Renowned Ethiopian artist Afewerk Tekle died April 10, 2012, at age 80. After leaving Ethiopia as a young man in 1947, Afewerk enrolled in London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts, later graduated from the famous Slade School of Fine Art, and then returned to Addis Ababa.
His skills as a painter, sculptor and designer quickly elevated him to national — and then international — prominence. For several decades, Afewerk served as one of Africa’s pre-eminent cultural ambassadors, exhibiting his work at major festivals and exhibitions around the world. His artistry earned him numerous awards and recognitions, including the first Haile Selassie I Prize for Fine Arts in 1964 and a knighthood from the Vatican, and gave him audiences with dozens of world leaders.
Visitors to Ethiopia can find examples of Afewerk Tekle’s work spread across the country. On the next page are five of his major public displays found in Ethiopia’s capital city.
In 1956, shortly after he returned to Ethiopia from his studies in Europe, a young Afewerk Tekle was commissioned to produce artwork for St. George’s Cathedral (Kidus Giorgis) in the Piazza District. The numerous religious murals and mosaics that Afewerk created took more than three years to complete. St. George’s Cathedral is open to visitors daily. The church also houses a small museum containing Emperor Haile Selassie I’s coronation throne and a collection of 19th-century weaponry.
Perhaps the least-known public installation of Afewerk Tekle’s work in the capital is a mural in the lobby of St. Paul’s Hospital, located in the Gulele area of Addis. The large painting, consisting of three separate panels, is striking for its combination of religious imagery and a portrayal of the former Emperor Haile Selassie I, the hospital’s original patron.
Afewerk Tekle’s most famous and influential work, “The Total Liberation of Africa,” is a breathtaking sight. The 150-square-meter stained-glass triptych covers an entire wall of Africa Hall, which houses the UN Economic Commission for Africa. The triptych depicts images symbolizing African nations uniting to tackle poverty and disease. As it hovers over the offices of those developing policy solutions to these enduring challenges, Afewerk’s work communicates a poignant and powerful message to the African continent.
Villa Alpha is the home and personal museum designed and constructed by Afewerk Tekle between 1959 and 1973. The artist loved to receive private visitors and give grand tours of the sculpture-filled grounds and painting-adorned rooms. Prior to Afewerk’s death, Villa Alpha was open for private tours by appointment. Today, curious visitors can catch a glimpse of his artistry when passing by the gates of the compound.