora[t]ion with Addis Abeba [i.e. Ababa] University and Ethiopian Artists Associations]. [s.l.]: Ministry

In his introductory essay, "Ethiopian art and its development," (pp. 8-18) Girma Kidane offers a rapid-fire survey of the history of painting in Ethiopia, its evolution from the religious to the secular, the beginnings of truly modern art, the establishment of the Fine Arts School in Addis Ababa, and the cavalcade of artists who are products of that institution. He draws a distinction between younger artists, who lived through the revolutionary socialist era and whose work fits the mold of social realism, and the older generation of artists who largely escaped or resisted the socialist ethos in their work. Part One of the main catalog features this second group; Part Two, the former. In all, around one hundred artists were represented in this exhibition. Painting is by far the predominant medium, but a few sculptures are included. Biodata is given for the first group of older artists but not for the younger. One work for each is illustrated.

Fisseha, Girma and Walter Raunig. Mensch und Geschichte in Äthiopiens Volksmalerei. Innsbruck: Pinguin-Verlag; Frankfurt/Main: Umschau-Verlag, [1985]. 200pp. illus. (pt. color), map, bibliog. ND1086.F54 1985 AFA. OCLC 13136937.

Ethiopian painting has made a smooth transition, stylistically and aesthetically, from the religious to the secular. The canvasses are rich in color and alive with movement and crowds, sometimes extraordinary numbers of people, who engage the eye of the viewer with their eyes -- even when glancing right or left. It is one of the stylistic hallmarks of Ethiopian painting, the rendering of eyes. The twentieth-century secular painting tradition is also an extraordinary visual record of Amharic history and culture, as is quickly apparent by simply leafing through the pages of this book. Those who read German will be further rewarded by the copious, informative notes on each of the 120 plates of reproduction. The works are from several German and other European museum collections and a few private collections.

Harney, Elizabeth. Ethiopian passages: contemporary art from the diaspora. London: Philip Wilson; Washington, DC: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2003. 128pp. illus. (color), bibliog. (pp. 127). qN7386.H37 2003 AFA. OCLC 52326889.

Ten Ethiopian artists living and working outside of the home country represent one of most vibrant communities of expatriate artists. The nexis of this diaspora is Howard University in Washington, DC. Skunder Boghossian, as representative of the older generation, was the eminence grise of this circle of expatriates. (He died a few days after the opening of this exhibition in May 2003). The ten artists, who were selected to represent different media, gender and generations, are: Julie Mehretu, Kebedech Tekleab, Elizabeth Habte Wold, Skunder Boghossian, Elisabeth Atnafu, Etiyé Dimma Poulsen, Aida Muluneh, Wosene Kosrof, Mickaël Bethe-Sélassié, and Achmyeleh Debela. Curator Elizabeth Harney provides the main essay in which she discusses the work of each artist written in the context of personal biography and Ethiopian cultural heritage. Jeff Donaldson gives a very brief history of Howard University’s connection to Ethiopia, and Acha Debela opens a window on the contemporary art scene in Addis Ababa.

Reviewed by Peri M. Klemm in African studies review (New Brunswick, NJ) 47 (2) September 2004, pages 197-198.

Kennedy, Jean. "From a legacy of sign and symbol," pp. 125-139. In: New currents, ancient rivers: contemporary African artists in a generation of change. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. illus., bibl. refs. (page 191). N7391.65.K46 1992X AFA. OCLC 22389510.

Modern Ethiopian artists retain deep attachment to the rich cultural heritage of Amharic civilization and the iconography of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, although many have lived in exile for years. Time and distance have strengthened the vision, not dimmed it. Most of the artists of the "sign and symbol" have had long residences abroad. The two luminaries are painters Gebre Kristos Desta (1932-1981) and Skunder Boghossian (1937- ). They served as mentors and inspiration for a host of others -- Abdel-Rahmam M. Sheriff, Theodros Tsige Markos (1936- ), Zerihun Yetmgeta (1941- ), Endale Haile Selassie (1945- ), Acha Debela (1947- ), Tesfaye Tessema (1952- ), Wosene Kosrof (1950- ), Falaka Armide (1935- ), Seleshi Fescha (1944- ), Alemayehou Gabremedhin, and Elizabeth Atnafu. Also discussed is Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima (1948- ).

Mercier, Jacques. "Nos contemporains," pp. 184-192, 203-225. In: Le roi Salomon et les maîtres du regard: art et médecine en Ethiopie. Paris: Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1992. illus. (pt. color). N7386.R74 1992 AFA. OCLC 27143576.

Contemporary practitioners of Ethiopia's talismanic painting tradition -- artists such as Asrès, Haddis, Girma Seyon, Gabra Selassie, Gera, and Gedewon -- paint or draw their own magic scrolls and magic squares, frequently rendered in colored ink on paper. Their styles are distinctive and quite individualized. If there is any unifying element, it is the eye -- the magic eye, the evil eye, the "regard" which distinguishes Ethiopia's religious painting. The eye is omnipresent.

Pittard, B. Eugène. "Les arts populaire de l'Afrique: quelques peintures d'Abyssinis," Archives suisse d'anthropologie générale (Geneva) 5 (1): 87-103, 1928/29. illus. VF -- Art, Ethiopia. [not in ANTH].

Ethiopian genre paintings were a surprising discovery for visitors to the Musée d'Ethnographie in Geneva in 1928. Nine paintings by the artist Behaïlu, acquired and donated to the museum by M. E. W. Molly, depict themes common to these genre paintings -- the hunt, battles, ceremonies, portraits of kings and legends. Eight are illustrated (in black and white) and described by Pittard.

Pittura etiopica tradizionale / introduction by Lanfranco Ricci. Roma: Instituto italo-africano, 1989. 165pp. illus. (color). Text in Italian and English. ND1086.P69 1989 AFA. OCLC 22914336.

A catalog of Ethiopian paintings with the title Pittura etiopica tradizionale was published in 1986 by the Museo Nazionale della Montagna "Duca degli Abruzzi" in Turin, which reproduced twenty-six paintings. The present catalog is an enlarged and updated publication complete with transcriptions and translations of artists' captions inscribed on the paintings in Ge'ez, Amharic or Tigrinya. In his scholarly introduction, Ricci discusses the stylistic chronology of the paintings, the progressive changes brought about by Western influence over the course of the twentieth century, the Eritrea series, and individual artists. The ninety-three paintings, all reproduced in color (some with detail), date mainly from the 1890s to the present; they are grouped by three broad themes: historical or assimilated subjects, religious subjects and various subjects (hunting, domestic scenes, etc.)

Sahlström, Berit. Political posters in Ethiopia and Mozambique: visual imagery in a revolutionary context. Stockholm: Uppsala, 1990. x, 179pp. illus. (pt. color), bibl. refs. (Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, nova series 24). DT382.3.S13 1990 AFA. OCLC 23163603.

Poster art in Africa has been little studied. Yet there are political poster traditions which, as Sahlström shows, grow out of particular historical and culture realities. Ethiopia and Mozambique are two such cases. In both countries posters have served as a propagandistic medium, but the impulses, influences and outcomes are very different. Sahlström explores elements of socialist iconography, satire, style, photographic images, symbols and typography as they have evolved in recent Ethiopian and Mozambican posters. He considers the relationship between poster art and monumental art and places African posters within the broader context of political posters from Europe and Latin America.

Tadesse, Taye. Short biographies of some Ethiopian artists. Revised edition. Addis Ababa: Kuraz Publishing Agency, 1991. 248pp. illus., bibl. refs. Text in Amharic and English. N7386.S55s 1991 AFA. OCLC 27128643.

1957 is a watershed year in the art history of Ethiopia; it was the year of the founding of the Fine Art School in Addis Ababa and it marks a divide between the modern secular artists who received their education there and the pre-modern artists, most of whom were self-taught. Tadesse's study of Ethiopian artists is divided into two parts which parallel this demarcation. Part one is a revised version of his 1984 booklet Short biographies of some well-known Ethiopian artists, 1869-1957; it covered twenty-four artists. Part two is a new study, which looks at the evolution of art education in Ethiopia, centered on the graduates of the Fine Art School. Biographies of around seventy modern painters, sculptors and graphic artists are included. Also included are a few artists who work for the Ethiopian Tourism Commission and who paint Queen of Sheba narratives and the like. One or more works are illustrated for each artist.

Wolde, Seyoum. "Some aspects of post-revolution visual arts in Ethiopia," pp. 7-25. In: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethiopian Studies, Moscow, 26-29 August 1986. Moscow: Nauka Publishers, Central Department of Oriental Literature, 1988. bibliog. VF -- Artists - North Africa & Ethiopia. OCLC 20426775.

The gradual process of secularization of Ethiopian art, that had begun around the turn of the century received a jolt after the 1974 revolution, when artists were suddenly expected to turn their talents to promoting the new social order and celebrating the victory of class struggle over the old regime. Before the revolution, secular painting had been political only in the sense of paying tribute to cultural heroes (e.g. Queen of Sheba) and colonial victories (e.g. the Battle of Adwa). The new Ministry of Culture became active in organizing art competitions, in mobilizing artists to participate in national political events with mass demonstrations, and in propagandizing through poster and billboard art. The Ethiopian Artists Association, formed in 1975, was clearly political in its goals. Selling art for private gain was discouraged. In the second part of his paper, Wolde reviews the Fine Art School in Addis Ababa and the rather dramatic impact that the revolution had on its instructional program and ultimately on the nature of the works that the students produce. The themes chosen by students are either overtly political or dutifully channeled into acceptable topics, such as rural and urban labor, emancipation of women, or literary heroes from recent novels. Elitism was out; democratic art was in. The solitary artist was out; the collective was in. Non-objective art was out; realism with a purpose was in. Wolde seems to take a pragmatic non-critical view of these developments.