Model of an Ethiopian Church

Tolera Tafa (Ethiopian, b. 1971)
Sorghum stalks
Work : 19 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (49.53 x 24.13 x 24.13 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 narrow
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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