Bringing in the Sheep
Visual artist Mack Eshete is a man of the city yet passionately attached to cattle farm owned by his parents. So much so that he has brought part of the farm to an exhibit at Goethe-Institut on view from May 13 up to June 2.
The exhibit titled “The Shepherd with a Violin” has at its principal subject skinless sheep lending their attentive ear to a human looking figure playing a violin. Even if that means the shepherd fails to tend his sheep, curiously lost in his music. With an aluminum sheet covered setting and bold gestures, the artist has achieved to create a thrilling harmonious landscape he desired.
In the process of making this body of art, the artist has refused to use preservatives, causing a certain number of the gallery staff to fall sick.
As days went on, some perished body parts of the sheep had to be removed to keep hygiene. But this may not be a surprise when we learn the artist intent, for he says that his work explore the ordeal of wastage and decay.
Cow dung and similar substances are recurring motifs in Mack’s works.
Mack was born in 1983 in Addis Ababa, the suburb of Gulele.From an early age, he displayed a keen interest in drawing and has started taking private lesson in grade nine which continued until 2002, when he joined the Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts and Design.
Graduating from the School in 2005, Mack has been practicing drawing, using a range of unconventional materials and developing his artistic agenda, exploring, in his own words, the notions of life, death, desire, beauty and decay.
He works as a cartoonist, graphic designer and storyboard artist. His work has appeared in many exhibitions in Addis Ababa and Berlin. Mack has attended three Artist’s Workshops (Felega 1 in 2005, Felge 2 in 2008 and Felge 3 in 2009) organized by the Goethe- institute in Addis Ababa and conducted by the Ethiopian artist Yenatfanta Abate from Germany. He has also been to Germany on a three-month residency program.This is one of his major solo exhibitions that has already elicited some powerful and polemical responses.
Technically, most of Mack’s drawings are not drawings at all but encaustic like paintings, done in fluid paste of meted wax crayons, at times augmented with pigment on goat hide and canvass.The colors red, black and white tend to dominate his works.
Mack painted works that came from inner necessity. He also borrows from others, adopting ideas for his own purpose. I was told by an art curator that the piano covered by aluminum sheet was already done by German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys.
There were viewers who were not amused by the alien idea of a shepherd playing a violin, accusing the artist of giving up home-grown instruments like Washint, Kirar or flute.
((Photos, courtesy of Leikun Nahusenay, studio artist and photographer)