Calligrapher creates Ethiopian version of Islamic art

Calligrapher creates Ethiopian version of Islamic art
originally posted in Daily Sabah

Artist Essa Tadele's calligraphic subjects lie on top of intricately designed graphic motifs. Lines express the longevity of things, swirl and swing to express movement and there are objects-stars, moon shapes, fish and all sorts of everyday items.

Deity names in all shapes, sizes and positioning mark his canvasses which are presented in neat frames.

Essa himself sits on a mat in his small, but warmly decorated Addis Ababa home, contemplating one of his mixtures of calligraphy and graphic art.

Forging an Ethiopian version of Muslim art, the young father-of-two converted to Islam four years ago and is bringing a new tradition to the predominately Christian country.

"Arabic calligraphy is new to Ethiopia," Essa tells Anadolu Agency. "I wanted to leave a unique mark in the art tradition in Ethiopia, and this is my contribution," he says, pointing to some of his works hanging on a wall.

Most of his colors are greens, browns, blues, blacks or are cool colors of terra cotta.

"I make my colors cool, I tame the hot colors of green and blue to depict an atmosphere of peace and serenity," he says.

It was Essa's parents who first spotted his talent.

"As far back as I remember in my life, I have been all into drawing all sorts of images. I think this is my calling," Essa says.

Essa lives in the Piassa area, downtown Addis Ababa. His neighborhood is one of the city's most congested. One has to walk on a cobbled backstreet, along narrow alleys to reach his home. Unlike his surroundings, the artist himself is open and accessible.

Inside his studio, there is a unique feeling of being welcome. It is a warm home as Essa's two-and-a-half year daughter fills the space, running and giggling. A second baby is quieter, resting in a crib. His wife Kamilla Essa is busy keeping things steady.

Essa is a diploma holder in graphic art from the capital's Entoto School, formerly Teferi Mekonnen School, established by and named after Ethiopia's last emperor.

After graduating, Essa began his calligraphic art full time: "My first work was a graphic art with the deity name 'ALLAH' inscribed in the foreground in an artistic manner."

"At first, I was afraid to give it my all because there was this perception that scribing the name of Allah in a canvass as art would be sacrilegious," he says. "But then, I consulted a number of religious scholars and they told me it was just okay."

Since then, he has been working on his art, sometimes fulfilling orders from admirers.

"I staged a couple of exhibitions, one of which at the National Theatre and every time I exhibited I received acclamation," he says, showing two medals he won at an international competition in China."I will continue to preach peace with my art," Essa says with contagiously serene composure.

-Influences-

According to Essa his works are free of any influence: "In Ethiopia, there has not been much to emulate in this regard. And I have not had the chance to travel to countries where the art developed, such as Morocco.

"It is just a gift cultivated with years of training, observation and exercise," he says.

When asked to comment on where then the striking similarity of his color combinations with Van Gogh come from, he chuckles and says: "He is the one artist that I admire the most.


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