Several of Ethiopia's early-modern and/or modern artists, coming out of a centuries-old tradition of painting sacred religious figures on the manuscripts and walls of churches, went to Europe to study art under the patronage of Emperor Menelik II (1889 – 1913). The diasporic movement and imperial patronage became the reasons for the emergence of what is usually known as 'Ethiopian Traditional Art'. This state-sponsored scholarship programme, sending students to study art in many parts of the world, was also continued by Haileselassie II (1930-1974). Together with the Emperor, Alle Felegeselam Hiruy (1923-2016) who studied at the Chicago Institute of Art, took the initiative to establish the Addis Abeba Fine Art School in 1957.
The school, initially dominated by foreign professors, was able to employ its first graduates who came back from their studies in Poland and Russia. Among these artists, Tadesse Belayneh, Worku Goshu and Tadesse Gizaw revolutionized the school by introducing more proficient academic skills in drawing, painting and sculpting.
This was not only a turning point in the progression of the school, it also laid the groundwork for continued scholarship opportunities for Ethiopian students in the Eastern-bloc strengthened by the Socialist Military Junta, Dergue that ruled the country from 1974-1991. The return of Ethiopian Diaspora artists in the 1960s who were educated abroad, is a pivotal moment in Ethiopia's modern and contemporary art history. H.E. World Laureate Maitre Artist, Afework Tekle, Eskundur Boghossian and Gebre Kiristos Desta are important artists to mention.
The 1990s was a decade where groups of artists came together with diverse outlooks. 'The Dimension Group' and 'The Point Group' were among the pioneers. This trend was continued by the younger artists, forming collectives like: 'NAS/New Art Space/' 'Habesha Studio'; 'Nubia Visual Art Studio'; 'Netsa Art Village'; 'Kirar Studio' and 'Kitab Studio'. These are some of the major ones that have really played an important role in creating a critical mass of artists. Entoto TVET Fine Art College that opened in 2009 has also become a contributor to the thriving, exciting contemporary art scene of Ethiopia
These historical circumstances are some of the reasons for the advancement and individuality of contemporary art in Ethiopia. This second version of 'Addis Contemporary II, 6 years on' can be regarded as a snapshot of how the Addis art scene has flourished from the fertile bedrock of the modernist period. The participating artists are a cross-section, representing the determined growth of the city’s art scene. We can see a thematic and stylistic range; from the modernist painter Tibebe Terffa's sustained practice of aesthetics to the established and emerging artists who bring vigorous academic skills; research and contemporary approaches to making art. This show, six years after the first edition, displays the depth and breadth of Ethiopia's contemporary art, which for so long has stood alienated from the East African art scene but is now becoming increasingly interconnected to the artscape of the South.
This exhibition could instigate further scholarly and independent investigation into Ethiopia’s art scene, as well as a chance to access and collect contemporary art from Addis.
Mifta Zeleke, Curator, April 2021
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