Seyoum Ayalew

Seyoum Ayalew, one of Ethiopia’s great influential artists, was born in Addis Ababa in 1968. In 1985, he graduated from Addis Ababa University Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, with a degree in Mural Art. After graduating, Seyoum moved to the town of Dessie in central Ethiopia, where he worked to promote art and mentor emerging artists. Some of his students are currently teaching art as members of the Addis Ababa University Arts and Sculpture faculty.

Seyoum has shown his work in numerous exhibitions in Ethiopia, Ireland, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Djibouti and in the United States.

In his art, Seyoum illuminates the relationship between light and shadow by contrasting the warmth and power of light through his use of hot and cool colors. He works toward resolving conflict and tension between these themes through his masterful use of color and stark emotion. “My attraction to these themes of conflict and resolution results from my experience with theatrical courses when I was younger,” he says.

In recent times, he has concentrated on Tej House scenes (authentic small local bars in Ethiopia), and the dramatic characters that frequent them; the expressions of happiness and sorrow so apparent in the characters’ faces. Seyoum is perplexed by the impact of modernization on society. The demolition of older buildings and the resulting displacement of the impoverished in Ethiopia’s cities is worrying to him. “The uprooting of the old and the poor in Addis Ababa reminds me of the former Soviet Union and the suffering of the Cossack people at the hands of the elitist Russians. Through sketched portraits, I want to capture the hunger the poor in Addis have for posterity. The Tej House is a gravitational center for the disenfranchised and dispossessed. As an artist I want my sketches to contribute to our social history,” he says. 

Seyoum presently serves as the President of the Ethiopian Visual Artists Association.