Meron Hailu, 34, is an artist employing the unique technique of making artworks with textile materials and fibers rather than paint on canvas. She also teaches at the Ale School of Fine Arts and Design and is among a few Ethiopian artists that have mastered textile art. EBR’s Samuel Habtab visited Meron’s first solo exhibition to learn about her and textile art.
Globally, the coronavirus pandemic has rendered art galleries inaccessible. Art venues and galleries in urban Ethiopia were also forced to close their doors due to measures taken by the government to control the spread of covid-19. Currently however, few art galleries in Addis Ababa are reopening their doors for art lovers.
Meron Hailu is amongst the first icebreakers that reconnected with gallery attendees. Her first solo exhibition opened in mid-November, at the Guramayne Art Center, displaying her unique textile and fiber works of art, under the title ‘thread of fabrics’. “It is new for Ethiopia, but the technique is not novel in the history of art. I took this medium from our rich culture. Textile threads have been used for long time throughout history. I picked this medium because it matches with the ideas that I want to communicate,” describes Meron.
Although the method is globally widely known, only a handful of artists in Ethiopia use this technique. Textile art is one of the oldest forms of art dating back to when humans started making textile products in general and has now wedded with modern art to take its current shape. The form is usually known as quilt art because it uses both traditional and modern quilting techniques to create art objects.
By virtue of the technique of Meron’s works, her wall hangings are architecturally inspired. With different visual possibilities, her works catch the eye for long as the colors are not glary and bright. “In color philosophy, bright colors usually satisfy the eye too fast. So, they cannot be looked at for long,” explains Meron. “But my artworks attract the audience for long.”
Her color choices are also sourced from the deep thinking of society. She usually uses silent, cool, dark, or non-bright colors which she says are difficult to find, unlike the easily found bright colored threads. “Usually, the market tells you which colors society likes most. “Our society usually likes bright colors and they are readily available. I usually cannot find my preferred colors in the market.”
Meron says her textile art is an upgrade of Tilet, a beautiful pattern found especially on traditional Ethiopian clothes. “Tilet is art for me. I brought this culture and tradition to the art level.”
She says rural women are at the heart of her art philosophy. “Our society uses threads and fibers and women as the pillar of society. Traditionally, women use threads to sew and embroider clothing. My artworks are also made with similar techniques.”
Before Meron, two painters, Elias Sime and Kirubel Melke, employed textile threads as a medium, according to Robel Temesgen, Lecturer of alternative media exploration and conceptual art at the Ale School of Fine Arts and Design. “But Meron created extraordinary art out of ordinary textile materials. Her color arrangements, material usage, and value addition to the material is unique,” says Robel.
Meron studied print making at Ale and graduated in 2013. She then received her master’s in textile designing after studying in South Korea. Currently, she teaches at Ale School of Fine Arts and Design.
Ever since returning from South Korea four years ago, Meron has been making textile art. Before her first solo exhibition, she presented some works alongside other artists. In her latest show, 20 pieces of art were displayed for sale with the most expensive marked at ETB75,000, and least expensive at ETB5,000.
It usually takes Meron six weeks to complete a single artwork on a large canvas. “The big works usually require time and energy. But sometimes, after I finish the work, it might not satisfy me if it fails to represent my idea fully.” When this happens, she remakes the piece from scratch, taking even more time.
Although she is excited by the number of visitors who viewed her work and their feedback, Meron claims the recognition given to art in Ethiopia has not improved much over the last two decades. “Our society is far from appreciating artworks. Usually, gallery visitors are the artistic community themselves and this has not changed over time.”
Robel agrees. “Covid-19 devastated the art industry that was already struggling even in the normal days. Unless it is supported, it will take years for the art industry to reclaim its former level.” EBR
9th Year • Dec 16 2020 – Jan 15 2021 • No. 93