Gedewon (1939-2001)Gedewon

Healing art in Ethiopia has its origins in ancient Greek, Islamic, and Jewish mysticism. Abstract in concept and form, with roots in the Old Testament, it predates the New Testament narrative style of drawing. Talismans are not only visual art but also prayer, medicine, and ritual act. They are made by clerics of the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox Church, who are on their knees as they draw, a humbling constraint. The purpose of talismans is to rid the human body of the demonic spirits that are causing physical or mental problems.

The cleric Gedewon, born in the province of Bagemdir, Ethiopia, led a nomadic life until he settled in Addis Ababa, the country's capitol. Versed in the art of qené, (rhetorical poetry), as well as esoteric sciences, including herbal healing, and ancient languages, he was a gifted man. Aggressive and combative, this temperament suited his role as a conduit for banishingProtection for Friday evil spirits. His talismans are remarkable, speaking both of sacred knowledge/cosmology and his unique visionary world view It is only in his talismans that the topography of Ethiopia is incorporated into his design, made with Gedewon's own technique of colored ink drawing on industrial made paper.

These talismans are perceived by Ethiopians as beyond the flat and static. Multidimensional, they are dynamic creations with spatial and directional attributes. Bad spirits inhabiting the patient gaze upon the talisman through the eyes of that individual. They begin a battle with the positive forces-- angels, incantations and numerology among them-- of the talisman. Entering and exiting through openings in the maze-like drawing, they eventually get trapped and destroyed by the patterns and words. Recognized as extraordinary works in Ethiopia and by whoever sees them, they are both engaging art and powerful medicine.

Colored ink on paper
Gift of Thomas Isenberg
Collection of the International Folk Art Foundation

Protection for Friday, 1975
ink on paper
Private Collection, Paris

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