Ethiopia Names Artist for Its First-Ever National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Tesfaye Urgessa's paintings stand out for their focus on psychologically ambiguous figures in domestic settings.

Tesfaye Urgessa. Photo: Kameron Cooper, courtesy of Tesfaye Urgessa and Saatchi Yates.

The painter Tesfaye Urgessa will represent Ethiopia for the country’s first-ever national pavilion at this year’s 60th Venice Biennale, which runs from April 20 until November 24, 2024. His exhibition “Prejudice and Belonging” will take place at Palazzo Bolani and is curated by the writer Lemn Sissay. It was commissioned by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Tourism.

Urgessa’s work stands out for its focus on classicized human figures, often distorted or entwined with each other in domestic settings. The viewer is invited to contemplate the subjects’ ambiguous psychological states.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1983, Urgessa began his studies under the celebrated painter Tadesse Mesfin at the Ale School of Art and Design at Addis Ababa University. He later moved to Stuttgart in Germany to study at the Staatlichen Akademie and remained in the country for 13 years. During this period, Urgessa developed a style that used Ethiopian iconography as well as influences from the German Neo-Expressionists and School of London painters like Freud, Auerbach, and Bacon.

Urgessa’s work is several renowned collections, including Stuttgart’s Kunstmuseum and Staatsgalerie, the Uffizi in Florence, the Rubell Museum in Miami, the Museum of African Contemporary Art in Marrakech, and the Zabludowicz Collection in London. He is represented by Saatchi Yates gallery in London, which will host a coinciding exhibition in April.

“This is not only a personal milestone, but also a proud moment for Ethiopian art and culture,” said Urgessa in a press statement. “I hope that my exhibition at the Palazzo Bolani will inspire and empower other Ethiopian artists to pursue their creative aspirations and to share their stories with the world. I believe that this is the start of a new era for Ethiopian art, and I am excited to be part of it.”

Check out Artnet News’s list of the national pavilions that have so far been announced here. Other nation’s presenting their first pavilions at Venice this year include Benin and Morocco.

The theme for the main exhibition this year will be “Foreigners Everywhere – Stranieri Ovunque,” curated by Adriano Pedrosa. A full list of participating artists can be found here.

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