Saint Mark

Etsubdink Legesse (Ethiopian, b. 1968)
Ink and pigment on parchment
Sheet : 14 3/4 x 11 1/8 in. (37.47 x 28.26 cm)
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Gift of Neal and Elizabeth Sobania
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Although women have been patrons of religious art in Ethiopia for centuries, the number of women who have made religious art in Ethiopia has historically been quite small.  One reason for this is that women have generally lacked access to advanced education in religion and the arts. Most male artists who make religious art receive years of theological and artistic training under the auspices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Because women have limited access to the church while they are menstruating or sexually active, and because they are typically expected to marry and attend to domestic duties after marriage, most women simply do not have the same opportunities as men to become religious artists. Women are able to participate more prominently in other areas of artistic activity, such as basket making, textile embroidery, and pottery. However, because these arts are not imbued with the same spiritual and cultural significance as religious art, the women who participate in these fields generally do not enjoy the same status and prestige as male church artists.

Etsubdink Legesse is the daughter of the priest-painter Memher Legesse Mengistu. Though she trained and worked as an accountant, Etsubdink was always interested in her father’s painting. From the time she first began to assist him during summer school vacations to the times she painted with him as an adult, he was always teaching her to be an artist. As she recalls, he left her all his parchment paintings so she could continue to paint and learn. “They are a visual dictionary for me.” This painting of the Gospel writer Saint Mark shows how close Etsubdink’s style is to her father’s style. One of Legesse’s six children, Etsubdink is the only one who paints. Today she lives and works in Addis Ababa as a full-time artist and is occasionally assisted by some of her children. [Nina Kay ‘19]

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