Tesfaye Urgessa (b. 1983) is one of the most prominent contemporary artists from Ethiopia. He enrolled at the Staatlichen Akademie der Bildende Kunst in 2009, and has been based in Germany ever since. Urgessa artistic subject matter focuses on social criticism, race, and the politics of identity.
Urgessa's work has deep roots in his childhood and his memories as a young man in Ethiopia. Having studied under
Tadesse Mesfin, at the Alle School of Fine Art and Design, Urgessa connected with Ethiopian iconography. This will be, in years to come, one of the binding elements of his artistic production. In his own words, this is like ‘always having an Ethiopian accent, no matter what language I’m speaking’. Later on, over the course of his travels in Europe, he encountered the heritage of German Neo-Expressionism and the London School, which he would incorporate to his imagery.
Urgessa finds in social activism and story-telling a catalyst for his artistic production. There is a mute reciprocity between the observer and the observed that shifts the power dynamics and the notion of agency and race. Objects and naked bodies co-habit the seemingly-chaotic confines of the canvases in hushed and mature colours. Each composition is unplanned; derived instead from the depths of Urgessa’s subconscious, where disjointed images of emigration transcend to the outside world and onto the canvas. Brushstrokes become muscles, tendons, flesh, and chromatic masses.
Tesfaye Urgessa lives and works in Nürtingen, Germany. He holds a BA with distinction from the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa (2006), and graduated with merits at Staalichen Akademie der Bildenken Künste Stuttgart under Prof. Cordula Güdermann (2014). Among his most celebrated shows are Oltre/Beyond at Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi in 2018 and Von denen die auszogen (Of those who moved out??) at State Galerie Villa Streccius, in Landau Germanu (2019).