25 November 2012

Ethiopia: More to Sheraton's Exhibition Than Frame Varieties, Artists Numbers

Employees of Addis Abeba's Sheraton Hotel were busy last week decorating their illustrious premises with red ribbons in time for their Thanksgiving Day celebrations. Not only was it a day for giving thanks, but also the opening day for one of the city's biggest and most hotly anticipated exhibitions of the year.

The 'Art of Ethiopia' exhibition is a flagship annual event hosted in the Sheraton Addis's 'Lalibela Grand Ballroom', which usually set aside for meetings.

Unlike the first four years though, the exhibition to be closed today has more than frame varieties and larger number of artists compared to last year. For visitors with keen interest to experiment the power of their smart phones in pockets, the exhibition introduced a rare barcode which can be scanned to read details - of course including prices - on the paintings.

This technology, 'AT&T Mobile Barcode Service', enables exhibition visitors to purchase whatever painting they want online, simply by using their smart mobile phone. There is a rectangular card hanging alongside each painting. This card has the name of the painting, its size and the artist. The card also has the AT&T black code on it and any individual who wishes to buy the piece only has to approach the code displayed with their phone. Their mobile then automatically displays the name of the painting, artist, its code and price.

It is perhaps the first time an art exhibition codes all the paintings in display to digitalize, thus could be read after scanned the barcode. However, visitors need to download barcode reader application to excite themselves with the use of technology in promoting the creative works of local artists representing all ages and groups.

The exhibition was in fact planned to be hosted on August 23, but as a result of the death of the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, was put on hold until this week. When the exhibition opened to both locals and international visitors early on Thursday morning, there were already some people waiting to see the most prized works of Ethiopian artists.

The presentation and arrangement of the pieces, in combination with the complimentary lighting and courtly classical music, made for a delightfully pleasant aesthetic. The mood truly resonated throughout the room, enhancing the artistic merits ofEthiopia's finest exponents of art. The hall itself is impressive, with black garment lining over the walls and special lighting effects designed specifically for the exhibition.

"I've seen this year more variety of works and larger number of artists than last year," said an expatriate residing in Addis, who had visited all the four exhibitions in the past. "It is beautifully. Today [Friday night] is my third visit."

A wide variety of different works of art were on display at the exhibition, sponsored by the Sheraton Addis, and it was this diversity, which attracted numerous visitors right from the very first day of opening. They represent different types of painting; from Realist to Abstract, and thus the exhibition accounted for a wide range of individual tastes and preferences.

It all started back in 2008, with the intention of promoting both Ethiopian art and artists; it is now running for a fifth time, along with around 500 new piece of art by 50 artists, six of whom are female, with representation also spanning throughout various ages and demonstrating a variety of unique styles.

Although there is a bit more emphasis on painting, there is also an abundance of sculpture on display, encompassing approximately five per cent of the art on show.

The selection committee mainly chooses to showcase work by up and coming new talent, who can make rich contributions towards Ethiopian art long into the future, according to Omar Khose, area director of Sales & Marketing for East Africa andSouth Africa. Only Ethiopians are permitted to present their works, thus the exhibition is built upon the premise of illustrating and displaying the growth of Ethiopian art throughout the various generations, up until the contemporary.

"We don't charge the artists to be part of the show; it's free," Khose told Fortune. "However, if the artists sell the painting, they are expected to contribute 10pc of whatever the cost of that painting is."

The largest priced painting this year is half a million Birr, an amount far lower than the over a million the late Afework Tekle had displayed last year. There is a marked display dedicated in his honor, where some of his works are visible. Four paintings of Afework, presented on two of the art exhibitions he attended back in 2009 and 2010, were available at the fifth exhibition, after having been borrowed from theNationalMuseum.

Passed away last year, Afewrok was an internationally acclaimed artist who produced numerous magnificent works of art.

The exhibition forms part of the Sheraton's social investment program, aimed at raising funds for the Sheraton Addis Art Endowment Fund, which in turn supports the initiatives of local art schools in the city and the art community as a whole. Even though each artist has a limit of 10 pieces of which they are permitted to display, and a maximum size of one by one meter, different contemporary works by artists showcased randomly, including portraits of famous people, such as; Mulatu Astatke, Tedwodros Kassahun (Teddy Afro) and numerous past rulers of Ethiopia, including, emperors Menilik and Haileselasse, as well as the famous warrior, Balcha Abba Nefso.

Amanuel Gebremichael, one of the artists who applied and participated in the exhibition for the first time this year, presented 10 pieces from his collection. He was delighted to be one of the 50 artists, who were chosen by the selection committee to participate in the show, he told Fortune.

His paintings mainly show what he calls "the climax" of individual feelings, which cannot be expressed through words, and thus rather become actions. Most of his works show the combination of romance and music that culminate in their own individual and generally positive climax. Studied modern art atAddisAbebaUniversity'sArtSchool, he now tries to mix a cultural method of painting with the modern in most of his art works.

"I usually paint while I am listening to jazz and world music in which I myself unknowingly become high," said Amanuel.

Of the paintings he put forward for the exhibition, one of his pieces, "Fire from the Time", made using acrylic on canvass, shows two couples drinking wine whilst a solitary man plays guitar. He tries to illustrate the climatic feeling of these couples through the music and romance depicted in the painting. In doing so, he gives an insight into both their relationship with each other and the music. There are also comparisons drawn between the couple's human relationship with each other and the musician's own relationship with his instrument.

Another artist, Yonatan Wondwosen, was among the young artists whose pieces of art were sold at the first day of opening.

Most of his works are collages, made up from numerous pieces of printed paper. He presented the portrait of Balcha Abba Neffso, made from images of bullets, tanks, guns and other arms materials, while Emperor Haileselasse's picture is made up of pieces of five, 10 and 100 Br notes.

Becher Hubrich, who comes fromGermany, but has lived in Addis Abeba for the past one and a half years, was one of the visitors at the opening day. He is a teacher of four subjects here at theGermanSchool. He also participated in last year's exhibition

"It is a lovely collection of serious works, which shows lots of impressions fromEthiopia," he told Fortune. "I enjoyed the paintings very much. I like most of them, especially those that are concrete and show the old impressions ofEthiopiaand its peoples."

Becher says this year's exhibition is better and more professional than previous years, and hoped to purchase one of the paintings. He was not sure which one to choose.

Eskinder Hailu, one of the local visitors, was no different in his reaction. But he warned unsuspecting visitors the casualty of visit.

"You'll likely be beguiled and find it hard to leave without a new family treasure," he said. "With a broad plethora of styles, moods, colours and themes, there is likely to be something that you'll fall in love with."

After finishing his visit, Eskinder found the show to be both rich and diverse.

"It is refreshing to see artists experimenting with bright colours," he said.

As many agreed, the exhibition was fun and enjoyable, largely due to its illustration of the color and vivacity of local art. It was also incredibly well organized and hardly produced in a fault.

Lulseged Retta, who has been in the art world for more than 40 years, is one of the five artists, along with Tadesse Mesfin, Teshome Bekele, Mezgebu Tesema and Bisrat Shebabaw, who has participated in all five exhibitions the Sheraton Addis has hosted annually.

"Merge" was the first name given to the exhibition, he said. But later it was decided to change the name to 'Art of Ethiopia'.

Visitors as well as artists say the exhibition truly displayed tremendous growth in terms of participants as well as diversity of talent. On just the first day, a little over 40 paintings were sold and up until Saturday morning, there had been around 10,000 visitors to the exhibition, according to Lulseged.

"The number of participant artists in the exhibition has grown from eight in the first to five fold now," Omar told Fortune. "Many more young people are participating."

The registration for next year's participation has already started, according to Lulseged.

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