By Yared Tsegaye
The work of art can echo in every walks of our lives. Attending the work of that magnifies that life can capture our entire being. However, it would be, legitimately, true for most of us who enjoy art that the vibe of contemporary art scene to be at its infant stage (if not had the chance abroad). These days, however, big names in the Ethiopian art like Bekele Mekonen brought the intimate touch of art translated from our everyday lives.
Entitled “Barud and Birgud” meaning ‘Gun-Powder and Incense’, an exhibition has been opened on this January in this sense. Bekele, who is also an Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Addis Ababa University, brought a collection of works, in which he reappeared since in 2008. Most of the works showcase intimate attachments to the everyday conspiracies of Ethiopians livelihood. The art work aims at presenting the recreation of life in the story of Ethiopians, as shaped or destroyed by the authorities; power and faith. It pins on congruous states of destruction and creation. It broke the silence; the silence where no one dares to speak at funerals, weddings or even at the church!
The art-exhibition is also about the terrestrial and celestial; a spiritual force that depicts a contemporary enigma and the authority figure that has a freezing image in every Ethiopian’s mind; hidden among chaos and fear. The artist has correlated his knowledge, understanding and life experiences to the audience’s stand. Most of the art-works question, challenge, and shape our perspectives; in one way or another. Bekele’s works insisted on the genuine forms of the Ethiopian culture and history. It is a veritable ocean of art!
At the exhibition opening at the Gebrekirstos Desta Modern Art Museum, I came across to Samuel Hailemariam, a professional photographer. Samuel says the work itself speaks. “This is a miracle; something beyond art, it is a prophecy,” he added. To Samule, even though one has a kind of passive personality in life; they cannot be right at that exhibition. There would be no such a person as a passive viewer there.
I wanted to know more, and so I had this chance to speak with the artist himself, and the father of the amazing work of art, which mostly are presented as patchwork, installations, old collections, drapery and fabrics and also comprising of essays on various aspects.
I had to be selective with what I am about to ask the artist, and I started with the question that ignited curiosity inside me, “Why Barud and Birgud”?
Bekele deliberated with his earnest feeling saying that he used it as a metaphor.
“Fabric Drapery is confusing and also deceiving for human beings. There is this deep relationship between body and fabric. Human beings want to have a cloth on their body. It decorates their age, sex, gender, position, handicap or something else; it expresses their personality.
At the same time, Bekele says, it confuses the spectators, our surrounding and us. It has a big impact. “I picked these two fabrics; identical ones in our country. The fabric that is seen with the common-flash and the one with the cross; the hot one are explanatory of the belief and power; terrestrial and celestial.”
As to Bekele, we are living mentally and physically between the impacts of these two fabrics. His work can be translated into different terms, what Bekele agree about.
He says, we can see how people, in our country, panic when they come across with each of these fabrics. They kneel in front of the priest’s fabric; the belief fabric. They panic in front of the power fabric. We can see the vibe; the impact of the fabric. I am playing through that; narrating through the cover of the fabric”
Bekele recalls, “As he sees a common-flash; it clicks back to his childhood where he grew up seeing soldiers with their kids as a friend. It brings that story even though it differs among persons. It is an element of memory. The relationship between fabric and human beings is clearly immense.”
Bekele, who is also Director of the School of Fine Arts and Design of the Addis Ababa University – ALLE; he is a visual artist, poet, and educator too. This, in turn, made him to make art done in a way of research and academic value. He is devoted for making modern art, be it painting or sculptors, poem, essays or any other works of art to be explored at the breadth and depth of a thriving knowledge through academics; he respects inner creativity; a born human for art. The works at the exhibition touches concepts from the narratives of ‘Eclipse of Time’ to ‘the Road to Destiny’.
Talking about works of installations the artist says installation is one of the oldest works of art; 40 years recorded. It is a common stuff for the westerns. But in our country it could be new. Bekele has been working for the last 15 years with it. It is a huge work of art that is done with multi-behavioral elements. It takes multi approaches and organizations. It is a specific art done for people to argue, have a dialogue and share their aspects of thinking and just to trigger ideas in them.
Apart from his art exhibition I also asked Bekele what defines Ethiopianism. He said, “Ethiopianism should never be questioned. There is nothing abstract about our Ethiopia, the country we knew and living in.”
The renowned scientist Albert Einstein once said that ‘everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’. That, surely, makes a sense if one gives a moment to visit the exhibition entitled Barud and Birgud/Incense and Gun-Powder.
If a painting is conducive to the inner and outer harmony within us; it is a revelation; what else could it be?
N.B – The exhibition will remain open for public at the Gebrekisrstos Desta Modern Art Museum of Addis Ababa University (FBE) till 31st of January, 2018.