In Conversation with Tadesse Mesfin on “Pillars of Life”

Roli O’tsemaye, The Sole Adventurer, December 20, 2020

[...] In October, Addis Fine Art relocated to South Kensington’s Cromwell Place in London. To mark the opening of their new space, they presented an exhibition by Ethiopian modernist Tadesse Mesfin, which marked the artist’s first solo show in Europe.


Tadesse Mesfin is a respected figure in the Ethiopia art scene with an artistic career spanning five decades. He holds a unique position as both a representative of the Ethiopian modernist movement and a long-time educator as a professor at the influential Alle School of Fine Art and Design in Addis Ababa. Some of the painters who have studied under his tutorship are Addis Gezehagn, Ermias Kifleyesus, Merikokeb Berhanu and Tesfaye Urgessa. 


The solo exhibition by Mesfin, entitled “Pillars of Life”, featured new works from an ongoing series celebrating small-holder women vendors in markets in Ethiopian cities. These women are typically found crouched by their wares, waiting for customers. In his paintings, he celebrates the women and positions them in ways that defy the limitations of perspective. The figures appear to float in their crouched positions, their forms often abstracted through loosely defined brush strokes. He also represents them in regal, statuesque poses with discernible facial expression.


Mesfin’s style and themes are influenced by his environment. He spent seven years in the USSR, where he studied architecture and sculpture in St. Petersburg, and he was an artist in residence in the United States as the winner of the 1998 prestigious Mid-American Arts Alliance (MAAA) fellowship.


In this interview with TSA Art Magazine, Tadesse Mesfin talks about the impressionable experiences behind his popular series the “Pillars of Life” as well as aspects of his long-running career. [...]

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