Ethiopian Artist Presents Unique Art Exhibition at Alliance Ethio-Francaise

By Seble Teweldebirhan


Behailu Desktop ArtAddis Ababa, June 9, 2011 ( - Many of us expect art to be in a certain identified manner. May be a painting on a canvas, whether abstract or realist, or different pictures. These are things we look forward to see if we go to art exhibitions. Artist Behailu Bezabeh is approaching art from an unusual direction.


We all are familiars with school desk and may be most of us wrote quite a lot on it while we were in school. Usually, school desks are used by students not only to sit on, but also to express their different feelings and try out their drawing and writing skills. In the new exhibition opened in Addis Ababa Alliance Ethio-Francaise on May 3, artist Behailu displays this as an art.


Born in Gojam, Behailu grew up in Addis Ababa. He attended AAU art school and graduated in 1991. Seble Teweldebirhan had the opportunity to discuss with him about his new approach to artistic expression. How do you explain your work at the exhibition?


Artist BehailuBehailu: In our country art is already defined to be a painting on a canvas. But, we are now at the age of contemporary art which says anything can be expression of art. It can be a sound, action, using materials in different positions. The idea is every artist has his or her own way of expression what he/she feels inside. I am still looking for my own unique way of expression and I am hoping may be this exhibition is one way. I had around 25 exhibitions both in Ethiopia and abroad and in all of them I tried to express myself in a way that suits me most. What are you looking exactly?


Behailu: I am looking to express an idea from a direction no body observed before. To approach art from a unique perspective that might tell my message in my own way. It is true everyone is familiar with school desk. But I have always perceived them differently and consider them as a way of expressing myself. I wanted to show this angle for the audience at the exhibition. How did you get the idea that this can be another way of artistic expression?


Behailu: After I finished from AAU art school, I started teaching as a profession. I teach art for children and I have been in this profession for the last two decades. In the early years, I used to do work on what is considered ‘normal’ by the society like paintings on canvas. But after I got deep in teaching children, my work started to be influenced by their idea of life. At some point my works were all about children and their ways of expressing thoughts and dreams. One day I got a broken piece of desk on the floor and I picked it up. It was for the first time I took a close look at things written on a desk. Unfortunately I went to the USA that month and had the opportunity to visit a school there. I have seen that the desks there have different things written by children as well. I thought that this thing is a universal expression by children.


Artist Behailu Do you present the pieces as they have been written on by the children or do you add your own ideas and lexis as well?


Behailu: At first I used to appreciate what the children did on the desks. But now, mostly I add flavors and express myself in a way that will not contradict the children’s articulation. As you saw in the exhibition, I have applied my own colors and materials on the pieces. How do you understand from these writings? What do they tell you when you look at them?


Behailu: At first these writings remind me of my childhood life. But the message is not limited to that. It shows me a different way of understanding life. As you know, children are innocent, positive and energetic and, of course, they can be easily influenced. Their world is totally different from ours and that is what I see in these pieces. Different desks from different schools show you the social status of the children and their priorities. I took desks from both private and highly expensive schools and from public schools. As you witnessed, I put that on a slide show in the exhibition. Without telling which desk came from which school, the audience can tell where they come from just by reading the things written on them.


Artist Behailu What kind of feedback did you get from the audience?


Behailu: It’s mixed. Some did not see how this can be an art. This is because as a society we have limited art to the usual manners of expression. I also got a very good feedback from some who thought this is a fresh artistic expression. I appreciate both comments. Recently you won a grant for your work. Can you tell me about that?


Behailu: The grant is given by The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Inc., which was established in 1985 to provide financial support for individual visual artists. After they evaluated my work by a committee of art professionals, they granted me $5000. I was really excited about it not only for the money but also because distinguished art professionals considered my work worthy of this grant.


Seble Teweldebirhan



Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for She can be reached by sending email through this form.



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