The rich visual culture of the Ethiopian Orthodox church with its centuries-old tradition of illustrated manuscripts and church murals still has not been critically deciphered. The academy of Ethiopian traditional art has long been studied by Western scholars outside the discipline of art history and by others who have been fascinated by Ethiopia’s myth as a Christian empire, headed by monarchs perceived to be instruments of God. This discourse has structured itself within two pervasive and contradictory narratives: exceptionalism and primitivism. These narratives have transcribed Orthodox Christianity and the institution of the monarchy as emblems of Ethiopia’s uniqueness and greatness, contributing to a perception of Ethiopia as non-African and Christian nation, while all the while denigrating its rich and diverse artistic traditions in relation to the “norms” of European ecclesiastical paintings.
As Ethiopia’s first and only art historian, Elizabeth Giorgis aims to situate these conflicting narratives within contemporary critical discourses and in relation to modern and contemporary art history. Her project is the first sustained attempt to navigate the multiple points of Ethiopian intellectual and aesthetic realms from a combination of cultural, historical, and comparative perspectives. During her tenure as scholar in residence, Georgis hopes to make a much-needed intervention into the existing literature of Ethiopian modernity and modernism. In this regard, Giorgis intends to focus on completing a book manuscript tentatively entitled Ethiopian Modernism. She will also focus on researching and writing other scholarly essays on similar issues.
At Addis Ababa University Giorgis initiated a graduate program in the field of Ethiopian art history that is the first of its kind in East Africa, critically engaging the different ways of negotiating the political currents of Ethiopian modernity and modernism. This program has produced many young scholars involved in cross-disciplinary works in modernist epistemology, ontology, and representation.
Her teaching has also focused on the analysis and exhibition of African art outside the hegemonic matrices of Western art and its market. This fellowship will permit Giorgis to share her experiences with young American scholars in the interdisciplinary examination of African art and its representation as she also works toward publishing her dissertation manuscript.
Elizabeth Giorgis received her doctorate from the Department of History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University in 2010, and her master’s degree in museum studies from New York University. She serves as Dean of the Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts and was Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University. She teaches Art Theory and Criticism in the graduate schools of the College of Performing and Visual Art and the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. She is the author of several publications, including, “Charting Ethiopian Modernity and Modernism,” a special issue of Callaloo, journal of the African Diaspora, on Ethiopian art and literature and “Salem Mekuria, Ruptures: A Three-Sided Story,” published in Fault Lines: Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes (a catalogue for the 2003 Venice Biennale, and winner of the African Arts Council’s Book Award). She is the editor of the first catalogue of contemporary art published in Ethiopia, Gebre Kristos Desta: The Painter Poet (a joint project of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Institute of Ethiopian Studies). More recently, she authored Revolutionary Motherland or Death: Students’ Work during the Derg Regime (1974-1991), published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title that focuses on the relationship between the socialist realist ideology of the Derg’s dictatorship and the imposed Soviet style art pedagogy as manifested in the curricula student art works of the Fine Art School in Addis Ababa University. She has curated several exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum, Gebre Kristos Desta Center and the Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. She has also participated in several international conferences and public lectures, recently at New York University on “The Making of Modern and Contemporary Ethiopian Art” and at Brown University on “Aurality, Visuality and Digitality.” She currently conducts a weekly radio program on Ethiopian arts and culture.
Born in Benin in 1967 to a family of cattle herders and traders, Idrissou Mora-Kpai received both an academic and a traditional education. After completing his Baccalaureate, he left Benin to work as an itinerant laborer, tracing a course from Algiers to Rome, then on to Berlin where his desire to become a filmmaker led him to attempt the entrance exam to the Babelsberg Film and Television School. There, Mora-Kpai trained in documentary and fiction filmmaking. In 1999, he moved to Paris, where he set up MKJ FILMS, a production company principally devoted to documentary films. Africa, with its innumerable postcolonial conflicts, has been a major source of inspiration for his socially engaged films. Mora-Kpai's films have been seen throughout the world and have garnered international accolades and prizes. Released in movie theaters in France, Si-Gueriki received the Best Documentary award in 2003 at Namur. Inflected by the personal, the film reflects on the condition of women in his country, evoking Africa's difficulty in reconciling tradition and modernity. Even more notably, Arlit, the Second Paris won the Bayard d'Or for Best Documentary at the Namur International Francophone Film Festival in 2005, the Best Documentary award at the 15th African, Asian and Latin American Film Festival in Milan, Italy in 2005, and the Best Documentary award at the Tarifa African Film Festival in Spain. Arlit denounces Western multinational corporations for both their unscrupulous plundering of Africa's raw materials and their disregard for workers, and assails the broader injustices and inequalities of North-South relations. His latest film, Indochina, Traces of a Mother, released in 2011, received third prize for documentary film at FESPACO, and has just been selected for the International Film Festival in Pusan, South Korea. It tells the story of not only African colonial soldiers fighting in Indochina but, also, the unwinding, complex story of these soldiers’ mixed-race children.
El-Salahi is truly one of the most impressive figures in the field of contemporary African art. He is an artist whose productivity has spanned more than five decades, and a powerful intellectual who remains morally conscientious, socially concerned, and uncompromising in his artistic integrity. El- Salahi’s prolific career is one of constant experimentation with different techniques, symbolic languages, and visions. His diverse body of work is not bound within one style nor is it constrained by the early parameters of Sudanese aesthetic concerns. His paintings combine a critical understanding of Western art principles with an original visual sophistication in their reference to Sudanese and African as well as Islamic art forms.
Born in 1930 in the historic city of Omdurman, Sudan, El-Salahi studied at the School of Design, Gordon Memorial College (subsequently renamed the Khartoum School of Fine and Applied Art) between 1948-1954, where he majored in painting. Between 1954-1957 he studied at the Slade School in London. He returned to Sudan and taught for many years at the School of Fine and Applied Art, one of the most active centers of creative talent in Africa and a major contributor to the growth of the modern African art movement. It was under the leadership of El- Salahi that the “Khartoum School” emerged as an important group of Sudanese artists known for their distinct and innovative styles. El-Salahi’s powerful paintings reflect a life of struggle, migration, contemplation, and critical meditation. Revered throughout Africa and the Middle East, El-Salahi has inspired generations of artists with his meditative approach to imagery. A major traveling retrospective of his career entitled Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist was unveiled in Gallery 22, Katara, Doha, on October 4 2012, as a collaboration between the Museum of African Art in New York and the Cultural Village Foundation (Katara). This retrospective traces El-Salahi’s journey from Sudan, his studies at the Slade, his periods of travel and residency in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, his self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom and Qatar, and, most recently, the United States.
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