Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and based in San Diego, USA, Yohannes Tesfaye is a painter whose works are as robust as his work experience, which includes creating illustrations for children’s books and the restoration of wall frescoes for the Addis Ababa Holy Trinity Cathedral. His two- and threedimensional paintings come in a variety of mediums, including acrylic, and oil on canvas, wood, and fiberglass.
In his current abstract paintings, Tesfaye is looking closely at ritual tribal scarification, the process of making permanent marks on the skin, often by cutting. This series, called ‘Courage and Beauty’, speaks to this African tradition and culture. Using contemporary materials and techniques, Tesfaye creates powerful explosions of colour and texture that resemble the scarification and bring life to his paintings. Represented as dots and lines dancing along the canvas, they repeat in a way that reminds me of music notes. And, like a song, the small marks vanishing into the background are a distant sound, while the larger and more layered markings are a loud burst of colour and pattern; making shadows, shifting shapes.
In works like ‘Courage and Beauty #3’, from up close, the trailing marks bring back the memory of looking at small houses and fields as I flew out of Harare for the first time many years ago. From further away, a figure – perhaps a woman, with beautiful tribal marks all over her body – makes an appearance from deep within my imagination before falling back again into the large whole of this powerful work.
Through Tesfaye’s work, we are able to step into a rapidly disappearing cultural practice. To pause for a moment and appreciate the beauty in its patterns, play with the magic in its shape-shifting, and witness the power in its presence on canvas.
An article by Chiedza Pasipanodya
Featured Image : Yohannes Tesfaye, “Courage #2”, 2018. Mixed media on canvas, 91 x 122 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Addis Fine Art.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | ART X Lagos 2019 Artpaper. [French version inside]
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