Modern Ethiopian Masterpieces
Sotheby’s is pleased to present one of the strongest selections of Modern Ethiopian Art ever to be offered at auction. Masterpieces by important Ethiopian artists, Afewerk Tekle, Skunder Boghossian and Wosene Worke Kosrof, will be featured in the sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art, which will take place in London on 16 October. Their work is a visual record that communicates the country’s fascinating cultural, artistic and social history.
Afewerk Tekle’s Defender of his Country is one of the celebrated artist’s most iconic works, and later became a national image when it was printed on an Ethiopian national stamp in 1987. Born in Italian-occupied Ethiopia in 1932, Tekle developed his artistic skills at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and the Slade School of Art before returning to Ethiopia, and exhibited for the first time in Addis Ababa in 1954.
Stained glass became a choice medium for Tekle and his most famous stained glass design is his 1958 commission for Africa Hall, the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, in Addis Ababa. This is evident in the style in which he painted Defender of his Country, in which Tekle uses dark lines to dissect the figure, creating glass-like fragments and angular forms.
Public commissions and travel bursaries allowed Tekle to travel extensively around Africa during the time when many African countries were gaining their independence, and his work often tackles themes of nation-building and black emancipation. He exhibited internationally during his lifetime and in 1981 his self-portrait was the first work by an African artist to enter the permanent collection of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence.
Tekle’s contemporary Alexander ‘Skunder’ Boghossian was trained in London and Paris, and was the first contemporary African artist to be collected by the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris (1963) and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1965). He moved back to Ethiopia in 1966 and instructed at the School of Fine Arts in Addis Ababa (later renamed Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts). Skunder moved to the USA in 1970, where he taught at the Atlanta Center for Black Art and the Howard University from 1972. When civil war began in Ethiopia in 1974, Skunder could no longer return, and lived in exile until his death in 2003.
As a young man in Europe, Skunder had witnessed from afar the end of Italian colonialism and British administration in Eritrea, and its federation with Ethiopia in 1950. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved the Eritrean parliament and annexed the territory in 1962, and the ensuing Eritrean War for Independence lasted 30 years against successive Ethiopian governments until 1991, when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front finally defeated the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea.
As an artist living in exile for more than 20 years at that time, Skunder would have followed news about Ethiopia and its neighbour closely, including the peace talks that took place in his adopted home city Washington DC in early 1991. It was in this context that he painted Split, marking the split between the two countries, ahead of independence being officially declared by UN-supervised referendum in early 1993. Just five years later, in 1998, a border dispute led to the Eritrean–Ethiopian War, which officially lasted until June 2000. However, the two countries remained hostile until this year, when a peace treaty between both nations was signed on 8 July 2018.
Sotheby’s is pleased to present three works by Wosene Worke Kosrof (born 1950), a student of ‘Skunder’ Boghossian’s at Howard University. The building blocks of Wosene’s acrylic works are interweaving and interlocking letters from the ancient Ge’ez alphabet, used as the basis for several modern languages in Ethiopia and Eritrea including Amharic and Tigrinya.
Wosene, who has lived in California for more than half of his life, links quotidian activities such as coffee drinking and card playing around the world, with his personal memories of Addis Ababa and everyday life in Berkeley. Coffee The Ethiopian Ceremony expresses an ancient tradition central to people across Ethiopia and Eritrea. To participate in a coffee ceremony can take several hours, during which time close friends share life issues, acquaintances chat, or hospitality is extended to strangers. In this way, coffee transcends place.
Wosene has exhibited internationally at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian, the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the Sharjah Museum, the Newark Museum and the National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.