“Giorgis has assembled the archive of Ethiopian modernism that she brilliantly critiques. With deep personal knowledge, she takes us from magical healing scrolls to miniskirts, from monarchy to socialist tyranny, from Paris to Oklahoma. The details are fascinating and the artists’ works themselves extraordinary, but the real revelation is Giorgis’ understanding of the politico-cultural cross currents that converged in Ethiopia. Her presentation of them with an unflinchingly critical eye does more to celebrate Ethiopia’s singular achievements than any narrowly national story could provide.”
Susan Buck-Morss, author of Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History
“Modernist Art in Ethiopia offers an incisive account of twentieth and twenty-first century art in Ethiopia. Drawing on original archival sources, and using a rigorous interdisciplinary approach, Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis reads Ethiopian modern art against the broader literary, cultural, and political contexts that have come to define Ethiopian modernity. A major achievement, Modernist Art in Ethiopia will be a touchstone for anyone interested in Ethiopian and African visual culture and intellectual history.”
Dagmawi Woubshet, author of The Calendar of Loss: Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of AIDS
“Modernist Art in Ethiopia is the first critical study of Ethiopian modernism. Opening with a long-overdue critique of the Orientalist gaze that has biased writing about Ethiopian art, the book presents a provocative analysis of the social, political, intellectual, and aesthetic dynamics of Ethiopia’s tumultuous twentieth century. Giorgis masterfully weaves insights gleaned from untapped primary texts written by and about artists with reflections upon her encounters with artists who shaped the visual and literary arts of modern Ethiopia.”
Raymond A. Silverman, Painting Ethiopia: The Life and Work of Qes Adamu Tesfaw
If modernism initially came to Africa through colonial contact, what does Ethiopia’s inimitable historical condition—its independence save for five years under Italian occupation—mean for its own modernist tradition? In Modernist Art in Ethiopia—the first book-length study of the topic—Elizabeth W. Giorgis recognizes that her home country’s supposed singularity, particularly as it pertains to its history from 1900 to the present, cannot be conceived outside the broader colonial legacy. She uses the evolution of modernist art in Ethiopia to open up the intellectual, cultural, and political histories of it in a pan-African context.
Giorgis explores the varied precedents of the country’s political and intellectual history to understand the ways in which the import and range of visual narratives were mediated across different moments, and to reveal the conditions that account for the extraordinary dynamism of the visual arts in Ethiopia. In locating its arguments at the intersection of visual culture and literary and performance studies, Modernist Art in Ethiopia details how innovations in visual art intersected with shifts in philosophical and ideological narratives of modernity. The result is profoundly innovative work—a bold intellectual, cultural, and political history of Ethiopia, with art as its centerpiece.
Elizabeth W. Giorgis is the former director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and the dean of the College of Performing and Visual Art of Addis Ababa University. She is currently an associate professor of critical theory and criticism as well as art history at the College of Performing and Visual Art and the Center of African Studies at Addis Ababa University. More info →
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