No Country for Young Men: Tesfaye Urgessa

30 December 2019 - 15 February 2020 Addis Ababa

Addis Fine Art is pleased to present Tesfaye Urgessa’s solo exhibition No Country for Young Men. Opening to the public in Addis Ababa, on 30th December 2019 and running until 15th February 2020, the show celebrates the artist’s debut with the gallery.


Since graduating from Ale School of Fine Art and Design in 2006, Tesfaye Urgessa (b. 1983) has quickly become 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.


No Country for Young Men, is named after one of the 20 portraits displayed in the exhibition, each one confronting the viewer with the reality of existing as a so-called “other”. Millions of young men and women, forced to emigrate to unknown lands, can find in Urgessa’s work as sympathetic to their own stories, and defying the established power dynamics. The powerful distorted figures are fighting for a place in a world shaken by conflict and crisis.


Influenced by Ethiopian traditional iconography, German Neo-expressionism from the 1980s, and the School of London, Urgessa’s own style encompasses all of these elements, and much more. At the crux of his work lies a fascination with story-telling. The objects and naked bodies’ presence becomes a statement of agency. Sometimes by diving their gaze into the viewer’s, like the central figure in VUPs VIII, or by their simple yet proud depiction of the individual, of which Gesicht III is a perfect example.


It is in this mute, heartrending reciprocity between the observer and the observed that Tesfaye, painting from memory, lets his spontaneity and experiences take over. Hushed and mature colours dominate the seemingly chaotic compositions that happen without prior planning. Brushstrokes become muscles, tendons, flesh and chromatic masses construct the rooms to contain the figures. The architecture of the scene is brief but enough.  


Tesfaye Urgessa lives and works in Nürtingen, Germany. He holds a BA with distinction from the Ale School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa (2006), and was graduated with merits at Staalichen Akademie der Bildenken Künste Stuttgart under Prof. Cordula Güdermann (2014). Among his most notable 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).

Installation Views