Drawing on the ancient belief that spirits dwelled in the surroundings of his hometown of Dessie, Ethiopian-born Robel Temesgen’s latest series of works conjure the spirit of Adbar. London’s Tiwani Contemporary have just opened the first UK solo-exhibition of the young artist’s work.
In Amharic, the word adbar describes the idea of spirits living within the natural landscape. It’s believed that adbar resides in the hollowed boughs of trees; branching between the earth and sky. The tree provides a bridge between life and the spirit world, becoming sacred ground for the surrounding inhabitants. Tightly woven into the social fabric of the community, the rich folklore of adbar provided fertile soil for Temesgen’s colourful paintings of imagined landscapes.
Departing from his experimentation with video and installation, Adbar marks a return to painting for the artist, something he describes as a profoundly more ‘spiritual medium’. The exhibition brings together over twenty works, each exploring the fantastical borders of adbar; paintings feature earthly elements raging against one another, or calmed and bathed in a Day-Glo light. Hung centrally, two large scrolls are set back-to-back, unfurling onto the gallery floor, their surfaces glossed over in an intensely pigmented colour. Employing an array of techniques, Temesgen veers between delicate quasi-pointillist detail and rougher patches of spray paint.
Temesgen’s examination of identity and belonging is central to Adbar, in terms of ancient cultural traditions and rituals; an attempt to peel back layers of time, and once again take root in the folklore and myths of our ancestors. The paintings all reveal a personal vista, visualising how the phenomenon would translate into an extra-terrestrial landscape.
Adbar is showing at Tiwani Contemporary until 6 February 2016