"From Monastery to Marketplace: Tradition Inspires Modern Ethiopian Painting"
|The rich tradition of Ethiopian painting is explored in an exhibition at the Smithsonians National Museum of Natural History. "From Monastery to Marketplace: Tradition Inspires Modern Ethiopian Painting" is now on display in the Focus Gallery of the African Voices Hall, the largest cultural hall in the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition continues through October 2002.
"From Monastery to Marketplace provides a rare glimpse into the centuries old tradition of Ethiopian painting, and demonstrates that this art form still endures today," said Mary Jo Arnoldi, Museum curator. "Visitors will be captivated by the history of Ethiopia through the tremendous beauty of the pieces on view."
The exhibition features 12 works of art dating from the 18th to the 21st centuries. Included are religious paintings extolling Orthodox Christian icons and saints, and historical paintings of memorable battles and celebrations, such as a dramatic piece on the 1930 coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Some of the more contemporary paintings in "From Monastery to Marketplace" use vivid color and detail to showcase scenes of daily Ethiopian life. The exhibition presents works by three generations from one family of church-trained artists from Aksum, Ethiopia: Yohannis Teklu (1900-1978); his grandson, Berhanemeskel Fisseha (b.1947), and Fissehas son, Daniel Fisseha (b.1980).
After Christianity gained in popularity in Ethiopia in the 4th century, monasteries grew into flourishing cultural centers where generations of monks passed down traditional artistic approaches to honoring religious subjects. In the late 19th century, the Ethiopian imperial court commissioned church-trained artists to commemorate historical events. Many of these works were given to visiting ambassadors and other dignitaries, generating a strong interest in Ethiopian art among foreigners. By the 1930s, painters were adapting traditional styles of art to depict scenes from everyday life. Today, church-trained artists in Ethiopia still follow many of the conventions that guided painters centuries ago.
The paintings in "From Monastery to Marketplace" are characterized by two-dimensional planes of brilliant color without light or shadow. The faces of the subjects are expressionless and idealized, and a sense of perspective is created through V-shaped arrangements of the elements. Significant objects, careful positioning and text within the pieces further help identify the theme. A painting of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu shows them encircled by a band of saints and angels in a stylized demonstration of their importance.
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