Friday, December 2, 2011

Meet Kebedech Tekleab

 Kebedech Tekleab is a poet an visual artist from Ethiopia and attended the School of Fine Arts in Addis Ababa.  During the political uprising between Ethiopia and Somalia in the late 1970's Kebedech was taken as a prisoner and held in a labor camp for nearly ten years.  It was at this time that Kebedech found writing poetry to be her most valued resource, seeing the beauty and power behind words.  Kebedech is most noted for her paintings in the visual art world and much of this work deals with issues of identity, memory, the human condition, and personal discovery.

What I found most striking about Kebedech's paintings was the layering of paint on the canvas, suggesting the complexity and depth of the particular subject.  I likened this aspect of her work to that of the "traditonal" ideal of "power through accumulation." 

The painting in particular, A Day, captures the raw emotion and tenseness of the work's reference to the Iraq war and the day that "Shock and Awe" began. Kebedech is quoted as saying,

"I started working on it when the world felt the war in Iraq was inevitable. The day it began, I was at my studio working on the piece and listening to the explosion of bombshells on the radio. There was nothing to depict but to feel; visualization dominated observation. I dealt with the present but the process evoked a great deal of memory, social and personal, and time lost its boundary. I titled the piece “A-Day” and in doing that I marked time, the time of my inspiration, which happened to be timely and historic."

Kebedech is much devoted to the plight of humanity and most often her work addresses such concerns. In reading an interview she had with E. Ethelbert Miller in Of Note Magazine in 2009, she remarked that, "Race and gender are very important issues that have a varying social impact based on economic, social and political demands, and priorities in society. In my work, they can be found under the umbrella of my interest on human conditions globally, which has inspired most of what I have done so far."  I find this to be refreshing and I enjoy viewing her work through such lenses or frames of mind.

Though I am certain much more can be said of Kebedech Tekleab, the most important issue I wanted to stress was her ability to conjure up the emotions within herself to create meaningful and effective work.  She accomplishes this through the engagement and visualization of pain and suffering through abstraction.  Throughout her artistic career she has maintained a level of awareness for those around her and produced work about subjects that she feels deeply affected by.  In closing, can you find more ways in which Kebedech engages traditional imagery or themes in her work? Or, how else might we consider her work?

Consider visiting the links below to learn more about her:

and a short video interview can be found at:


  1. I enjoyed your information about Kebedech. It seems like life was rough for her, but she found a way through all of the bad times using poetry and writing. It is interesting how much emotion a person can incorporate into their paintings. Emotion seems to be a big part of her work as she focuses on issues that are impotent to her and have a social impact. I like that you concluded with a question to leave us with and to keep viewers thinking.

  2. Great! Thanks for sharing. I appreciate she is both verbal and visual--as we have also seen in many other artists' work.

  3. I wish she had her own website. I remember seeing her work in 2005 0r 2006 at Addison Ripley gallery in Washington, DC. non-objective large scale silver mesh installations. The city paper commented upon her works positively referring to them as “Wall based installation of fabrics netting and other textiles…” But the installations were made out of silver mesh. That is taming a material. She is very flexible in form and content.