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:: BY: ESSEYE MEDHIN, 2003
Addis Art Presented the Paintings of Shiferaw Girma at the
Del Mar Theater in Los Angeles

Shiferaw GirmaShiferaw Girma grew up creating art, and later he took art instructions from the most influential and qualified Ethiopian contemporary artists. The element of these artists can be found in many of his paintings a rare and encouraging cultural achievement that is, however, scorned by some critics. Shiferaw thoroughly mastered many of the artistic experiments, approaches and achievements of accomplished 20th century Ethiopian artists. He incorporated these approaches and techniques into a complex and meaningful style, which grows more beautiful and masterful as he matures. This mark of maturity is observed in both his first show of March 15, 2003, in Oakland, and at the Del Mar Theater in Los Angeles on August 9, 2003.

Work by: Shiferaw Girma: Oil on CanvasShiferaw has been exhibiting paintings at the National Museum in Addis Ababa with well known Ethiopian contemporary artists since he graduated from the Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts and Design in 1991. Shiferaw worked in his own art studio in Addis Ababa for several years before he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada with his wife and daughter in 2002. He consciously and proudly makes certain that his artistic foundation is Ethiopian Art. For this, he immerses himself in 20th century Ethiopian art and particularly Ethiopian art of second half of the century. Incidentally, in 1968, the year Shiferaw was born, Ethiopian modern art flowered in a glorious culmination of a decade of steady growth. When Shiferaw began painting and became a totally committed artist in the early 1990s, after two decades in a state of limbo, the art and style of the late sixties once again gained favor among young people and the middle class section of the society. This gave more reason for Shiferaw to experiment in his profound and daring forms of expression. There was no moment when he doubted that he would achieve his maturity and recognition and acceptance. As he worked in his Addis Ababa studio for a decade, the moment he arrived in the United States, Shiferaw was busy stretching and preparing his studio to continue panting. His energetic activities and artistic productions are evident from his back-to-back openings of various shows in less than one year. This was unprecedented in his generation, In his Los Angeles show, Shiferaw's theme gave reference to the Ethiopian outdoor and market scenes of women with their colorful costumes and bright surrounding. Colors, although bright and lovely, tended to reflect a rustic and nostalgic phenomenon. The paint was applied thinly; the ensemble looked more permanent than one might think. The contrast between reality and reflection was carried entirely by the paint qualities appearing skeletal, yet more substantial. The women were painted as caring and loveable. They carry a forceful presence and possess a ritual air. As Shiferaw was relying solely on his resources of imagination and vision, his subjects were far from representational. Actually, they were fragments of images; faces filled with questions and saddened eyes. There was great latitude, great beauty, occasional despair and always the hope of survival through all circumstances.

Shiferaw, not only expressed Ethiopians by painting fragments of figures and faces that seemed miniature against the sweep of the canvas in his semi-abstract and decorative paintings, but also the warmth of Ethiopian sun soaking in luminous colors of fragmented buildings. His language of paint and command produced, rather unavoidable, an effect similar to that of the hieratic reverence of past Ethiopian church painting. Shiferaw also gave us the flavor of all that is achieved in modern Ethiopian art. I considered his works as nostalgic statements of his native land that greatly assisted in the molding of Shiferaw as an artist.

Today, more and more Ethiopians in the diaspora, who only a few years ago did not have the opportunity to attend an art show, let alone own a tableau, are enthusiastically inquiring to know, learn, appreciate and collect works of contemporary Ethiopian artists. In their efforts to promote contemporary Ethiopian paintings, few passionate Ethiopians have continued to unearth as much information as possible concerning the career and works of important artists. However, their efforts to introduce the artists were limited. Governmental and institutional promotion was also limited for political or ideological ends. Even shows of Ethiopian art in foreign countries were, and still are, limited to academic institutions. There existed a sincere hope that passionate individuals could once and for all free the Ethiopian artists from the confines and tutelages of governmental, academic institutions and cultural centers, and help them take their works to the wider art audience and to the community at large. As it has slowly, but painfully begun in Ethiopia, in the United States unprecedented eagerness and commitment of promoting, collecting and showing Ethiopian contemporary art is readily accepted by individuals such as Mesai Haileleul of Addis Art. Promoter and collector, Mesai, presented the paintings of Shiferaw, whose work he greatly admires. The change in the art audience of Ethiopian communities on the opening night at the Del Mar Theater in Los Angeles, a couple of miles from Little Ethiopia, was unprecedented. We must encourage and support passionate and devoted individuals, like Mesai, to succeed in their vision of bringing contemporary Ethiopian artists' work even closer to the community.