The Second Annual Blen Art Show and Artist Talk
by Selamawit Legesse

The Second Annual Blen Art Show, held at the World Space Corporation building in Washington D.C., brought together four hundred people to view the artwork of twelve talented Ethiopians of varied backgrounds. The turnout was modest, considering that a large number of Ethiopians reside in the D.C. area, yet it was an overall success. Ephrem M. Girma coordinated the exhibition that was on view from December 12, 2000 through January 16, 2004. He is an artist and the founder of Blen GraFix & Artworks. Asked for comments regarding the art show, Mr. Girma said “I am encouraged by the increased number of participants and viewers of the exhibition and I look forward to the Third Annual Blen Show.”

The following twelve emerging and established artists displayed their work at the exhibition: Dawit Abebe, Tsedey Aragie, Daniel Berhanemeskel, Aida Beshah, Tigist Damte, Asidesach Debebe, Meseret G. Desta, Mekbib Gebretsadik, Elsa Gebreyesus, Ephrem M. Girma, Robel Kassa, and Daniel Taye.

Each participant’s artistic approach and selection of media was refreshingly unique and diverse. The artists used a broad range of techniques including digital enhancements, oil, acrylic, watercolor, printmaking and photography.

Some renderings were especially powerful and thought-provoking because of their symbolism. Robel Kassa, Daniel Berhanemskel, and Meseret Desta used fascinating images. While the theme of crucifixion has been represented throughout history by many Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian artists, Mr. Kassa’s work brought a dynamic approach to this ancient theme; one image in particular displayed three digital images of men crucified on guns. Mr. Berhanemeskel painted a beautifully figured woman wearing an Ethiopian traditional dress with a green fringe, standing on the Lalibela cross, facing the Axum monument, her back to her audience. She had a clock at the back of her head. This artwork is titled ‘Icon headed woman’. In addition, Meseret Desta painted a black and white American eagle over the U.S. flag to capture the harmony needed for further progress in the United States. Mrs. Desta’s art has been exhibited at the Martin Luther King library in Washington D.C.

Some of the artwork exhibited contained vibrant and beautiful color combinations and movements, while many others had extremely calming effects. To mention a few, Dawit Abebe’s work used bright and bold colors to create a brilliant effect while Mekbib Gebretsadik’s work, named ‘Esibel,’ could make one visualize the woman dancing on the canvas. In contrast, seeing one of Tsedey Aragie’s photos made me crave for a quiet moment.

An artist talk also took place on Saturday, January 10, 2004 in conjunction with the exhibition. This open discussion was organized by the EthioStudy Group - a free association of Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia interested in learning about the country’s history, culture, economy, and politics. Experienced artists from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, EthioStudy Group members, and art lovers were present to make the discussion lively and enlightening. The artists shared the motivation, meanings, and techniques involved in their artwork.

One major point of discussion was raised by Michael Tedros, an artist who has lived in the area since the 1970s. He explained that in the past a group of artists attempted to involve the Ethiopian community with arts, but their effort didn’t succeed in raising interest to its full potential. Nonetheless, Mr. Tedros stated he is energized by the younger artists’ work. In addition, when the more experienced artists gathered to mourn the passing of the legendary artist Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian, they vowed to revive their dream deferred, or as Mr. Tedros put it: “to cooperate with the newer artists, other professionals, and with all members of the Ethiopian community who are interested in working together.” Mr. Boghossian, widely considered to be the patriarch of a generation of African artists and one of the few internationally exhibited Ethiopian painters, has defined the style of modern Ethiopian painting through several Ethiopian artists who studied under him at Howard University, where he thought from 1974-2001.

Also of note were the acclaimed artist Daniel Taye’s comments related to communication and togetherness amongst Ethiopians and the need to understand each other across boundaries. During the discussion he stated: “When I am speaking to you in Oromifa, don’t listen in Tigrina to answer me in Amharic.” He explained the position of the languages in the previous sentence is irrelevant and interchangeable. Mr. Taye added: “Let us communicate more through Art .”

Mr. Girma plans to conduct the Third Blen Art Show from August to July 2004. The exhibit will be open to the public and timely registration is the only requirement for exhibitors. According to Mr. Girma, 32 artists have already expressed an interest in displaying their artwork at the exhibit. The number of visitors is also expected to increase dramatically since this year’s turnout was double that of the first exhibition.

Selamawit Legesse is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at: Third Blen Art Show registration form can be found at


Artists at the Blen Graphix Art Show