Merikokeb Berhanu b. 1977

Merikokeb Berhanu (b. 1977) was born in Addis Ababa, where she attended the Addis Ababa University, Alle School Fine Arts and Design (2002).


Berhanu creates an aloof, almost subterranean atmosphere in her paintings. An array of life bearing forms, such as orange seed pods, embryos, fallopian tubes, and pulsing cells, appear set against a network of gaunt, drooping female figures, and surreal yet earthly structures. There is a fertilized egg, through which the sperm, in its upward trajectory, has punctured a hole to escape from. There is a cow perched atop a mammary gland-like structure, but with its udders upturned. Berhanu makes much of the vertical ascent of saplings, plants bursting through the surface, as well as the forces that resist and suppress their efforts. Both growth and decay appear in equal measure: a flower climbs through dense rock, if only to blossom and droop into the appreciative embrace of an exhausted and bonelike human figure. Her work at once appears to be a celebration of these life-bearing forms, as well as something more decidedly complex - in her words, “the light, line, complexity, and density of the wide, thick fog and smoke; the happiness and hopefulness, misery and bliss of this life we are passing through.”  


Merikokeb Berhanu currently lives and works in Maryland, USA. She previously worked from the Nubia studio, which she set up with a group of fellow artists. Nubia studio is a dynamic cultural centre and studio space in the heart of Addis Ababa. Her work has been shown at numerous exhibitions, including solo exhibitions at Addis Fine Art Project Space in London (2019) the Ethiopian National Museum (2011), RedHill Art Gallery, Nairobi (2015) and Addis Fine Art Gallery (2016). Her group showings include the 1.54 African Art Fair, London (2019, 2016, 2015), Art of Ethiopia, Sheraton Addis, Addis Ababa (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), Art Lab Africa, Cape Town Art Fair, Cape Town (2017, 2015), My Self Portrait, Asni Gallery, Addis Ababa (2011), and Ashara, Laphto Gallery, Addis Ababa (2013).