Brief Encounter with the Works of Giants of Ethiopian Art
Grandfather - 80x100 cm oil on hardboard painting by Tekola Hagos.
In a beautiful late Tahasas afternoon, a visit to Ethiopia's national museum is a must experience for residents and visitors of Addis alike.

The national museum, in most senses, is a well-kept secret. Few people know the wealth of information, displays, artifacts and invaluable arts it houses. So, it is not a surprise that in any given day, one can enjoy the whole museum alone or with as few as two or three other visitors.

At the basement, the museum houses such unique displays as Lucy - Dinqinesh's 3.5 million year old fossilized skeleton. This is a very unusual experience by itself - coming face to face with vivid remains of a humanoid that lived millions of years ago! Only fifty meters or so away from the museum, modern humanity goes about its life and ways with little time to pause and think about the past. 

The first floor houses artifacts, sculptures, dresses, tablets, etc from all corners of Ethiopia; some of them dating to the early days of human civilization. Scripts on tablets of thousands of years of age give one a perspective of looking at the origins of the Ethiopic Feedel right in the face. The war and ceremonial dresses, thrones, and accessories of historical figures also adorn the first floor. 

It is the second floor that houses a huge collection of modern and traditional Ethiopian paintings that caught the eyes of this author. The gentle rays of Addis Ababa's late Tahsas sun stream through the big glass windows engulfing one in warmth, comfort and a sense of strong connection to the past. This by itself sets the stage for enjoying the displayed works. The collection starts with modern sculptures and modern paintings with Alefelege Selam's portrait of an Ethiopian lady being the most outstanding opener. Zena Asfaw's and Tulu Guya's wood cuts deserve an honorable mention. The themes of the paintings vary from the ordinary life scenes in markets, at a bus-stop to religious such as the crucifixion, the denial of Peter and Demera. The self-portraits are extremely powerful, with the legendary Agegnehu Engeda's and the relatively unknown but very gifted Tassew Churnet's being the most unforgettable. A look at either self-portraits is a journey through a maze of imaginations and attempts to understand these artists. Scholarly, complicated, humble, sensitive and a little bit sad are some of the emotions and expressions these portraits seem to carry. Tassew Churnet's painting of his own son ("Ye-artist Lij") is also a surprise given the fact that it carries so much expression caught on paper and oil for all generations to see; and yet so few of have seen this work.

It is easy to by-pass Maitre de Artist Laureate Afework Tekle's less-known works. But a look at his painting entitled "Qebele Meeting" has its big surprise. For anyone who has passed through the Derg era of the late 70's and 80's, no other artistic work so far captures the fear, confusion, bewilderment, patience, boredom, anger of that era, particularly in the never ending qebele, industry and office political meetings. The old man, the cadre and the soldier in that painting depict all these emotions and bring back that era very vividly to whoever is looking at them. Perhaps, for many reasons, this work may not have been among the favorites of Artist Afewerk. But for its viewers, the strength it carries in documenting that era (for good or bad) is impossible to forget.

Some of the other outstanding works of art include Abdul Rahman Shariff's "Bus Waiting", Tekola Hagos' "Grandfather", Tesfaye Wolde's "Was it True?", and Agegnehu Engeda's "Aster Mengesha". 

So, what else does the Museum Contain? Here is an almost complete list of the display's at Addis' best-kept secret.

1. Alefelege Selam – 1949 – Charcoal on Paper – Portrait of a lady

2. Zena Asfaw – Wood Cut 1980

3. Tulu Guya – 1976 – Wood Cut - "Eske meche" 

4. Yonas Kenaa "Gebeya" – "Market"

5. Hansen Bahia "Sikilet" – "Crucifixion"

The invaluable self-portrait of Agegnehu Engeda

6. Worku Goshu - Calcography

7. Tesfaye Wolde - 1973 – "Was it True?"

8. Zewdu Bekele - 1964 – "Wuha Teshekami" – Mixed media

9. Maitre de Artist Laureate Afework Tekle - Qebele Meeting –77

10. Daniel Tuaffe Yared – 1968

11. Meysaw Kassa - 1980

12. Harar Mask - 1984

13. Yonas Kenaa Landscape – 1981

14. Goshu Mideksa Landscape – Oil in Canvas

15. Tenaw Getahun 1986- Workers – Oil on Board

16. Abdul Rahman Shariff 1976 – Bus Waiting

17. Tekola Hagos - 1975 – Grandfather – Oil on Board

18. Fitsum Admassu - 1982

19. Tassew Churnet - Self Portrait - 1966

20. Afework Tekle - Demera - 1974

21. Tassew Churnet - Ye-Artist Lij

22. Lema Guya - Ye-welo Dirq - 1973

23. Feleke Armde - Oil on Canvas - 1963

24. Afework Tekle - African Heritage - 1967

25. Afework Tekle - Ye-Petros Kihidet

26. Agegnehu Engeda - Self-portrait - 1943

27. Ima-Aelaf Hiruy - Ye-hager Tr-Aeit – Landsacpe – 1951

28. Agegnehu Engeda - Aster Mengesha – 1951

29. Alefelege Selam - Portrait - 1958

30. Tulu Guya – 1976 – Wood Cut -"Ignaw Nen"

31. W/o Dereb -

Entrance to the museum

Administrative Building in the Campus

View of the Trinity Cathedral from the Museum's Ground

Beautiful Garden in the Museum's Campus

C          Copyright SKK_2001. Credit for Agegnehu Engeda's self-portrait goes to Acha Debela and his article at BIR magazine, Jan 1998.