Home > Books > Gebre Kristos Desta -The Painter-Poet

Gebre Kristos Desta -The Painter-Poet

This month the Goeth-Institue Addis Ababa -Gebrekirstos Desta Center has launched two books -an anthology of his poetry and an art catalogue of the artist’s paintings.R.S Matthew, a contributor to this blog,who is doing his his post gradute studies at Addis Ababa University has taken a look at the catalogue.

The catalogue comprises of essays on various aspects of Gebrekirstos Desta and a colllection of full color painings by him.The publication of this book is of enormous siginificance not just as a way of paying tribute to one of the greatest modernist artists of the country, but also as a means of recognizing , in the words of the editor Elisabeth Wolde Giorgrigis, to an art world which opens “text on Ethiopian contemporary aesthetic and art practise.”She further notes though the number of artists coming to the scene is on the rise ,”this has made little impact on the institutional strucure of critical discourse.”

Hence, this book is expected to play part in filling this lacuna by bringing together ” essays by scholars and critics for interpreting and classifying the works of Gebre Kirstos Desta with view points that shape modern art in Ethiopia.”

The first essay is by Achamyeleh Debela, Professor of Art and Computer Graphics at North Carolina Central Universty and focuses on the biography and artistic journey of Gebrekirstos Desta.Professor Achamyeleh traces the artist’s preocupation with portraying the opressed and the poor to his early encounter with the ralities of unemployment, begging , prostituation and diseases.He follows the artist’s journey from General Wingate School to the Science Faculty of Addis Ababa University, then to Acadamey of Art in Colgne and his return to his country, then to Oklahoma where he died.The professor also tells us of the ordeal the artist  went through as he defended himself against the charge that he betrayed his Ethiopian root by some critics who considered abstract art as alien to Ethiopia.

 Shiferw Bekele, Associate Professor of history at AAU in his article ‘State and Society in Ethiopia(1930’s to 1970’s):Contextuallizing Gebre Kirstos Desta’ provides the social and intellectual context in which the artist lived and worked. According to shiferaw, the 60s ,the time the artist produced most of his works ,were “the golden age of Ethiopian art and the most dynamic period for Ethiopian literature.”He described the times by discussing briefly such as the cnstruction of education , building cultural instiuations and the emergence of new social groups.He places the poetry and paintings of Gebre Kirstos Desta in the context of the famous writers and painters of the day such as Eskunder Bogossian, Afework Tekele, Be’alu girma, Tsegaye G/medhin and others.

Rita Pankrust in her article,”Gebre Kirstos Through the Eyes of Friends and Relatives” interviews thirteen of the aritst’s friends and acquintances who reminiscences about the complex personality and the possible extent his skin disease affected him personallly.Much in the same manner ,Elisabeth Biasio of the University of Zurich presents the picture of the artist as reflected by his former students.

 In what is the most theoretical piece in this book, “German Expressionasim and the Art of Gebre Kristos Desta,” Elizabeth W.Giorgis of the Institue of Ethiopian Studies delineates the terrain of modernism and its Ethiopian version in particular.Within the frame work of postcolonial modernism, she discusses the emergence of Ethiopian modern art.She credits Gebrekirstos along with Skunder Bogossian as being the avant-garde Ethioian modernist.

The core of her argument is that the “genesis and fabric of GebreKristos could only be comprehended with our understanding of modermismas a theme which German expression was part and parcel of.”

In the final article entitled ,”Gebre Kirstos Desta, The painter’s Eye,the Poet’s Hand”, Heran sereke Birhan focuses on the poetry of the artist, some of which she relates what his poetry means to her personally and discuses his poetic craft and ingenuity.For Gebrekirstos, painting and petry were complementary.”As a pioneer abstract artist and an elequent poet, he moved easily and with rare fluency between the two mediums.”As was the case in his painting he broke with traditional style of poetry and forged his own poetic path and explored wide range of issues in his poetry.As the book also includes 41 full color paintings by Gebre Kristos, it should be on the shelf of art lovers, artists and historians.

Categories: Books
  1. Gabriel
    July 25, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Gebrecristos Desta is like some one else who could not get much recognition in his life time.Thanks to Elisabeth Woldegiorgis ,Heran Serekebrehan and the Gothe Instiute every thing which had been hidden about him began to revive and getting acclamation and respect from diverse back ground.
    I am his relative of course distance relative who is related to him through marrige.More than that his family members who are here and abroad had contributed a lot for Ethiopia.Recently some of his relaives started to denounce and to ruin the good work of Heran and her collegues.As a family member I oppose this move. I support Elisabeth and Heran.
    Contcat me gabriel_mkl@yahoo.com

  2. sealm
    July 25, 2006 at 8:18 pm


  3. amarech yenenehe
    July 27, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    Who really cares about art let alon Gebre Kristos? Pls. write a review that concerns us all.

  4. asfaw
    July 28, 2006 at 8:16 pm

    Amarech, you miss a lot in your life so take a good look back to what you say , that was a stupid comment from you.

  5. sealm
    July 28, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    Amarech, Gebre Kristos is a cultural icon. No one could ever replace him. Open your mind girl and try to read on him.

  6. Brook
    August 27, 2006 at 3:34 am

    Geberkristos Desta was the most genius abstract Ethiopian Artist on his time. He painted as an ARTIST and most of all he acted as an ARTIST. He lived on his own world.
    Amarech respect the past, because they have build the bridge.

  7. September 20, 2006 at 4:51 am
  8. to amarech
    September 20, 2006 at 4:56 am

    “amarech who cares about what concerns you….but the only thing that is concerning me right now is some air head ignorant people like you who are killing Ethiopian Art”

    amarech yenenehe Says:

    July 27th, 2006 at 8:32 pm
    Who really cares about art let alon Gebre Kristos? Pls. write a review that concerns us all.

  9. Daniel Tsehay
    October 22, 2006 at 8:08 am

    I have seen the thing that has been written.But i wanna get more info.
    Thank you!

  10. December 28, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    my God
    we have an icon …
    he is really great with all the meanses in the world.
    he is born and he has put a mark great and lasting
    on poetry and fine art,
    can we replace him….atleast to solace the missing
    we can pray and praise he will be always with us.

  11. April 14, 2007 at 7:33 am
  12. Kebe
    August 11, 2007 at 9:54 am

    a real artist with colour and rythm…..
    a shining star…between generations ,I missed him and we missed agreat teacher….of souls and its realities.
    GK was the man of genious with all the seneses of the world.
    we will be missing him

  13. February 3, 2008 at 12:53 am

    Clik on the ‘when love casts a shadow’ link… that is his very best poem.

  14. beza addis
    March 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    love ur paintings

  15. April 17, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I come to Addis every year to teach art in a non profit school in Shiro Meda and discovered Gebre Kristos Desta this year Wow my husband and I are big fans. We tried to buy a book on his art but were told you were out. Is there any way to get these books?
    Thank you,

  16. tobia z tonetore
    April 23, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Actually, i have seen the thing that has been written on different books & news letters.However, we need some additional information.so,please try your best as much as possible.
    Thank you!

  17. samuel
    January 29, 2010 at 11:39 am


  18. March 10, 2010 at 8:38 am

    I want to say something.i like very much gebre picture I realy do not creat angain that types of drawing.kalatoch yatrungl minbyeladnkish endiyaw bedefenaw…………………..

  19. Basli ( Basiliyos )
    July 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    really, Gebre kristos Desta is a great poet ; his poems are my soul-mates . . . !!

  20. May 1, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    I am glad to see that Gebrechristos Desta is being discussed and studied. His poetic and artisttic life is a wonder beyond tributes of all the good words of praise. I came to discover the artist /through his works/ in 2004 and have always been trying to dig more about him ever since. I must say that I am blown away,consumed, possesed and always puzzled by his unparalleled imagination, philosophy and the endless quest; as he boldly deals with every thing we strive for and sruggle with in this life. There is a great deal more to be studied about his artistic journey . I wish to thank our Loriate Tsegaye G/M for his timeless tribute to Gebrekiristos Desta( I can never forget Hymanot Alemu reciting it at the A.A National theatre) Thank you Heran, Thank you Goete Institute
    R.I.P. Gebrekiristos Desta

  21. Alem
    May 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Here is an interesting article on GKD

  22. mek
    January 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Its amzing but wikipedia the great encyclopedia does not know The Great Gebrekiristos desta please try to write his life history on wikipedia!!

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