Independent Curators International (ICI) supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement. Curators are arts community leaders and organizers who champion artistic practice; build essential infrastructures and institutions; and generate public engagement with art. Our collaborative programs connect curators across generations, and across social, political and cultural borders. They form an international framework for sharing knowledge and resources — promoting cultural exchange, access to art, and public awareness for the curator’s role.
Saving and Documenting While Learning
Saving and Documenting While Learning
A proposal by Fitsum Tefera
I am currently working for The Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritages / National Museum of Ethiopia, which is responsible for an art collection ranging from the time of Emperor Haile Silassie (1930−1974) up to the present day. The national collection is comprised of more than 800 artworks featuring mainly Ethiopian iconography as well as traditional secular and religious paintings.
The idea of collecting works of art for a museum began when the most celebrated Ethiopian artist Afework Tekle (1932−2012) was invited to showcase his works in Canada in the 1960’s. During this exhibition, one of his works titled African Heritage (a painting which is now on permanent display at the National Museum) was about to be sold; when Emperor Haile Selassie heard about it, he prevented the transaction. The artist was instructed to bring the work back to Ethiopia and leave it with the National Museum. Tekle later donated 80 of his drawings and paintings including African Heritage as a gift to the National Museum. His generosity was appreciated by the Emperor at the time, who rewarded him with a medal of honor. Since then, the museum has continued to receive a variety of artworks as gifts, mainly from local artists. However, over the years, the collection were neither stored nor conserved properly. Years of neglect have caused severe damage to a number of artworks that need urgent attention.
As a new employee of the National Museum of Ethiopia, there is a lot of curatorial work I will have to do. During the last nineteen months, I have arranged the artworks chronologically by artist names and the dates the works were made, as well as shelving them to prevent further damage. This was the easiest part of the enormous work I am about to begin.
The project Saving and Documenting While Learning has two components:
1. A new arrangement system for the collection.
We have begun to set up a mobile painting storage rack system and documenting the art works. Creating a database will be the following step. We have also published a catalogue in Amharic, the local language, which includes images of the artworks and small descriptions. We distributed this catalogue to galleries, fine art schools, art associations, and individuals. The forthcoming catalogues will be divided into three eras:
a) The Imperial Era / 1930−1974
b) Dergue Era / 1974−1991
c) FDRE Era / 1991−Present
2. Initiate a public conversation platform to create awareness regarding the collection.
My plan is to initiate a series of monthly conversation platforms at the National Museum for one year, in partnership with the Ethiopian Visual Artist Association. This programming will encourage the public to participate, to learn about art and most importantly, to engage with the museum collection from the Imperial time to present. The aim is to have this platform begin on December 5, 2014.
The panelists will include artists, curators, researchers, art historians and museum directors, such as: Menkir Bitew, Esseye G/Medhin, Abebaw Ayalew, Tadesse Mesfin, Meskerem Assegued, Konjit Seyoum, Bekele Mekonnen, Raphael Chikukwa and Girmay Hiwot.
Potential sources of funding include institutions and organizations such as: Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage /ARCCH; cultural embassies based in Addis Ababa; UNESCO; and British Council Addis Ababa, among others.
Collaboration Memorandum of Understanding to be signed with the following institutions: Alle School of Fine Art and Design, Addis Ababa University; Ethiopian Visual Artists Association; Asni Art Gallery; and Zoma Contemporary Art Center.
1. Museum storage when I first arrived (March 2013)
2. Identifying the data of the collection (September 2013)
3. Arranging the collection chronologically (September-December 2013)
4. Mobile painting storage rack (after ICI Intensive, July 2014)
5. Artworks properly stored on the rack (November 2014)
6. Published catalogue (August 2014)
About the Curator
Fitsum Shebeshe is a curator and painter based in Baltimore and Washington DC. He is currently the Gallery Director at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington, Maryland. Before moving to the United States in 2016, he was Assistant Curator at the National Museum of Ethiopia. In 2012, Shebeshe co-founded the 1957 Initiative to annually celebrate the liberation of African countries from colonialism through the arts. In 2013, he curated the 1957 Art Show at the National Museum of Ethiopia on the occasion of the 50th Golden Jubilee Anniversary of the African Union, and in 2017, he was the curator of Depart Africa, at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Shebeshe holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Curatorial Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art.