Chairs, Slippers and Contemporary Ethiopia: The Work of Ephrem Solomon
In many ways, the work of Ethiopian artist Ephrem Solomon differs from the prevailing artistic style ones generally comes across in Ethiopia. Although his works are also two-dimensional and on canvas, a strong graphic approach makes his works stand out in the midst of the ever-dominating painting, be it figurative or abstract.
Solomon was born in Addis Ababa in 1983, and developed an interest in art early in his life. After high school he pursued this interest and obtained a diploma in fine art and graphic design in 2009. His portfolio features clear traces of an upbringing in graphic design and his works are often very descriptive and literal. He is largely occupied by the world around him; the city of Addis Ababa, its people, places, spaces and nature. Various objects such as the signature chair and slippers are incorporated as a reflection on broader political and social issues. ‘’My works portrait the distance between what the governed people needs and wants and what is the response to them from the governors, and I have tried to picture as precisely as possible the actual and innocent feeling of the governed,’’ Solomon explains.
With a limited color-scale and a somewhat minimalistic style, Solomon combines the tradition of woodcut and collage with graphic design and creates compelling contemporary artworks that balance various artistic styles, traditions and eras. “In a world where newness has become a value in and of itself, I am more moved by the compliment that what I am doing technically feels like something from the past, while embodying something that is currently relevant”. Solomon reflects on the different dimensions of society and time that he experiences in contemporary Ethiopia where modern and traditional lifestyles both clash and go hand-in-hand creating an a tense and prospective atmosphere that serves as an ideal playground for an artist.
Bits and pieces of old newspaper get a new life under Solomon’s hands and are meticulously put together to form a patchwork on which his signature elements such as chairs and slippers can stand out. Asked about the functioning of the slippers and chairs, he explains: ‘’The slippers co-inhabit the ways and manners together with the existing society versus the chairs which symbolize the walk of an individual stepping onto the slipper’s journey.’’ On this backdrop, elements often perform solo installing a sense of loneliness and absence – nobody is sitting on the chairs, nor wearing the slippers, and people are always alone – and this feeling is only emphasized by the limited color-scope. According to Solomon this reflects a ”…simplicity drawn from my personal life and experience within myself and the surrounding society, simply describing in an easy going way life”. However, breaking with the simplicity, clarity and douche colors, Solomon often adds strong contrast full bright colors to focus on particular things or planes.
At once minimalistic and naïve, drawing on tradition in a contemporary scope, Solomon navigates in a vacuum of time and space, introducing viewers to elements of Ethiopian life while at once reflecting critically on the same theme. His graphic style and signature elements please the eye and provides the observer with an at once aesthetic and thought-provoking experience.
For more info on Ephrem Solomon please visit his page on African Colours or click here. Solomon will exhibit at the annual Art of Ethiopia show at Sheraton Hotel in Addis. The show opens on August 30th and closes on Semptember 2nd.
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