Home > Arts, In Memoriam > Yohannes Gedamu (1947-2010)

Yohannes Gedamu (1947-2010)


By Achamyeleh Debela
I want to tell the world that I lost a very dear friend, and a brother. I hate the idea of facing the reality that he is actually no longer here — now, my miserable now. But I take solace and pride in what we shared with the short time we had for the last 50 years. After all, Yohannes Gedamu was my childhood friend. Together, as young as 16, we made plans and decided to go to the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts. We took the two-month summer entrance course in 1963 and passed the exam, but the Director told us both we were too young and sent us back home. We cried together and later began to wait for Ato Ale Felege at the school entrance as he came to work and we prostrated, begging to be allowed to enter. We did this for several weeks (Dejtinat) but Ato Ale wanted us to go back and continue our academics. Yohannes returned to the Seventh Adventist Mission School in Akaki, but I persisted because someone had joined the 9th grade at Prince Mekonnen High School claiming to be me.
Ato Ale gave in after two months and both Yohannes and I joined the Art School (not September 18th like everybody else who had passed and joined the school that year, but some time in November 1963). We then began a five-year journey as art students. Daily, we walked to School from Merkato to Arat kilo, holding hands. We shared an innocent childhood and a wonderful five years in one of the greatest Art Schools in Africa, if not the world. It was a home away from home. We grew and matured together as young men, both as friends and as artists. We had our first joint exhibition at the Ghion Hotel. As time went on, perhaps we may have parted physically when I left to study Art in Nigeria, but whether in West Africa, Europe or America, Yohannes Gedamu and I were never apart. While I was in Nigeria, Yohannes visited my mom, gave me updates, and helped her when she needed help. We corresponded, as good friends would, basically sharing every major happening in our lives. We wrote each other, sometimes often and at other times after long intervals, but never stayed apart for too long. This includes a recent discussion we had on Facebook on his ailing health but his willingness to go on. I told him I was coming for a year beginning September and we were to have coffee with Belaynesh, but he could not wait, God had a different plan for him. He needed him to join the ancestors sooner than anyone expected.
His children were indeed the apples of his eyes. He loved them, he always talked about them, and I knew what a proud father he was by the way he talked about them. I want Jessica, Hanna and Lidia to know not only was he a proud father but that he was one of Ethiopia’s greatest artist in his own right and of his own time.
Yohannes Gedamu was a dedicated disciplined painter who communicated his world view with all who can see with color, form and texture and articulated his view in ways that only Yohannes the painter could. When he began a canvas he immersed himself in his work and, in his prolific way, he simplified complexity in symbolic lights and objects whose forms did not necessarily conform to our mundane everyday reality. His visual poetry refused a didactic interpretation but rather chose more of an interpenetrative play between the conscious and subconscious terrain, working with one composition or another. I know, that he knew that he lives through his works that would in time be more apparent and communicate more readily for generations to come.
He has always been a non-conformist both in life and in his art. As a young student at the Art school he nearly did not graduate because he used a technique that was frowned upon by the then director. However he survived because his favorite teacher, the late poet-painter Ato Gebre Kristos Desta, intervened. Yohannes used a rather high relief on the wall of the school a collage in which he applied sand, grog and pebbles. This caused an outrage and his final project, a mural based on Ato Temachu, a hero from Bitwoded Endalkachew Mekonnen’s famous book, survived and Yohannes did graduate.
He was also defiant during the Mengistu Regime, which caused him to abandon his graphic design business establishment in Addis and flee to Nairobi on foot. He survived in Mombassa doing commercial art. His journey to Germany was influenced by the fact that he did not have enough time to paint and was completely tired of the hustle in Mombassa. The prospect of going to Germany was a challenge and an answer to his dream of living as an artist and learning more about art. After all, his teacher Gebre Kristos Desta was a graduate of one the best art academies in Cologne, the Werkschule fur Bildende Kunst Und Gestaltung, but more importantly destiny awaited. In Cologne, he met Doris, a beautiful schoolteacher, whom he married and with whom he later had three beautiful children.
He stayed and worked from a studio where he exhibited his works once or twice a year. Yohannes lived in Germany from 1980 to 1997. He then decided to go back to his beloved country Ethiopia and his beloved city of Addis Ababa and lived as a full time studio Artist. Back in Addis he worked afresh and exhibited often, always adding new works from his studio. He also exhibited abroad in Washington D.C, Durham, Winston Salem, and recently his work was part of the touring exhibition, “Continuity and Change: Three Generations of Ethiopian Artists”. In collaboration with the Goethe Institute in Addis, he was engaged in creating forums for discussions on art and roundtable discussions for his fellow Ethiopian artists. He was often seen on TV sharing his views and speaking about art. He served as a consultant, advisor to seniors and junior art students at the Art School.
Yohannes loved life, and though life was not easy for him, he had an infectious laughter and a big heart. I remember a few months back he told me how excited he was with prospective of going to Kulubi Gabriel, which has been his Mecca since his return home. He tried to never miss his yearly trip to Harar.
I know he is in a better place and would want his friends to celebrate and remember his life, his work and remember the best in him. I know he would want us to do so in spite of his untimely departure. Until we see each other my friend, thank you for being my friend and you will never be forgotten.
Achamyeleh Debela
source Abesha.com
http://www.abesha.com/zn/zine/feature/yohannes_gedamu/

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Categories: Arts, In Memoriam
  1. Bruck Fikru
    March 21, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    i remember meeting him a couple of years ago at a gallery in addis that has since been closed. he had an extraordinary mind! he was very friendly but came across as deeply pessimistic about the future of his people, of humanity…

  2. wossen
    March 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    i remember once i met him @ Goethe institut leading a panel discussion on art n since then i searced to see his work n i found it best n best.
    he left us his best work n he is such an icon for Ethiopia.

  3. Ayele Bekerie
    March 22, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    My condolences to his family. Yohannes’s art is deeply imaginative and wholistic. His colrs are bright and distinctly capture the shape of his visions. Yohannes’s work will remain influential for years to come.

  4. martha
    March 23, 2010 at 7:24 am

    WOW, SO SAD. THANKS FOR REMEMBERING SUCH A SPECIAL PERSON. MAY GOD BLESS AND COMFORT HIS FAMILY. YOHANNES IS INDEED A GREAT GUY. MAY HE REST IN PEACE. BY THE WAY ACHAMYELEH WHERE CAN WE PURCHASE BETWEDED ENDALKACHEW’S BOOK, I BELIEVE ARMUGN, PLEASE LET US KNOW. THE STORY OF ATO TEMACHU IS ONE I CAN NEVER FORGET, HOW I WISH THERE IS A MOVIE MADE, I DO RECALL SITTING NEXT TO MY FATHER AND READING OUT LOUD AND TEARS OF MY FATHER AND MINE, I WAS TOUCHED BY THE STORY AS A LITTLE GIRL AND TO THIS DAY HOLD ANGER TOWARDS THE COLONIZERS. PLEASE LET US KNOW MY BROTHER.

    THANK YOU.

    GOD BLESS

    • Dr. Haile
      November 4, 2010 at 11:09 pm

      May his soul rest in peace. God bless Yohannes.
      Could you please let me know whether you ever found ARMUGN of Btd Endalkachew Mekonnen. I tried in vain. I love that book.

  5. alem
    March 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    May he rest in Peace. it sounds like he was such a great man.

  6. Christiane Wetzel-Recht
    April 26, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Hallo Yohannes , I try to find “the pig” for you , you know , the painting….I found you with google and I`m soory , but I´m so bissy , so I´ll try to write back …
    I´havent seen Berhe sice ages and this year I´ll be 50 , so there will bee a big party…in november
    I will find out about your paintings and send you informations.

    Big Kiss +I hug you
    Christiane from Hamburg/Quarrendorf-village

  7. May 4, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Today I heard the very sad message by a friend’s letter. His dead is a great loss and he will be missed deeply as in Addis as in Germany. But he made a great gift to us: his work will overcome and influence other painters to come – and his name will not die. My deepest sympathy also to his family and alles his mourning friends.

    Annegret Marx

  8. ROBEL
    March 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Yah, let god give him his best place.
    By the way, We a formed team (in collaboration with Prof. Achamyeleh Debela) are starting to establish a YOHANNES GEDAMU SCHOLARSHIP FUND. which is going to give students a scholarship in their art study

  9. Detthard Martschinke
    October 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I was a friend of Yohannes and y just get the information of his dead. I know him since 1982, we made an projekt in Bielefeld, germany and Yohannes was and is because of his pictures in my home a true friend. But I stayed a cupple of years in colombia, so I didn’t no, what happens. Is ther anybody. who can give me informations about his deathe, his wife and daughters? Please send me a mail, if you are the one to help me.

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