‘Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery’ at the Sharjah Art Museum

Sharjah Art Museum, in collaboration with The Africa Institute, Global Studies University, and Sharjah Museums Authority, presents Henok Melkamzer’s inaugural international solo exhibition showcasing Ethiopian telsem art, marking his most extensive presentation to date. Titled ‘Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery,’ the exhibition takes place at the Sharjah Art Museum from February 24 to June 16, 2024, featuring over 100 works. Curated by Elizabeth Giorgis, Associate Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at The Africa Institute in Sharjah, the exhibition challenges Western perceptions of telsem as merely archaic or talismanic, positioning it within broader global art discourses.

Henok Melkamzer, various works, 2023. Exhibition view: Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery, Sharjah Art Museum, 2024. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo: Shafeek Nalakath Kareem

Telsem art, deeply rooted in astrology, religion, and spirituality, weaves symbols, drawings, and texts laden with profound spiritual and philosophical meanings. Originally used for personal healing, it has evolved over centuries under Ethiopia’s sociopolitical and cultural influences. Henok’s telsem practice extends the art’s traditional boundaries, blending ancient inspirations with contemporary concerns like climate crises, warfare, and poverty.

Henok Melkamzer, various works, 2023. Exhibition view: Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery, Sharjah Art Museum, 2024. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo: Shafeek Nalakath Kareem

This exhibition provides unprecedented access to telsem art through the lens of one of its foremost contemporary practitioners. Henok, recognised for his role in the second Lahore Biennial and participation in The Africa Institute (GSU)’s 2019 conference “Ethiopia: Modern Nation – Ancient Roots,” has garnered international acclaim for his advocacy and practice of telsem. Working from his studio in Addis Ababa on Mount Entoto, he remains committed to preserving telsem within his community, inheriting its techniques from his father and grandfather, both telsem healers.

Featuring a diverse array of new canvas paintings crafted with traditional natural pigments and modern acrylic, Henok’s work captivates with its ornate, multicoloured patterns of vines, symbols, words, and numbers, showcasing the vitality of telsem in contemporary art.

Henok Melkamzer, various works, 2023. Exhibition view: Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery, Sharjah Art Museum, 2024. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo: Shafeek Nalakath Kareem

About Henok Mellkamzer

Henok Melkamzer dedicated 16 years to studying telsem at a monastery in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, while also receiving firsthand teachings from his father and grandfather, both esteemed telsem healers. Maintaining a deep commitment to preserving telsem within his community and introducing it to new audiences, Henok combines ancient traditions with modern expressions. His artistic journey has been marked by numerous solo and group exhibitions, including his recent solo showcase titled “Men Neber” (2018) at the Modern Art Museum in Addis Ababa. Noteworthy engagements include being a commissioned artist for the Second Lahore Biennial (2020) and a contributor to the conference “Ethiopia: Modern Nation – Ancient Roots” (2022) at The Africa Institute, Sharjah. Henok Melkamzer’s endeavours have garnered international recognition, positioning him as a leading advocate for telsem and a dedicated guardian of his cultural legacy.

Location: Sharjah Art Museum

Date: 24 February–16 June 2024

Caption featured image: Henok Melkamzer, various works, 2023. Exhibition view: Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery, Sharjah Art Museum, 2024. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo: Shafeek Nalakath Kareem.

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