New York Exhibition Features Ethiopian Artists at the Africa Center in Harlem

The traveling exhibition that’s currently on view at The Africa Center in Harlem is curated by Fitsum Shebeshe, a former assistant curator at the National Museum of Ethiopia. The show titled the 'States of Becoming,'features 17 artists from the Diaspora, including several Ethiopian-Americans, who reside and work in various places across the United States. (Photo: The Africa Center in New York)

Okay Africa

Having grown up in Ethiopia all his life, Fitsum Shebeshe had never known what it was like to travel outside of Hawassa where he was born. When he went outside the country for the first time, on a visit to Mozambique for an informal arts training program, his eyes were opened to brand new experiences and he wanted to learn more about the possibilities that were waiting for him beyond the borders of his home country, and, indeed, outside of Africa. While working as an assistant curator at the National Museum of Ethiopia, he applied to arts school in the US. Upon acceptance, he was given a scholarship to complete his Masters of Fine Arts in Curatorial Practice at Maryland Institute College of Art.

Based in the Washington DC area, Shebeshe work has centered on roles as both a curator and painter. He is currently the gallery director at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington, Maryland, where he spoke to OkayAfrica about his hopes for the exhibition.

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Press release

The Africa Center

States of Becoming On view through February 26, 2023

The concept for States of Becoming evolved from curator Fitsum Shebeshe’s lived experience following his 2016 move from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Baltimore, Maryland and his subsequent firsthand knowledge of the weight of cultural assimilation. Confronted with a different society, Shebeshe encountered a wide range of existential questions that shaped his relationship to institutions and culture. Shebeshe also had the realization for the first time that he was viewed as belonging to a minority because of the color of his skin, and a newfound awareness of the profound impact the traditional and conservative culture he grew up with in Ethiopia had on his personal sense of individuality.

Having found kinship among cultural practitioners from the African Diaspora who shared his experience, Shebeshe has united 17 artists with States of Becoming who either came to the United States over the past thirty years or who are first-generation born. The artists represented in States of Becoming relocated from twelve countries in Africa and one in the Caribbean–Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe–with roots in cities across the U.S., including New York, Washington, D.C., New Haven, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

Video screen shot of artwork by one of the featured Ethiopian artists Kibrom Araya. Other Ethiopian artists highlighted in the show include Helina Metaferia, Amare Selfu and Tariku Shiferaw. (The Africa Center)

Like Shebeshe, each artist in the exhibition has had a unique relationship to the U.S. context, which is reflected in their work. States of Becoming explores these artists’ perpetual process of identifying, redefining, and becoming themselves in both local and global contexts, opening up perspectives into multiple states both geographic and emotional in a constant flux of social and cultural adaptations. The exhibition presents work across mediums including painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and video, that express the many different ways in which identity is remade and reimagined. For instance, Nontsikelelo Mutiti looks to hair braiding salons of the African Diaspora, and Amare Selfu moves from figuration to abstraction to express transformation as a result of relocation. These distinct experiences produce a sense of hybrid culture emerging out of real and imagined genealogies of cultural, racial, national, and geographic belonging.

Artists: Gabriel C. Amadi-Emina, Kearra Amaya Gopee, Kibrom Araya, Nadia Ayari, Vamba Bility, Elshafei Dafalla, Masimba Hwati, Chido Johnson, Miatta Kawinzi, Dora King, Helina Metaferia, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Yvonne Osei, Kern Samuel, Amare Selfu, Tariku Shiferaw, and Yacine Tilala Fall.

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