Selome Muleta is a force to be reckoned with. One of the fresh voices on the Ethiopian contemporary art scene, she crosses borders and disciplines to take Ethiopian art to new heights. Living and working in Addis Ababa, her work first attracted public attention in 2018 when an exhibition of her paintings work was shown for a month at the Guramayne Art Center in Addis Ababa. Subsequently, Selome’s work was notably featured at the Fendika Art Gallery in June 2018, and Alliance Ethio-Française in 2020. She also attended residencies in Italy, Pescara on November 2019.
The artist has engaged in many fruitful collaborations and received increasingly high-profile opportunities to exhibit her art. Her latest project is developing a set of drawings based on a poetry collection by Djboutien poet, Chechem Watta, published by a French independent publishing house Dumerchez. Just before that, she did a similar project for Bewketu Seyoum’s book of poems, Cantique de la nuit. Selome is described in the blurb on the back as “a representative of the new cultural, artistic and social creativity that crosses Ethiopia today.”
Her paintings depicting mostly female characters take on obscure shapes, postures, vivid colours, and sizes.No detailed silhoutte, blurred faces, still life, and strong lighting blend into each other as if to recall the meditative mood and exploration of womanhood. It’s an impressive body of work, to say the least.“My introduction to painting began in my childhood. I was first introduced to photography at a young age by my father, who owned photography a studio,” Selome tells me over Skype. The photo studio was located in her hometown Ziway, 160km south of Addis Ababa. She was exposed to studio work such as retouching, lighting, hand coloring, and glazing machines from an early age. Ever since then, she started to explore the world of digital photography with little anticipation as to how far this journey would take her, she says. Her formal education didn’t go any further than the tenth grade. Upon moving to Addis Ababa as a teenager, she joined Abyssinia Art School and Studio ‘under the directorship of Gash Worku’. (Worku Mamo). She studied there for a year majoring in painting. She also studied at Entoto Technical and Vocational school for two years. She attributes her drive to be an artist to a number of excellent teachers who encouraged her throughout her school years. With her instructors ‘ help, Selome learned to always do her best work and refine her talents. She says she continues to draw every day with no preconceived images in mind, turning her works into a tableau rich in color and texture. Her work is based largely on her experiences during travels and on simple observations of human life and interaction nearer to home.
Despite the challenging times faced by artists as a result of the Covid-19 public health crisis, the nascent art scene in Addis Ababa is in the midst of change and growth, Selome says. Collectives are helping lead the way for art to be considered a serious business, and also for bolstering arts education programs, appreciation, and promotion, she says while adding, “The amount of support Addis artists give each other is remarkable. People go out of their way to help each other, and attend each other’s shows. We have a pretty small scene in Addis but it’s extremely close-knit, and almost knows everyone else. Despite the size, the sheer amount of passion is quite intense,” the artist says.