Feb. 22, 2003, Media only:     Kimberly Mayfield   (202) 357-4600 ext. 291, Dale Mott  (202) 357-4600 ext. 202; Public only: (202) 357-2700

MEDIA PREVIEW: Monday, April 28, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Remarks at 11 a.m. will be followed by a tour of the exhibition and lunch. R.S.V.P. (202) 357-4600 ext. 291.



The first major exhibition to examine the diversity and significance of contemporary visual arts of the Ethiopian Diaspora will open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art on May 2. “Ethiopian Passages: Dialogues in the Diaspora” continues through Oct. 5.

The exhibition coincides with the 100th anniversary of U.S.-Ethiopia diplomatic relations. It also recognizes the unique role Howard University has played in nurturing Ethiopian artists. As the largest Ethiopian community outside of Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia), Washington, D.C. is a fitting location for the exhibition.

“Ethiopian Passages,” which includes paintings, works on paper, sculpture, digital photography and mixed media pieces, brings together the work of 10 contemporary artists working throughout the Diaspora. They are: Elisabeth Atnafu, Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian, Achamyeleh Debela, Wosene Kosrof, Julie Mehretu, Aida Muluneh, Etiyé Dimma Poulsen, Mickaël Bethe-Selassié, Kebedech Tekleab and Elizabeth Habte Wold.

While all the featured artists were born in Ethiopia, they currently live and work in France, Ethiopia, or the United States. Three of the artists—Kebedech Tekleab, Skunder Boghossian and Aida Muluneh—live in Washington. Six have been associated with Howard University at one time or another.

Although their creative approaches, chosen media, artistic narratives and personal histories are eclectic, all 10 artists share an attachment to their homeland. As heirs to many rich creative traditions these artists contribute to the region’s ongoing history of innovative artistic vision.

“By no means comprehensive in scope, this exhibition seeks to showcase the important relationship between creativity and diaspora experience,” said Elizabeth Harney, the museum’s curator of contemporary art and organizer of the exhibition. “It provides us with a unique opportunity to focus on a vibrant group of artists and to reach broad audiences.

“Perhaps more than any other African peoples in the late 20th century, Ethiopians embarked on journeys, both near and far,” Harney added. “‘Ethiopian Passages’ asks how conditions of exile and movement have helped to define artists’ oeuvres. Moreover, it questions outdated and misleading definitions of Africa as a closed universe, and notions of identity as fixed and primordial.”

The works in the exhibition probe complex themes of identity and cultural authenticity, while addressing common experiences of movement and exile, displacement and placemaking.

Howard University has had a special relationship with young Ethiopian artists since the 1970s, when artist Skunder Boghossian arrived in the nation’s capital. Skunder Boghossian, a Howard professor for more than 20 years, is considered the patriarch of the Ethiopian arts community. For decades, Howard has played a critical role in nurturing several generations of practicing artists within its walls and enabling significant and long-standing interactions between Ethiopian and American visual artists.


One of the featured artists, Julie Mehretu, will be at the museum March 24 through 28 to create an on-site mural that will be on view in the exhibition. Julie Mehretu, who creates fantastical landscapes made up of architectural plans, maps and explosions, has been lauded by critics as an innovator of a new form of landscape painting. Her canvases are architectural, her wall murals borrow from pop culture imagery, and each piece suggests the dynamism of contemporary urban and global experience.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will produce a full-color catalogue which is being published by Philip Wilson Publishers, London. In it, scholars and artists present a broad overview of Ethiopian contemporary art history, take a closer look at the artists represented in the exhibition and review the fine arts scene in Addis Ababa today. The catalogue so includes a discussion organized by the museum that took place in December 2002 with members of the Howard University art community.

Educational programs

The museum has planned a broad range of free, complementary programs on such topics as Ethiopian cuisine, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, fashion, dance, music and poetry. Documentary and feature films about Ethiopia by Ethiopian filmmakers will be screened. Families will be invited to hear Ethiopian folktales and read books about Ethiopia.

One highlight will be an open house in celebration of Ethiopian arts that will be held on May 4 from 2 to 5 p.m. Offerings will include a gallery tour, music and light refreshments.

A major symposium on Diaspora art with a panel of both Ethiopian and other Diaspora artists is planned for the fall.  The symposium will use both “Ethiopian Passages” and the museum’s complementary exhibition “Journeys & Destinations: African Artists on the Move” (on view through Nov. 30) as a springboard for further discussion about Diaspora art.

For a complete schedule of public events, call (202) 357-4600 ext. 221 or visit the web site at www.nmafa.si.edu

            The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is America’s only museum dedicated to the collection, conservation and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily and admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Ave. SW, near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For information call (202) 357-4600 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the museum’s web site at www.nmafa.si.edu.

NOTE TO EDITORS: To arrange an interview with Julie Mehretu in March, call Dale Mott at (202) 357-4600 ext. 202. High resolution digital images of works in “Ethiopian Passages” are available from (202) 357-4600 ext. 291.