A Postcard from Addis: Ethiopian Modernism in the World

Fellow's Perspective

May 17, 2018, 6:30 PM

University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge at The Phillips Collection

In 1967, Elmira Bier, executive assistant to Duncan Phillips, sent a postcard to Marjorie Phillips from Addis Ababa. On it she wrote about Ethiopian food, the importance of women in Ethiopian society, and the commitment of Emperor Haile Selassie to education. The photograph on the postcard was not one of the familiar touristic images of Ethiopia, of rural life, coffee ceremonies, or the historic art of the Orthodox Church. Rather, the postcard depicted a work of contemporary, civic art: the large stained glass window for the UN Economic Commission for Africa, made in 1958 by Afewerk Tekle, one of Ethiopia’s most important modern artists.

Dr. Kate Cowcher, University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art History will take Bier’s postcard as a starting point to explore the development of modern art in Ethiopia as an internationally engaged, politically expedient entity. An examination of the arts of an era known as the “Addis Spring” will reveal the bustling, creative capital city that Elmira must have encountered during her visit in the late 1960s.