Hana Yilma Godine’s paintings portray Ethiopian traditions with modern flair and style
There is a world away from war, politics or patriarchy. It’s lush. Flora, like that of “Beyond the sky #1” (2021) grows abundantly, as the waters that feed it rush over sediment-rich cataracts. Some might call this place a modern paradise. A woman can enjoy having her hair done or preparing for a family wedding in the company of other women, as in “Preparing for marriage in Addis Ababa” (2021). Women wear Ethiopian Orthodox dresses or jeans with pumps. There is no sense of worry or conflict on anyone’s face.
This is the world that painter Hana Yilma Godine creates in her show A hair salon in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian painter’s second solo exhibition depicts women in domestic spaces with elegance and grace. As for his first show, the 2020s space in space at the Fridman Gallery, Godine uses the styles and techniques of Ethiopian modernism, such as flattened perspective and elongated figures, standard practices in religious art, to imbue his subjects with spiritual undertones. These figures are covered with various textiles found in local markets, painted flowers and cultural iconography. On view until March 5 at the Fridman Gallery and Rachel Uffner, the works transport viewers to a timeless space where the beauty of culture, community and the natural world is valued above all else.
Decorative vases, paintings within paintings, colorful fabrics and patterns – these visual elements are some of the building blocks Godine uses to create a globally grounded Ethiopian culture and history. The fabrics she uses are usually for clothing, linking them to the Ethiopian body and society, and flowers and plant life are recurring motifs. “A Chemistry of Time and Materials” (2020) features women dressed in traditional Orthodox Christian clothing. His subjects are always connected in mind, body and spirit to the arts, nature and each other. “Hair Salon in Addis Ababa #2” (2021) shows two different depictions of the “Lion of Judah”, the national symbol of Ethiopia and the title given to Ethiopian emperors and empresses. The river seen in “Hair Salon in Addis Ababa” (2021) almost seems to rush straight into the salon, while two women’s hair color matches the waterfall.
Godine depicts femininity as both earthly and divine. She expresses her power through abundance and beauty. In “Adwa (2)” (2020), white roses fill the two vases adjacent to a woman in a long white dress, possibly a wedding dress. Roses featured prominently in the works. This expensive and expressive flower has become one of the largest and most profitable industries in modern Ethiopia. The woman from “Substance in Space #1” (2021) stands on a globe, her bright yellow heeled sandals overlooking the outlines of Africa. She swings to the side as she gathers the skirt of her olive dress. Red and peach roses cascade from her head. Her skirt is trimmed in the colors of the Ethiopian flag, which also color her tongue, sticking out to feed a bee. The image poses the woman as the source of nourishment for a country widely considered the cradle of humanity.
The triptych “Hair Salon in Addis Ababa #1” (2021) shows this trinity of nature, femininity and culture in dialogue. In the left panel, a woman stands before a long table, on which rests a vase filled with decorative flowers and leaves. Her hair is made up of images of Empress Zewditu, the only empress in Ethiopian history to rule in her own right, reigning from 1916 to 1930. Braided vines connect this woman to the woman in the center panel , whose hair is an array of pine-green flora that grows dramatically upwards. She wears white religious clothes and holds a book full of plants. Another braid leads to the right pane, a more modern frame painted in an indigo hue; the chic vibe of the panel matches the cool smirk of the woman. A cityscape is visible through a window.
Godine’s integration of spirituality with femininity recalls Audre Lorde’s idea of erotic power in her 1978 essay “Uses of the Erotic”. Lorde connects sensuality and power by defining erotic power as “that heightened creative energy, the knowledge of which we now reclaim and use in our language, our history, our dance, our love, our work, our lives”. Erotic power causes women to reject archetypical masculine traits like strength or logical intelligence as primary indicators of strength. A woman who recognizes sensuality as powerful understands the fullness that this authority brings. Therefore, she can never accept an inferior version of herself. The world that Godine imagines exploring is one in which fulfillment may be possible for women.
Hana Yilma Godine: a hair salon in Addis Ababa continues at Fridman Gallery (169 Bowery, Nolita, Manhattan) and Rachel Uffner Gallery (170 Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through March 5.