About Ethiopian Art 

The twentieth-century secular painting tradition is an extraordinary visual record of Ethiopian history and culture. Ethiopian painting has made a smooth transition, stylistically and aesthetically, from the religious to the secular. The canvasses are rich in color and alive with movement and life. Many artists have moved away from traditional formats, embracing broader and more inclusive combinations of subjects and mediums.

The advent of Christianity in Ethiopia in the 4th century marks the beginning of a tradition of religious painting. Christian art, mostly in churches, was found in the form of paintings, crosses, icons and illustrated manuscripts. A particularly fascinating aspect of Ethiopian art at that time was its adherence to the expression of an objective truth, independent of time and space. Subjects are depicted in what are considered their real immutable form. At the height of its stylistic perfection, Ethiopian art renounced the illusion of volume, depth and perspective. The paintings were “conceptual” and composed of a series of image-signs according to spiritual considerations. These image-signs, arranged on a flat surface, are meant to give the impression of an idea or a narration. Human figures, the epitome of Ethiopian art, are characterized by non-realistic head and body proportions and usually static poses. (Stanisław Chojnacki, University of Sudbury, Ontario)

The wide, almond-shaped eyes in ancient Ethiopian iconography symbolize what  art historians call the ‘reversal gaze’ philosophy, which states that it is not only the viewers who observe the paintings; the paintings also observe the viewers. The saints were painted in reversal gaze so as to hypnotize the onlooker, which also used what is known as the frontal technique. To avoid the reversal gaze and to depict sinful and devilish people, the painters used the profile technique by drawing only one eye. (Tibebeselassie Tigabu, Ancient art forms engulfed by the western wave)

By the 20th Century, Ethiopian artists began to deal with other topics and themes. The establishment of the Addis Ababa University Alle School of Fine Arts and Design (now renamed Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts) in 1958 was a milestone in the development of not only Ethiopian contemporary art, but provided leeway for the exploration and study of Ethiopian art history and refining art education by creating critical platforms for local as well as international creative thoughts. 

Many of the newest and brightest young artists on the Ethiopian art scene have fully embraced painting from the Ethiopian perspective; reviving it and transforming their canvases into extraordinary works of skill and talent. Art lovers have been enticed, buying ever-more extravagant pieces that have moved further from the traditions of yester-year. This renaissance of painting can be seen in galleries in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and a number of galleries worldwide. 

By the 20th Century, Ethiopian artists began to deal with other topics and themes. The establishment of the Addis Ababa University Alle School of Fine Arts and Design (now renamed Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts) in 1958 was a milestone in the development of not only Ethiopian contemporary art, but provided leeway for the exploration and study of Ethiopian art history and refining art education by creating critical platforms for local as well as international creative thoughts. 

Many of the newest and brightest young artists on the Ethiopian art scene have fully embraced painting from the Ethiopian perspective; reviving it and transforming their canvases into extraordinary works of skill and talent. Art lovers have been enticed, buying ever-more extravagant pieces that have moved further from the traditions of yester-year. This renaissance of painting can be seen in galleries in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and a number of galleries worldwide. 


The School Behind The Talent: Alle School Of Fine Arts And Design 

 

Almost all notable Ethiopian artists passed through the gates of Alle School of Fine Arts and Design - the only art school in Ethiopia, and one of East Africa's oldest. You only need to go through the bios of the artist’s featured on our website to get the gist.  Founded in 1958 by Alle Felegeselam, one of Ethiopia’s prominent artists, Alle School of Fine Arts and Design has single-handedly produced notable artists and has contributed to the Ethiopian and African art community for more than five decades. 

 
Artist Alle Fellegeselam (photo from What'soutaddis.com)

Artist Alle Fellegeselam (photo from What'soutaddis.com)

 

Although Alle Felegeselam respected the themes that traditional Ethiopian art represented, he was acutely aware of the changes and transformations being undergone by the art world and knew that Ethiopian art lagged behind. Alle made sure that the School didn’t embrace any one particular artistic style or theory nor abandoned the art of the century. The School enjoyed enthusiastic support from the Emperor Haleselassie, who earlier in 1954 had granted Alle a scholarship to study Fine Arts in the Institute of Art in Chicago.

 

During its early years, the subjects taught in the School were limited to the basics of drawing, painting, sculpture, commercial art and art education. In 1975, major changes to the School’s curriculum were made in order to include specialization in graphic art.  At the same time, the School upgraded its entry requirements by admitting only students who completed 10th grade and above, as well as passed the art aptitude test of the School. The most significant change, however, occurred in 1998 when the School got affiliated to the Addis Ababa University.  A new curriculum for BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) program started in 2000, given by five departments - Painting, Sculpture, Printmaking, Industrial Design and Art Education Departments.

In 2010, The College of Performing and Visual Arts was formed comprising of the School of Theatre Arts, the Yared School of Music and the School of Fine Arts & Design, the Cultural Center and Modern Art Museum and the Gebre-Kirestos Desta Center. However, yet another institutional restructuring took place recently; a transformation that resulted in the amalgamation of the Yared Music School and the Theatrical Art Department under one college named Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts.  Besides changing the name, the school changed its teaching and learning methodology to a modular format in the year 2012, shifting away from the traditional method of instruction, notably and effectively maximizing student learning and performance. The School has two graduate programs in Fine Arts and Film Production fields, both of which have been approved to be launched in 2015. 

 

Currently, the School is highly engaged in exploring possibilities of refining the quality of its art education and creating critical platforms through which local and international creative, educational and professional thoughts can be discussed and performed through improved understanding of contemporary arts. The School has also extended its collaboration with national and international institutions in areas of research, artistic production and other collaborations. Relations have been formed with the University of Illinois, USA, Tshwane University of Science and Technology, South Africa, The Ethiopian National Theatre, Goethe Institute and the House of Federation.