Model of an Ethiopian Church

Tolera Tafa (Ethiopian, b. 1971)
Sorghum stalks
Work : 17 1/2 x 16 x 16 in. (44.45 x 40.64 x 40.64 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Neal and Elizabeth Sobania
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Ethiopian churches exist in a wide range of forms. This model represents a polygonal church form that can be found throughout Ethiopia. Following the layout of ancient Hebrew temples, Ethiopian churches typically contain three concentrically arranged interior spaces. The outer ring of the church is an ambulatory where cantors sing hymns and lay congregants who have ritually purified themselves gather during services. The middle ring is where the priests and deacons perform the worship ceremonies and offer communion to those who qualify to receive it. The innermost space, which is usually square, contains the church’s consecrated altar and is only accessible to ordained priests, monks and bishops. This model church is made of sorghum stalks that were left over from the harvest on the artist’s family farm. Using a razor blade as his only tool, the artist created the church by cutting lengths of the sorghum stalk’s soft inner pith and tacking them in place using short arrow pieces of the plant’s hard outer skin. Sorghum-stalk models of buildings, vehicles, airplanes, and other things were a popular form of folk art in Ethiopia from the 1960s to the 1980s, and helped to supplement the incomes of rural families.

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