Fikru Gebre Mariam:An Ethiopian Painter for the 21st Century
By Donald N. Levine
................the work of Fikru Gebre Mariam has reached new levels of both aesthetic power and public recognition. The moment is ripe for looking back at Fikru’s oeuvre and taking a fresh look at his artistic development.
Inspired to pursue an artistic career after winning an award at age 13 at the International Children’s Painting Exhibition in Beijing, Fikru began formal study at the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts, founded a half-century ago by the distinguished artist Ale Felege Selam, who introduced modern methods of teaching drawing and painting, which he had studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s.
There he became a protégé of instructor Tadesse Mesfin, who not only taught him painterly skills but gave him a graphic theme which he would embrace, struggle with, and grow through, ever since. The motif was a variant of a genre of contemporary Ethiopian painting sometimes glossed as “2 women,” a phrase used to represent women doing everyday tasks like spinning and making pottery. Although some Ethiopian artists often dismiss their works in this genre as mere touristic products, not expressive of their true selves, others have turned it into a serious genre. In Fikru’s hands, it became a vehicle for one epiphany after another. He has gone from depictions of groups of women standing, to more abstract representations, often with masks, to purely abstract creations.