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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Afewerk Tekle

The Total Liberation of Africa, Afewerk Tekle
Over the past five or six years I've been writing about the world of art, now and then. I've tried to cover as many different nationalities and geographic nooks and crannies as the world has to offer. The results have been uneven. My coverage of North American, and European art (that which I know best) has been, I think, reasonably thorough, if not always illuminating. To a lesser extent I've tried to cover South American and Australian art and artist. In both cases I've been less thorough and less illuminating. But where I've really failed is in dealing with Asian and especially oriental art. However, while I'm on this self-criticism kick, I should note that the global area of creative endeavor in which I've been most lacking is the entire continent of Africa--especially the subcontinent. I could make excuses, many of them quite valid, most having to do with extreme poverty, war, famine, pestilence--basically the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Such conditions do not lend themselves to the production of fine art or the establishment of a flourishing art market to support it. In essence, survival trumps creativity every time. Having said that, today I want to highlight a country in east-central Africa which not only has a long, historic, tradition of artistic excellence, but is, today attempting to recover the best of that past glory. Specifically I want to bring to light the man who is often thought of as that country's driving force in that effort, the Ethiopian painter, Afewerk Tekle.

The Ethiopian New Year, Afewerk Tekle
A youthful, grandiose self-portrait (left) and
years later, the mature artist at work in his studio.
Ethiopia is an arid, landlocked country just west of what's come to be called the "horn of Africa" where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean. Afewerk Tekle was born in what was once the capital city of that country, Ankober, located near its very center. The year was 1932. The country was under the heel and hell of the Italians. WW II was in the offing and the country was very much showing previews of coming distractions in that regard. After the war, while still in his teens, Afewerk's parents decided to send him off to London to study mining and engineering in the hope he might return to help rebuild his homeland after decades of fighting and destruction. Though Tekle went off to become an engineer, he came back four years later thor-oughly trained in the finest British traditions as an artist. There are some interesting twists and turns during that period, but that's his story in essence. Stylistically, his Ethiopian New Year (above), would appear to be one of his early works. However dates for Tekle's work are few and far between, and what few there are to be found seem not necessarily reliable.

Defender, Afewerk Tekle
The Maskal Flower, 1959, Afewerk Tekle
Tekle's Maskal Flower (left) dates from 1953, which does seem to be a reliable date. It's one of his first paintings Tekle did upon returning to Ethiopia after his schooling. In 1954 Tekle had his first one-man show in Addis Ababa. Its success gave him the funds to travel around Europe for two years where he mastered the design and construction of stained glass windows. His 1958 stained glass windows in the Africa Hall of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, is titled, The Total Liberation of Africa (top). It is starkly modern yet totally African in style and theme. Tekle's Defender (above), lays heavy emphasis on his Ethiopian style and African content. While in Europe, Tekle also made a special study on Ethiopian illustrated manuscripts in London, Paris, and Rome.

Final Judgment, Afewerk Tekle

Mother Ethiopia, 1963, Afewerk Tekle
To some degree, virtually all of Tekle's works have to do with Ethiopian nationalism, the country's colorful history, its people, its traditions, its ancient Judeo-Christian religion, and its art as related to all of the above. Ethiopia is prominently mentioned by name in the New Test-ament and referenced as the home of the Queen of Sheba in the old testament. Tekle's fidelity to his country's religious background can be seen in his Final Judgment (above) and, somewhat in-directly, in his Mother Ethiopia (right) from 1963. There is no mistaking Tekle's association of his homeland with the mother of Christ even to the point that her physical proportions seem reminiscent of Michelangelo's Vatican Pieta. From the old testament we find Tekle's massive mural titled The Queen of Sheba Meets Solomon, (below). The image is a detail from a high-parallax, upwardly viewed photo, but captures the essence of one of Tekle's most ambitious mural undertakings. Tekle died in 2012 from a severe stomach ulcer. He was eighty years old.

The Queen of Sheba Meets Solomon, Afewerk Tekle



  1. Do you know if there are prints to purchase of The Ethiopian New Year, Afewerk Tekle? Thank you!

  2. Lemon Twigs--

    I don't know of any such prints. That doesn't mean they don't exist, though.