12 November – 04 December 2021
In his latest body of work, informed by his experience as an immigrant inhabiting the liminal point of intersection between different cultures, Kifleyesus explores the complex and tense relationship between Africa and the West – particularly the way in which European and North American countries have appropriated African aesthetics and commodities.
Co-founders Rakeb Sile and Mesai Haileleul’s mission in opening Addis Fine Art is to elevate forgotten art histories, with Ermais Kifleyesus’s work speaking profoundly to this.
Through his complex and layered oil collage paintings, Kifleyesus illuminates the myriad links between Western and African culture, both historical and art historical. Kifleyesus achieves this by skilfully intertwining images of events from the past, figures of prominence, and folkloric tales. The canvases are replete with hidden truths and serve as a nuanced critique of contemporary power dynamics, which are all too often biased in favour of former colonialist and imperialist regimes.
Sile says: “We met Ermias a couple of years ago. He was a graduate student from Alle School of Fine Arts and Design and a student of the modernist legend, Tadesse Mesfin, like many other of our artists. We were instantly drawn to his work because it explores the complex and tense relationship between Africa and the West – particularly the way in which European and North American countries have appropriated African aesthetics and commodities. He weaves this throughout his paintings through the representation of various relevant narratives, such as the origins of coffee and the flower industry through to the 2021 football World Cup, as a means to explore the universal within the specific.”
Although Kifleyesus is influenced by human history and his work is rich with socio-political reference, by interweaving abstractive and figurative elements he places the power of interpretation in our hands and encourages us to discover new dimensions.
Sile: “He shows us that every history is multifaceted and can be viewed through multiple lenses. Ermias feels strongly that although he has inserted these socio-political histories and ideas into his works, he believes that the power is still with the viewer to build their own interpretations. By diving into the process of creation, he finds he is able to discover the depths of life itself. As an artist, he does not seek to teach, but rather to create paintings that have the capacity to teach for themselves.”
Kifleyesus also frequently uses found or gifted canvases, creating a new life and history with them. The final paintings bring together an amalgamated archive of physical materials, social and political events, and the stream of the human subconscious that is brought to light under his brush.
Rakeb Sile opened Addis Fine Art with co-founder Mesai Haileleul in 2016 as the first white-cube gallery space in Ethiopia. Five years on and it’s now established itself as one of the leading galleries in Africa and one of the most important young galleries in the world. This October also saw it open its first permanent London gallery, exhibit at Frieze London for the first time and show works by its Ethiopian diasporic artists at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House.
For more information on Ermias Kifleyesus new solo show, Cascade of Knowledge click here.
For more information on Addis Fine Art click here.