Here and there
“Wodi enna wedih” (Here and there) is the name of Behailu Bezabih’s art exhibition being displayed at the Alliance éthio-française. An article with a very good description of the exhibit has appeared on April 4th edition of the English weekly, Capital, written by Dr. Mousumi Roy Chodhury, an Indian instructor at the Addis Ababa University. Here is part of the article.
The highly experimental and stimulating art works using multimedia and installations are inspired by the plight of Ethiopian immigrants.
Installation of wooden boats and standing oars in the center of the room of the exhibit highlight the show’s theme. The standing oars represent the people waiting for the boats. The flat and broad heads of the oars covered with cloth, newsprint, glittering stones, and plastic keyboard plastic letters represent people from all walks of life-rich, poor, intellectuals,-waiting to migrate.
The boats take off from the other corner, a file of them, getting progressively smaller as they go higher and higher in semi circles, until they reach the vanishing point. When we stand at the corner it’s the journey of a single boat we that gets smaller and smaller as it goes further away from us. The smallest of the boats arranged in circles close to the ceiling are spindles used by Ethiopian weavers, the mewer woriya, shaped like little boats. The spindle as boat and the material used on the heads of the oars, the waiting people, are used in the multimedia paintings, the other art works in the center room to show.
In the first room of the exhibit stand three wooden sculptures on one end and on the other, a row of five paintings in wood and collage entitled Basahger or Beyond. The wooden sculptures are clusters of long wooden rods in the weaver’s loom around which the threads winds. Held together by brass bands, they give the impression of a family or a community of the migrating people. The Beyond series at the other end consisting of five paintings using wood, collage and acrylic develop the theme of migration as the bird’s nest in the right hand corner of the paintings get progressively thinner and smaller indicating vanishing support structures in the home country and finally the immigrant flight. The collage is made of old newsprint taken from mud walls of demolished houses, of smoked paper from the mudbet, the kitchens.Graduating from the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School in 1981-82, Behailu Bezabih opted to teach art in a school in stead of going to one of the socialist countries like many of the artists and art school graduates of his time. Slowly he opened himself to children’s forms of expression and their art and let his work absorb their playfulness that unceasingly gives his critical perspectives of the world he lives in and his understanding of the human predicaments a whole new depth and angle.
Over the years his use of the collage, acrylic, wood, metal, used materials and multimedia in the art work has widened his range of expression and creativity. Perhaps this is why Behailu Bezabih is one of the Ethiopia’s most important artists, having done over 30 independent exhibits and several group exhibits in Ethiopia, Paris, Kenya, South Africa, Berlin, Ireland, New York and Ohio.
Like the view of the vibrant Piazza from his condominium apartment and studio, Behailu’s art is warm and energetic with life. And liked the view of many layers of the city’s life, from the shacks of Merkato to Sheraton and the mountains beyond, his work is introspective of the nuances of his surroundings. Like the spirit of children’s art he daily interacts with, his work is full of surprises and playfulness. All of this comes together in the art work of Wodi enna wedih where he uses new mediums and forms, the Ethiopian weavers’ spindle and the wooden rod from the loom to create multiple meanings. The movement of their spindle, the mewer Wariya dancing from one end of the loom to other, moving from here t there, gives the rhythm for the people’s movement, its broken boat-like form, their drifting lives.