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Articles in this series:
Series: Preserving History
The Preservation of Ethiopian Culture
The Art of Gabre Kristos Desta: an Important Offer that Should be Accepted!
Gabre Kristos Desta, who studied in Germany, was one post-World War II Ethiopia’s best known artists. He was also a prominent teacher at Ethiopia’s School of Fine Arts.
When he died, in Oklahoma, in the United States in 1981, it was his wish that those of his paintings which were still in his possession should be returned to his beloved Ethiopia. That this was his ardent wish I know from my somewhat earlier correspondence with him when, after leaving Ethiopia, he lived in Germany.
Some Forty Paintings
Some forty of his paintings, including several of his finest works, are currently in Munich, Germany. They are under the legal custody of Lij Dr. Asfawossen Asserate, who is most anxious to fulfill the artist’s dying wish that the paintings should be repatriated. He has, however, made one, it would appear, very reasonable condition. This is that the paintings, on returning to Ethiopia, should be adequately preserved, and that at least a representative selection should be put on permanent display. Gabre Kristos, after all, wanted his paintings to be seen by his compatriots, not to have them stored away to gather dust, or to be eaten by mice! Where the paintings should be placed, how they should be kept, and who should be responsible for them, are therefore more than mere academic questions.
The paintings of Gabre Kristos, now in Germany awaiting repatriation represent, it should be emphasised, a significant part of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage. Even if considered only in purely financial terms, the proposed gift is of no small monetary value, and is worth much more indeed than most Ethiopian institutions could afford to purchase.
Enter the Ethiopia Heritage Trust?
Lij Dr. Asfawossen Asserate has offered this important collection to the Ethiopia Heritage Trust, in Addis Ababa, on the sole condition that it agrees to take official possession, and to put a representative part of it on permanent display. This is of course precisely what lovers of Ethiopian art want!
The Heritage Trust, as is well known, has for several years been working to acquire the former Municipality Building, near Giyorgis, i.e. St George’s Cathedral, so as to preserve it for posterity.
Should the acquisition of this substantial property be achieved in the near future, as we all hope, it could well provide ideal premises for an Art Gallery, in which the works of Gabre Kristos, and, no doubt, many other artists, could be displayed.
Girma Belachew Yimer
One such artist is Girma Belachew Yimer, who died recently in Japan. His last wish was also that some of his most representative paintings should return, and be on permanent display, for his compatriots in his native land. This is the wish too of his Japanese widow, Mrs Kyoko Belachew.
A Museum of Modern Ethiopian Art?
We ourselves have on several occasions urged, in these pages and elsewhere, the urgent need for the establishment of a Museum of Modern Ethiopian Art. We feel that the paintings of the two above-mentioned artists could well form the nucleus of such a museum, as well as a catalyst for its establishment.
Gabre Kristos, I feel sure, would have liked to see his paintings on display in a house, such as the former Municipality building, saved for posterity, and for the preservation of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage.
We can only hope that the authorities concerned will have the imagination, and wisdom, to jump at this opportunity to save Gabre Kristos Desta’s paintings for Ethiopia, and thus lay the foundation for a Museum of Modern Ethiopian art!