After The Fire
In the middle of the night my brother woke us up with cries of fire. My first studio was a corrugated iron building, built on a corner of my parents’ property. The upholstery of my brother’s car – parked near my studio -had been smoldering. Late in the evening it burst into flames.
Neighbours carried buckets of water. Within an hour the fire was out, contained to my studio. Thankfully our house and our neighbours’ houses were all safe. This was after I had graduated from art school – my student art works, everything I had produced for three years, all my materials – gone.
For two days I stayed shut in my room not wanting to think about things, when a friend of mine dropped by bringing a gift – a handful of fashion magazines, and a box of pastels.
For the next few months my studio was a board in the small room I shared with my sister. I experimented with pastel, collage, and ink on wood. I kept working up until my next show (the Alliance Ethio-Francaise, Addis Ababa, 1992.)
There’s an old Chinese story about a farmer whose horse runs off into the woods. The story goes on from the horse returning with a wild horse, to his son breaking a leg while trying to ride it, until finally the son remains home, unable to be taken for the army. Neighbours in turn say good luck, bad luck, while the farmer listens, and replies with “maybe yes, maybe no.” [See John Muth's Zen Shorts.]
The fire feels like that for me. I have few records of my time in art school and the beginning of my career. But much of the work I’ve since done stems from a small gift, the belief that art is possible, and the incredible atmosphere I grew up with.
Debre Libanos, 1994, Collage
Harar, 1994, Collage Tukuls, 1995, Pastel
Some of my earlier pieces after I began working in collage and pastel.