Sofia Kifle and the Jazz Experience: Go See the Music!

Painting by Sofia Kifle. (Courtesy of the artist)

Tadias Magazine

By Tseday Alehegn

Updated: January 30th, 2020

New York (TADIAS) — The Hill Center Galleries in Washington D.C. is currently showcasing a sensational exhibit titled ‘The Jazz Experience’ curated by visual artist Sofia Kifle in collaboration with her brother, Gediyon Kifle, who is a photographer. For Sofia, her latest exhibit fuses together her two lifelong passions – music and art.

Having arrived in America in the early 1980s to pursue a college degree, and encouraged by her mother to major in business, Sofia enrolled at Mary Baldwin University in Virginia. Sofia recalled struggling through her first two years in her technical studies until she chose to enroll in a theatre course, which re-ignited her interest in the creative arts.

“Growing up in Ethiopia I had been inspired by my uncle, Fasil Dawit, who is an artist. I was always keen on learning more from him. But with family members who stressed the importance of getting a practical education, I initially put aside my creative interests,” Sofia shares. Once she started focusing on her theatre studies and also taking elective courses in studio art Sofia became more certain that she wanted to work as a visual artist, and subsequently earning an MFA at Howard University while studying with the late Ethiopian artist Eskinder Bogosian after completing her undergraduate studies as a double-major in Theatre and Arts Management.

Sofia’s first exhibition in the 90s featured Jazz as an African American art form with her works including paintings inspired by Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” and Miles Davis’ “So What” musical compositions.

“I’m not a musician,” says Sofia, “I’m a listener. And I try to come close to the music whether it’s jazz or classical.”

So how does it feel now to come full circle and have a joint jazz-based art exhibit with her brother?

“I really admire Gediyon as a photographer. He has the emotional eye in photography and passion for jazz” she responds. “I started with a jazz exhibit and now re-focusing on my love of jazz. It’s a blessing to be able to delve so deeply into a culture other than my own and also be able to share how to ‘see’ the music and not just hear it.”

Emphasizing that she conducts extensive research on concepts prior to painting about it, Sofia also notes that her endeavors are not about “repeating the message of the composers” but rather “understanding the human connection and emotion.” That’s precisely the experience she has curated in her current exhibition, which she worked on through the whole of 2019 after reflecting solely on rhythm and movement in the year prior. She then compiled her jazz paintings alongside photographs taken by Gediyon Kifle over a broader period of time.

While Sofia has also immersed herself in developing an extensive series of artworks such as the 2014 Visual Narrative 100 — consisting of the artist completing one painting a day for a hundred days with the last piece of work in the series called ‘2017 Suspended Movement 100’ presented as a blank, untouched canvas — she has also worked on and presented art for a global human rights dialogue. The non-profit Vital Voices, focusing on women’s economic and political empowerment is one of several examples with Mimi Wolford, the Founder/Curator of the MBARI Institute for Contemporary African Art in Washington, DC, assisting in exhibited Sofia’s work in Cape Town, South Africa. Sofia’s paintings have been exhibited at various institutions including the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Westfield State College, as well as via programs such as Art in Embassies and the D.C. Commission of the Arts. Sofia has also participated in the Artists for Fistula initiative where donated artwork helped raise community-based funds to build fistula hospitals in Ethiopia. In addition, her paintings are part of the Art of Ethiopia Catalogue.


Paintings by Sofia Kifle. (Courtesy of the artist)

For Sofia painting consists of “infinite possibilities to create beauty” and in addition to music she considers dance, literature, and poetry as well as her hobby of reading in the field of behavioral sciences as muses for her work as a visual artist. Although she is inspired by a diverse range of poets, writers and artists including Gebrekristos Desta, Federico Garcia Lorca, Fernando Pessoa, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, and Haruki Murakami – who have all helped her in understanding human behavior – she shares that she never wanted to follow or repeat what somebody was doing. “I never even want to repeat myself,” she shares.

Her message is clear: “You have to have some kind of passion for yourself. Life can be repetitive – you wake up, eat, work and come home — but also remember that everything is constantly changing.” She adds: “Everybody thinks everything is permanent, but it’s not. We are creating movement and moments, and for me, music calls me in deeply to sense that feelings are not just sentiments but emotional understanding as well as knowledge. At the same time competition with myself on the canvas really helps me grow.”

Sofia’s next art series will continue her passion for studying jazz and delve into John Coltraine’s “Alabama” composition.

The Jazz Experience exhibit at The Hill Center Galleries in Washington D.C. ends on February 1st. Go see it before it closes. Go “see” the music!

‘The Music’ is her last painting series for 2019

Watch: The Jazz Experience show by Gediyon and Sofia Kifle


Tseday Alehegn is co-founder and editor of Tadias.

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