BY: ESSEYE MEDHIN, 2003
Addis Art Presented the Paintings
of Shiferaw Girma at the
Theater in Los Angeles
Girma grew up creating art, and later he took art instructions
from the most influential and
contemporary artists. The element of these artists can
be found in many of his paintings a rare and encouraging
achievement that is, however, scorned by some critics.
Shiferaw thoroughly mastered many of the artistic experiments,
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
his first show of March 15, 2003, in Oakland, and at
the Del Mar Theater in Los Angeles on August 9, 2003.
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
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.