Kebedechs' visual journey in Acrylic On Canvas

By Jarso M. Kirubel 
April 1999

The Modern Art and its essence in Ethiopian visual art tradition, is a subject that has hardly been looked into, neither by native nor by International critics or Art Theoreticians. Suffice it to say that it is under a colossal oblivion along with the rest of the sensitive aspect of our culture. However, very few, academic orientated pens have touched the area from a gross and scantly introductory perspective.

The genre is of vital significance for understanding the spiritual and social evolution of this mythical entity called Ethiopia. By its phenomenal nature and wordless language, it has managed to survive the savage junta and its uncultured Cadres, and evolve almost unnoticed.

One such artist, who has visibly come to light recently, is the markedly talented painter poet lady kebedech Tekleab. Kebedech's art is particularly interesting both in form and content, in that it canvasses dimensions and themes broadly universal an focally individual. Shunning aside, the aesthetic theoretical conventional labeling, or even naming it "post modern" or "abstract expressionist" etc. and trying to perceive its prose, color, and style for what it is worth, is what we could approximate. The canvas, compulsively appeals to the emotions by its sheer momentum of dense grave images and forms via poetics of man's condition, reach out for the audience in unpretentious true to native soil colors, at times optimistically muddy, and bitterly comforting.

Another, personal experiential and insightful subject, treated is her depiction of the native Sioux Native American life, gathered from her brief visit to the community in Dakota. Any one basically informed about the rich and powerful ritual of the Native Americans, can't help but gets mesmerized by the orangery wonderment  "The power II". How these hands from an ancient Afro Oriental ethos reached out and touched the Sioux chthonic and anthropomorphic across the Atlantic, pontificates a monumental statement about art and universality and the range of this particular artist.

Kebedech, is a brave soul who has survived a grueling decade in the Somali war prisoner camps; and this hellhole of human misery has come across upfront in the contorted, exposed and naked figures in some of her works. A document of what was, and a warning for what could be.

The abstract being a genre, that does not have a long history in Ethiopian visual art, (save some pioneers like Gebre-Kristos Desta and Skunder Bogosian) It is with some patient and reflective focus, that an average person could relate and intimate to some of her works. One especially dynamic word, "Untitled" has an almost fetal effect in its organic nature. Massive synthesized heads, skull bones bare to hexagonal angularity, with chilly, lilac, and light blue surface almost thread in with linear in white. "The River In Rwanda", juxtaposed along "The Blessing Autumn", A clear poetry in the visual, and the artist's detached observation from what is happening around. Even though one is embroiled in it, talks to us almost verbally.

Her relaxed treatment of wider space is apparent in her handling of large canvases. An artistic creative inertia and courage, for some one whose freedom of movement, had been curtailed in a limited prison space for years is palpable.

The inner urge to confront and challenge the block, the desire to paint on wall scale, tells us a lot about the indomitable human will for freedom, and "The Wall" with its symbolic and practical meaning about confinement. As much as art could enhance life and positively affect our view of the world. Kebedech has contributed vital elements towards our understanding and knowledge of these.

We greet the rainbow that has filtered through the muddy quagmires of human suffering cruelty, and the absurd, as seen and exposed, and narrated by her.

Note: Kebedech's art was on display at University of the District of Columbia exhibition hall.
Jarso M. Kirubel is a researcher who currently resides in Washington D.C.
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