The year I finished (Dawit Medgam) was spent with Degaga whom I have known as the shepherd who would collect cows from several houses along the road leading from Shawel Dema seffer all the way to Ras Hailu Meda. Degaga made certain conversation with the heard that steered them to smoothly fall in place as they came out of the various households in the neighborhood. I followed Degaga and his cows to Ras Hailu Meda and brought them back towards the end of the day to their owners. As a child I was fascinated how the cows knew when to come out on Degaga's approach and when to go back to their house when he brought them back. Between Degaga and some fond memories of learning soccer with (yecherk kwass) and playing kulf & later marble (beyi) with children who were hanging out as I was or those who skipped school, my time was somewhat occupied.
Well, come September 18, I went to Wossen Seged elementary at the time known as Prince Mekonen elementary. Someone read my name and I began a new journey with a loud "Abet". For whatever reason, ever since I remember I have always made drawings. At Wossen Seged, I was the artist for my class mates and some times' students in higher grades asked that I do illustrations for biology or geography classes. Some for a price such as a loaf of bread (a corn bread or Yadeshe Bekolo) as we called it after the lady who use to make these breads behind the school ground. It may sound silly but just the other day I found a photograph taken in 1962 with my seventh grade classmates and I remembered most every one and I wanted to give the list here simply because some of them may be member of EEDN and who knows they might surprise me. In addition I have a stronger reason for the list. I have been partly molded by my daily interactions during those early impressionistic years. For that part of my life these friends wore and are a mosaic representation of Ethiopians of all persuasions. Even if they were young they were, as it wore chips of the big block. Hence they contributed towards the early nuances of my character and mannerism as did the many other encounters I had at various stages of my life. In other words a portion of my Ethiopianity was ingrained because of that experience. I remember:
Tahsas 16, 1953 (E. C), 7-th Grade Students; Prince Wossen Seged Elementary School
1. Woudnesh Haile
2. Neria Taera
4. Tsehay Haile Giorgis
5. Waleligne Endashaw
6. Legesse Almaw
7. Zewdu Ambese
8. Tesfaye Abebe
9. Mekonen Eriesom
10. Hailu Wolde
11. Ato Menkir our 7-th grade teacher, (German) was a nick name given to him because he was a serious and meticulous individual who also frowned most of the time.
12. Tekle Gabra Selassie
13. Tegane Tadesse
14. Asfaw Wake
15. Hassan Siraj
16. Aseffa ?
17. Aseffa Abate
18. Ayeletch Tesfa
19. Solomon 'Gobit'
20. Kebede (Tolosa) Wolda Mariam
21. Tigist Taera
22. Getachew Wodajo
23. Teshome Ejigu
24. Gizaw Wako
25. Solomon Desta
26. Achamyeleh Debela
27. Nigussie Aberra
28. Tamiru Getaneh
29. Seifu Abebe
30. Abdulahi Abdulhafiz
31. Kabede Ourga
32. Redi Balo
33. Tariku Biratu
34. ? .
I remember Netsere WoldeSelassie who was our gymnastics teacher and Eshetu Gallo who was our soccer coach.
I had the privilege of studying under the Ethiopian artist and Poet extraordinary Gebre Kristos Desta, as well as Ale Felege Selam, Yigezu Bisrat, Tadesse Gizaw and others. I learned most of my foundation about art and developed a sense of becoming an artist as a result of my experience at the School of Fine Arts. I also made some life long friends from my years at that school. Incidentally this is to date the only Art School in the whole country, it is you could say The Institution that has trained and has given birth to the artists of the entire Ethiopian empire. It served all aspiring talents who came from all over Ethiopia; that is until recent times. On my last visit to the school I learned that it was threatened by a new policy that will soon advocate the implementation of a policy that would limit its service to only Zone #14 or Addis Ababans and/or the Shoa kilil. Which means the rest of Ethiopia has to wait until similar schools are established or have nothing at all. This is a school that deserves promotion to a level of a National Art Academy or should be affiliated with the University. With appropriate academic and curricular & programmatic development it can help many who would like to pursue a college level study in Studio and Visual Art and or Art Education. Sadly the school had no repairs of any kind in the last 20 some years and it was in a dilapidated stage with a number of its outer studios practically in ruins.
Be that as it may, it is here that I began to show promise. It is from here that I began to travel to the different destinations in Ethiopia. Every summer I managed to go to a province or some rural area. Some time times I followed a fellow student and stayed with his family and made sketches and made studies of the people flora and fauna. Some time I got lucky in that a relative happened to live at a certain part of the country and I was able to camp June through September. Usually at the end of my visit I had enough works that I would develop into paintings or drawings that were good enough for a show and I usually had a show a few months following the summer venture. This gave me an exposure to different cultures with in my home land. While I do not claim to be an expert about the places that I visited I could at least claim to have added to my nuances of who I am. An incident of significance in my artistic infancy was an experience I had as a second year student. I was studying human anatomy under Herbert Seiler when I came across a real human skull at a location in Gulale. I had just finished playing soccer and was heading home through Petros/Paulos where much digging associated with a road building was taking place. I picked up the rather clean and healthy skull and washed it at a near by river and took it home where I did a series of studies and decided that I will share my finding with my fellow students at the Art school. One afternoon I began my journey from Mesalemia area towards Arat Kilo. When I reached the old Paulos Hospital I heard a song by Little Richard that was played rather loud. It was laud enough to be heard by the road side. This was happening at the California Tea Room. I decided to have Tea and Pastie, and after words I went to the men's room leaving my treasure on the table raped in a news paper. Apparently someone got curious and opened the raping and probably scared themselves to death and left it as it was. I came out of the men's room paid my bills and continue towards school. By the time I reached the turn to Arategna police Tabia, two (nech lebashoch) under cover police picked me by my pits and drugged me all the way to the police station and presented me to a major who was in charge. They accused me of grave digging and intent to sell a skull to some imaginary foreigner. The major did not bother to ask instead concluded that I was guilty and made a remark to the extent of "what if it was a Dejazmach." At 16 I became a jail bird. A day later I was saved by the director of the school Ato Ale Felege Selam who made a call to a colonel friend of his. I told this story to the students and faculty of the Fine Arts School on my last visit and got quite a laugh. I graduated from the Art School in 1967 with distinction and started and became editor of the first magazine dedicated to art and the artist titled "Voice of the Artist".
My next move was to pursue graduate studies, hence I wrote to the then Minister of Education Woizero Mary Tadesse, who promptly responded with a resounding no based on regulations requiring my return home and serve for an equal time spent for training before I was allowed to go to graduate school. This, I was not ready to do only because I knew how difficult it was the first time. I had a few shows in Nigeria where I was able to save enough for travel and left Nigeria to London. After a brief stay in England I proceeded to the US. I had an encounter with the world of dish washing and a few odd jobs in Washington D. C before I landed my first job as curator of the now James E. Lewis Museum at Morgan State University in Baltimore Maryland.
In Ohio I again went back to school and this time with an angle. I was seduced by the miracles of computer graphics and wanted to learn about it and use it to make art. To this end I spent a great deal of time learning this new language and medium. The Advanced Computing Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University happened to be one of the world renowned schools in computer graphics/animation and scientific visualization.
At first I was somewhat frustrated with what was produced. Also a lot has changed since earlier works in this field lacked in substance. Most works were results of fascination of the medium rather than content, meaning or substance. In other words computer graphics was about producing, silk projections of shiny and glittery surfaces that showed technical dexterity in refraction, reflection, bump-mapping, texture-mapping and other flying logo type presentations and short in creative art works worth contemplation and or appreciation. This does not mean that pioneering works were being done. The majority of works that were largely in bad taste were commercial by and large they still are. Although computer graphics is young as a field it is also the fastest growing and advancing field ever witnessed.
It is a field that I have chosen to work and a field that I would like to baptize with my culture. With my Ethiopian/African-ness, it so far suits me fine. I understand that this is an area that most of my colleagues (artists) in particular have not yet had the opportunity to explore and I also know that given the opportunity many will embrace it and can do creative and innovative miracle with it. This is a technology that is becoming part of our daily life perhaps with a large degree of difference in the West than in the so called Third World countries.
Teaching related activities include the development of a computer graphics curriculum and courses along with the designing and implementation of integrated computer graphics laboratories, that included a student lab, a faculty research lab and a video suite for mixing, recording and editing of digital works. These laboratories are equipped with the state of the art hardware and software capable of 2D and 3D modeling, desktop publishing animation and scientific visualization.
I have served in departmental as well as University wide committees, for an example:
- Elected Art Faculty Senate Rep. 1992 to present
- Chair: Faculty Senate Honors, Memorials and Awards Committee
- Chair: Computing and Telecommunications Advisory Committee for the Arts and Humanities, North Carolina Central University, Appointed by the Dean of the school of Arts and Sciences
- Chair: Faculty advisory Committee to University Computing and Telecommunication planning committee, appointed by the Chancellor of the University
- Member departmental search committee
- Art Club Advisor, Art Department
1993 - Consultant Ethiopia Project, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.
1991 - Present : Member ACM-SIGGRAPH Association for Computing Machinery - Special Interest Group for Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.
1991 - Chair: Computer Graphics at HBCU/MI's (Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions of the ACM-SIGGRAPH Education Committee.
1990 - 1993: Board of Directors (ACASA) Arts Council of the African Studies Association.
1990 - to date: Consulting Editor and Board member AFRICAN ARTS Magazine a quarterly magazine dedicated to scholarly research and aesthetics in Traditional and Contemporary African Art and Culture. (UCLA) University of Los Angeles, California. As of 1995 - Contributing Editor of the Dialogue section of the African Arts magazine at UCLA.
1996 - Malmo Konsthall, Malmo, Sweden, 27 January-17 March, 96.
1996 - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (SoHo), New York, Mid-June - September 96.
1995 - Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa : White Chapel Art Gallery, London England.
- In conjunction with these exhibitions I conducted a number of public lectures, in addition my works are published in numerous catalogs of exhibitions news papers and magazine reviews as well as books.
- I have participated in national and international professional conferences as presenter, panel chair as well as discussant. I have also published numerous articles and collaborated with others. To mention only a few:
1996 - Work Reviewed and to be Published in Black Culture and Art in the 20th Century, by Richard Powell (world of Art) Thames and Hudson Pub. London.
1995 - "Gebre Kristos Desta (1932-1981) : Ethiopian Painter and Poet Extraordinaire", Ethiopian Bir: Buisness & Industry Report, Vol. 1 N0. 1 pp.17-22, an Ethiopian-American Heritage Publication, Westfield New Jersey.
1995 - "Addis Connections: the Making of the Modern Ethiopian Art movement", by Achamyeleh Debela and Salah M. Hassan in Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, pp. 126-139, 1995. Hard back published by Flamarion, in collaboration with White Chapel Art Gallery, London, England. 1995.
1995 - "The Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) School of Fine Arts 1957- to Present : Survival Against the Odds" paper presented at Africa'95, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
- 1992-1993 A $10,000.00 continuation Grant from the ACM- SIGGRAPH Education Committee a renewal for planning a National symposium on Interdisciplinary use of Computer Graphics at HBCU's.
- 1992 - $6,000.00 Travel Grant from the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology, the North Carolina Central University to participate at the Third International Symposium on Electronic Art in Sydney, Australia Participation included a two week residency at the University of the South Wells, A group exhibition of 26 digital works iris prints and cibahrome prints format.
- 1993 - 94 : A US. Environmental Protection Agency NCCU Computer Graphics/Technology Lecture Series and Faculty Training Grant $35,000.00.