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Ethiopia: Maitre Artist Afewerk Tekle dies at age of 80
Ethiopia's renowned painter, the Most Honorable Maitre Artist World Laureate Afewerk Tekle has died in Addis Ababa on Tuesday at the age of 80. The late Afewerk died while he was being treated in a hospital here in the capital Addis Ababa due to a severe illness.
The late Afewerk was born on 22 October 1932 in the town of Ankober from his mother Weyzero Felekech Yematawerk and his father Ato Tekle Mano.
Afewerk joined the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London after sent to England in 1947 to become a mining engineer and later he went to the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of London, the famous “Slade”.
After he completed his studies he returned to Addis Ababa where he held a one-man exhibition at the Municipality Hall in 1954, which was the first significant art exhibition of post-war Ethiopia, according to the painter’s official portal.
Soon after the exhibition, he left Ethiopia for a study tour in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
He also made a special study of the Ethiopian illustrated manuscripts in the British Library, the Bibliothẻque Nationale in Paris and the Vatican Library, thereby gaining a deeper knowledge of his own artistic heritage.
After returning to Ethiopia, Afewerk opened his studio in the National Library of Ethiopia.
Soon afterwards he was assigned by the Ethiopian Government to decorate St. George’s Cathedral, one of the capital’s important religious edifices, where he worked on murals and mosaics for three and a half years.
Though his interest in sculpture was second only to that in painting, Afewerk had produced the equestrian stature of Ras Makonnen of Harrar.
After 1959 his reputation grew within the country and internationally as his mastery over so many media was established.
His drawings, paintings, murals, mosaics, stained-glass windows and sculptures, his designs for stamps, playing cards, posters, flags and national ceremonial dresses, all went to build up his position as Ethiopia’s foremost artist.
The playing cards were of particular interest in that they embodied a series of little-known Ethiopian motifs, some of them dating back to per-Christian times and thus introduced Ethiopia’s artistic heritage to the card-playing public.
Afewerk also designed his own house, studio and gallery, known as Villa “Alpha”.
The artist’s complex of buildings was conceived as a whole in 1959, but was realized in stages over a period of fifteen years, as a third of the proceeds of every exhibition abroad was devoted to the construction of the work.
His 1961 retrospective exhibition in Addis Ababa was a major landmark in the country’s artistic life.
One of the paintings exhibited is the well-known Maskal Flower which made its debut on this occasion, and has since been exhibited in the USSR, the USA, and at the Festival of Negro Arts in 1965 at Dakar, Senegal.
His paintings such as “Backbones of African Civilization” “African Movement”, “African Atmosphere” and “African Unity”, and for Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada, “Africa’s Heritage” which in now in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Ethiopia.
He also produced over ten designs for an African Unity emblem and flag.
Afewerk’s internationally famous stained-glass windows confronting the visitor in the entrance of Africa Hall, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, is one of his greatest achievements; it shows his mastery on a gigantic scale (150sq.m.) of a medium which has inspired artists ever since the Middle Ages, and it embodies in its three panels Africa’s sorrowful past, present struggle, and its high aspirations for the future.
In 1964 he became the first winner of the Haile Sellassie I Prize for Fine Arts for his outstanding drawings, paintings, landscapes, and portraits which eloquently express his particular world environment, and for his contribution in being among the first to introduce contemporary techniques to Ethiopian subject matter and content.
The award for the Order of "Hero of Peace of Friendship" from U.S.S.R in 1980, American Academy Membership Award, Cambridge Life time Achievement Award and membership in 1992 as well as the International Peace Prize Award in 2004 are among the awards he received.
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