Saturday, June 11, 2005

Painting Ethiopia: The Life and Work of Qes Adamu Tesfaw

One artist’s bold innovations of the 1,500-year-old artistic traditions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church will be on display in ‘Painting Ethiopia: The Life and Work of Qes Adamu Tesfaw,’ at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History from Mar. 6 through Sept. 18, 2005.

Adamu’s paintings range from the liturgical to the popular, and reflect his unique career as an artist working for an urban art market in Africa. Born in 1933, he learned to paint as a boy while studying to enter the priesthood. At the age of 30, four years after being ordained and therefore bestowed with the honorific title “Qes,” he left the clergy and moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and largest city, where he dedicated himself to painting full-time.

In Addis, Adamu found freedom to venture beyond religious themes and to develop an individual style. His subjects range from vivid images of rural and urban life in Ethiopia to striking depictions of Christianity from an Ethiopian perspective, and the political and military exploits of 19th- and 20th-century Ethiopian rulers. But it is Adamu’s unconventional approach—including unusually layered, truncated and fused images and seldom-considered perspectives—that marks the work of an extraordinary painter who has transcended the confines of his artistic education.

Guest curator Raymond Silverman initially encountered Adamu’s work in 1991, while viewing paintings at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Addis, a major repository of Adamu’s work. Struck by the artist’s unique style, Silverman has been instrumental in bringing an awareness of Qes Adamu to the U.S., including ‘Painting Ethiopia,’ his first solo show and West Coast exhibition.

UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History

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