Arts

From ancient illuminated religious manuscripts tucked away in rural monasteries to contemporary galleries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia boasts rich tradition of ecclesiastic and secular art.

  • The oldest known artworks in Ethiopia comprise rock engravings and paintings, mostly depicting cattle, executed by artists of an unknown culture perhaps 5,000 years ago. Important rock art sites include Laga Oda near Harar and Manchiti near Dilla.
  • Many monasteries and churches in northern Ethiopia hold illuminated gospels and other Christian manuscripts of unknown vintage. The oldest known manuscripts of this type, held at Abba Garima Monastery near Adwa, is a pair of illuminated gospels dated to before AD 650 by recent carbon-dating tests conducted at Oxford University.
  • Ethiopia’s ecclesiastic art tradition peaks in medieval times, when it became customary to decorate the rectangular maqdas of important churches with hundreds of paintings depicting Biblical scenes and other events associated with important saints and kings. Among the finest readily accessible churches painted in this style are Debre Berhan Selassie in Gondar and Ura Kidane Mihret on the shore of Lake Tana.
  • Contemporary art enthusiasts should not miss out on the new Gebre Kristos Desta Art Museum next to the Goethe Institute in Addis Ababa. This excellent gallery showcases several works by Gebre Kristos Desta (1932–81), an Ethiopian artist who studied in Germany in the 1950s and was strongly influenced by Picasso.
  • Murals created by the renowned Ethiopian artist Afewerk Tekle (1932-2012) can be seen in two of central Addis Ababa’s best-known public buildings: St George’s Cathedral and Africa Hall (glass mural).
  • Addis Ababa also boasts several fine art galleries, among them St George’s Gallery near the Sheraton, Makush Art Gallery & Restaurant, on Mega Building (Bole Road), the Asni Art Gallery & Café near Arat Kilo, and the LeLa Art Gallery near the Chinese Embassy. Altogether more cutting edge, the Netsa Art Village is a youthful arts collective based in leafy Ferensay Park near the French Embassy.