Professor and Student from Hope Help
Develop Smithsonian Exhibition
Posted January 31, 2002
HOLLAND -- A Hope College professor and student
played leadership roles in developing an exhibition that
opens at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., on
Thursday, Feb. 7.
Dr. Neal Sobania of the Hope College faculty and
Hope junior Daniel Berhanemeskel of Aksum, Ethiopia, were
centrally involved in developing "From Monastery to
Marketplace: Tradition Inspires Modern Ethiopian Painting."
The exhibition will be on display in the African Voices
Focus Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History for
the next year.
* * * * *
Alumni and friends in the Washington, D.C. area are invited to an opening reception for the exhibition on Thursday, Feb. from 6-8 p.m. in the Africa Hall Focus gallery of the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian). The reception will be hosted by President Jim Bultman.
In addition, at noon on Friday, February 8, Dr. Sobania will present a lecture on the new exhibit: "Monastery to Marketplace: Tradition Inspires Modern Ethiopian Painting." It will be held in the Baird Auditorium, ground floor of the National Museum of Natural History, 10th and Constitution, NW.
Please contact Alumni Director Lynne Powe '86 (firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-395-7860) for reservation information.
* * * * *
Sobania, who is professor of history and director
of international education at Hope, co-curated the
exhibition with Mary Jo Arnoldi, who is curator of African
ethnography with the National Museum of Natural History. In
addition to working with Sobania on the exhibition,
Berhanemeskel painted a work for it through a commission
from the Smithsonian.
Supported by a Hope summer faculty/student
research grant, Sobania and Berhanemeskel worked at every
stage with Smithsonian curators and exhibition designers to
plan and implement the exhibition, including selecting the
pieces from the Smithsonian's permanent collection and other
sources. Berhanemeskel also translated painting titles, and
Sobania wrote the text that accompanies the works in the
Berhanemeskel's commissioned artwork is a
devotional icon, a diptych on wood with acrylic paint. In
addition to being featured in the exhibition, the work has
been added to the museum's permanent collection.
Berhanemeskel, who is majoring in art at Hope, is
descended from a family of Ethiopian artists. The
exhibition also includes a painting by his father,
Berhanemeskel Fisseha, "Archangels Saint Michael and Saint
Raphael," also commissioned for the exhibition; and a circa-
1965 painting by his great-grandfather, Yohannis Teklu,
titled "Saint George Slaying the Dragon." The three artists
are also featured in a four-minute video that is presented
as part of the exhibition. The video, which includes
footage of Daniel Berhanemeskel painting in his studio in
the De Pree Art Center at Hope, was produced by Sobania.
Sobania's interest in Ethiopian art is long-
standing. He and Dr. Raymond A. Silverman of the art
history faculty at Michigan State University have
collaborated for many years in chronicling art traditions in
Ethiopia. The results of their work include the 1994
exhibition "Ethiopia: Traditions of Creativity" at Michigan
State University; a book of the same name edited by
Silverman and published in 1999 by the University of
Washington Press; and the video "The Parchment Makers: An
Ancient Art in Present-Day Ethiopia," produced in 2000 by
the Scriptorium Center for Christian Antiquities in
cooperation with Hope and MSU.
The Smithsonian exhibition originated two years
ago when Sobania attended the opening of the museum's
African Voices exhibition. Sobania was intrigued by a 1906
Ethiopian painting included in the exhibition, "Emperor
Menilik II's Defeat of an Italian Army at Adwa in 1896,"
which was a gift from the emperor to Hoffman Philip, the
first U.S. Envoy to the Ethiopian court. From Arnoldi he
learned that the museum's permanent collection included a
number of works from Ethiopia, and the two decided to
develop an exhibition that would feature them.
The exhibition, Sobania noted, includes religious
icons and church paintings, depictions of military
victories, and events of everyday life.
The tradition of Ethiopian painting, he said,
developed in monasteries after Christianity took root in
Ethiopia in the fourth century. Religious themes remained
the focus for several centuries, until about a century ago,
when the royal court began commissioning church-trained
artists to paint historical events.
The historical paintings, he said, ultimately
helped lead artists to sell their works to the general
public as well.
"Many of these works were given to visiting
dignitaries like Hoffman Philip, sparking a strong interest
in Ethiopian art among foreigners," Sobania said. "By the
1930s, Ethiopian painters were adapting monastic traditions
to scenes from everyday life such as farming and hunting."
Sobania is also interested in how the
relationships continue to develop. He noted, for example,
that Ethiopians from rural areas will commonly visit larger
cities to purchase paintings with religious themes and then
donate them to their hometown churches, linking the modern
market to the religious tradition from which the painting
Sobania will be discussing the development of the
tradition, including insights from his visit to Ethiopia
this past November-December, in a talk that he will deliver
at the museum on Friday, Feb. 8, in conjunction with the
The National Museum of Natural History is located
in Washington, D.C., at 10th and Constitution Avenue.