Merikokeb Berhanu Ethiopian, b. 1977

Merikokeb Berhanu (Merikokeb) was born in 1977 and raised in Addis Ababa, where she graduated from the Addis Ababa University, Ale School of Fine Arts and Design in 2002. Trained by an elite group of Modernist artists at the influential art school, she is one of a generation of Ethiopian painters who are starting to make an impact in the international art world. Engaging with a long and deeply-rooted tradition of Ethiopian painting, Merikokeb's works feature abstract forms with dense backgrounds that interact with organic symbols. Informed by the physical structures of the city of Addis Ababa as well as the artist's psychological musings, the rich imagery within her paintings manifest a sensitive understanding of personal and collective life in all- encompassing, complex compositions.

 

Absorbed by questions of life and death and the human condition, Merikokeb draws inspiration from nature and life itself. Although she has lived and worked mostly
in urban environments, the motifs in her work derive predominantly from nature. Merikokeb explains that she closes herself off from the outside world to delve deeply into her own subconscious, expressing with colours and shapes what cannot be communicated with words. She tries to capture the feelings and emotions that have accompanied her through the different stages of her life. Her artworks are not about specific moments in time and place; rather, they are situated somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious.

 

Apart from the influence of the Ethiopian Modernist legacy, Merikokeb's work resonates with twentieth century Western female artists like Georgia O'Keeffe
and Hilma af Klimt, who created paintings that depict their own emotional states, following their subconscious and translating feelings and ideas into abstract symbols. Merikokeb's attempt to represent her inner world also resembles the Symbolists' desire to escape from reality by expressing their personal dreams and visions through colour, form, and composition. Yet, despite such visual references to European art movements, Merikokeb's practice is intrinsically African; she employs this syncretic vision to carve out a space in the current discourse in contemporary art.