OF POWER, POLITICS AND ART

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“…human relations, externally influenced, fight against the truth in our heart…art opens eyes and heals…” Fine Artist Prince Merid Tafesse.

So much is happening in Addis Abeba…the 36th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council and 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, convening of 55 African countries in the diplomatic capital of Africa; launching “Silencing the Guns, Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development.” In a speech at the opening session the United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Mrs. Vera Songwe, emphasized, “…today our task is to raise a clarion call for the voiceless…for those maimed by the tools of war…those scarred by the violence, it envelopes humankind.” Whilst speeches are presented and policies penned, art continues to be seen as a viable change agent for human conditions. According to Alya Khemji of writer for the Medium, art “…stimulates the society by translating the experiences through space and time. It influences the opinion of people through visual inspiration. Art is involved in affecting the essential self-sense…projecting a blend of imagination and reality that influences the way people think and live…art has the power to move people in many ways.” It is our hope that the AU will embrace the movement of art in peace building, as they promote the 2020 campaign.
Ethiopian contemporary fine artist, Prince Merid Tafesse is familiar with this scene and subject. In 2018 he was commissioned to create a piece for the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by UNOHCHR, unveiled by President of Ghana, H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo during the 2018 AU Summit. But even before that, the conscious artist, motivated by The Majesty’s speeches and Marley’s music has been on a path for over 2 decades to express the impact of bias and preconceived notions sharing “… of being different, unusual, abnormal, out of norm… being lefty in the planet filled by right handed people, being black in the middle of other color peoples and trying to fit in while being yourself, it’s a struggle of understanding…is the majority always right?” His comment is not just from personal experience but analysis usually at the core of struggles, namely, otherness.
On Monday February 10th LEFT HAND, Prince Merid’s (a lefty) solo exhibition will open at the Alliance Ethio-Francaise in Piassa. It his first solo show at the Alliance since WOOD FIRE CHARCOAL in 2003. The collection of work in the exhibition pokes and even provokes viewers with graphic imagery, ranging from taboos to technology in over 100 never before seen pieces. Mostly charcoal on paper, there is one oversized gold pen on black board entitled, Mulatu Astatke – Scientists in Sound, created through inspiration from the Ethio-Jazz giant. History converges with current affairs in this body of deep sometimes disturbing works, reflecting the soft-spoken Congo-locked artist’s connection to Ethiopia’s present social and political status.
Prince Merid’s deep piercing eyes capture mental snapshots of subjects, brought to life through flawless representations, stating, “I don’t use photos or models…my passion for charcoal allows me to catch the thoughts passing through my mind before they drift away.” His fearless visual treatise represents a wider statement on conditions here on the continent, in the Diaspora and the world in general, stating our “…human relations, externally influenced, fight against the truth in our heart, impacting our exploration of geopolitics, race and spirituality. Art opens eyes and heals…”. The prolific painter became known as the King of Charcoal after a residency in Jerusalem, following his graduation from Alle School of Fine Art and Design in ’99 and the artist-ocrat has undoubtedly inspired the current trend of Ethiopian artists using charcoal, beyond studies.
For a decade the avant-garde artist created intense compelling paper works in endless shades of grey with masterful networks of lines. His work is exhibited internationally and can be found in private, public and embassy collections with selected works received in 2004 by the Modern Museum of Art (MOMA) archives through anthropologist and curator Meskerem Assegued, Zoma founder. True to his royal roots, the artist is inspired by his lineage found in the back of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I’s Two Volume biography, “My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress”. The Emperor concluded his bio with a well researched family tree including over 2,000 names, direct descendants, published in 1972 revealing the artist as the 6th generation great great grandson of King Sahle Selassie Wossen Seged of Shoa from the Imperial House of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Prince Merid, as he politely requests to be called, states confidently, “I have a duty to declare, defend and depict Africa’s greatness and resilience, I should not be ashamed to declare my ancestry based on politics, fear or to brag…it is simply who I am and I cannot change my bloodline…I must admit that it has affected me in many ways and my art says it all.”

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.