Berhanu Mekonnen was born in Addis Ababa in 1969. He is a graduate of Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts and Design receiving a degree in Art and Painting in 1991.
The form, sound and melody of the traditional Ethiopian instrument called the Begena (Harp), predominantly played during the lent season, has been a source of inspiration for Berhanu’s work for over a decade now.
Berhanu initially worked by directly painting onto the actual Begena instrument, using it as his canvas and marrying the art piece to the very instrument that the work derives its inspiration from. Later on, he started transferring the elements of the instrument onto virgin canvas, incorporating the top tuning part of the Begena as an organic extension to his artwork.
In his recent work, Berhanu focuses more on the spiritual aspect of the instrument that evokes “peace and silence” he says; emphasizing the transcendent nature of the haunting sounds of Begena.
The majority of the art pieces created by Berhanu from 2011 onwards have shown a distinctive shift towards serenity. This, the result of being introduced to the practice of the art of living (Vipassana Meditation) and mindfulness. He credits this experience as a turning point in his life saying, “…ever since, I have been using my art to explore more and more aspects regarding the essence of life. Painting is an act of meditation for me, through which I strive to probe my soul in search of my true self.” His recent works have a sense of tranquility, but still retain the vibrancy of his warm colors in his composition.
Berhanu has shown his work in more than 30 exhibitions in Ethiopia, Germany and The Netherlands. He has illustrated numerous books and has provided graphic design for a number of campaigns on pertinent issues ranging from health to education and social reform.