Girmachew Girmachew

Artist Biography

Girmachew Getnet, born in 1980, is an internationally recognized artist from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Shortly after graduating from Addis Ababa Fine Arts and Design School in 2001, he established the first art studio in Addis Ababa, Habesha Art Studio, with four other artists. Ever since, he dedicated his time exploring various mediums and concepts. His artworks are now distinguishable by the materials he uses; large materials with elevated, abstract, evocative, and surreal figures.

Girmachew shared his early artworks with; Alliance Ethio-Française, Goethe Institute, Gebre Kristos Center, International Community School, as well as youth projects with UNICEF and Speak Africa. In August 2005, upon invitation from Johannes Gutenberg University, he organized an exhibition titled  “Wall and Canvas” on contemporary art and traditional wall paintings from Ethiopia; expounding his medium even further. His art goes beyond painting, he was invited by the Grassi Museum for a solo exhibition where he screened his short film “Free Space” in 2007. Later on, this film screened at different TV channels in Germany and several short film festivals around Europe and Ethiopia.

Girmachew’s artistic journey which extends itself through his concepts, practices, and materials, grow from the self to a universal thought approach throughout the years. And this can easily be observed in his solo exhibitions such as;  “Mirror” at Kunstverein Familie Montez,  “Girmachew” at Gallery ERMITá, “Ahune” at Gallery BRAUCHBACHfive, “My atelier/ My Gedame“ at Gallery ERMITá and “Girmachew” at Gallery DOXA, to his group exhibitions as, “Facing”, Atelier Frankfurt; Blurring the Lines; video Gallery Con (SPACE); “Frische Rheinland-pfälzer Künstler”, Bundesbank; and Lela Gallery, Circle Gallery, CFHILL Gallery to name the few.

With his new series, “Circle”, Girmachew has captured the attention of many art critics and collectors such as the Los-Angeles-based dealer, investor, and self-styled art-world disruptor Stefan Simchowitz, with whom he is currently working at the Simchowitz Gallery and Staceybartels Gallery.

“I have one nationality but my work is universal.”

Artist Statement

As an artist, my job is to observe and comprehend the events happening around me to their point of origin. In the past years, I have developed numerous projects through which I tell stories and find meaning within my surrounding. One of those projects is a series titled “Circle”.

In the “Circle” series, I create an atmosphere; a space between reality and fantasy; a mirrored world. It is where I practice more of the spiritual and physical conspicuousness observations, questions, answers, and results of my long individual research about our existence; where we came from, where we are going, and who we are.

From the beginning of time, Africa has been a rich land fostering human history and spirituality with a high potential for revolutionary abundance. Our diverse beliefs, languages, culture, and character are some means of power we haven’t yet brought together. A circle of power you may even call it. And yet, different events kept us from joining our ends to form that power circle. And so, I asked, “What is stopping us?” “Where is this poison feeding on our unity?” After assessing my thoughts, I decided to study this poison and to fight against it the best way I know, my art; my voice.

We have a system that has been feeding in the dark for years and is now big enough to hunt in daylight. I depicted that system with a snake. And in this triptych, I experimented on the ancient history of the Ethiopian King Agabos and the giant snake Wainimba.

Thousands of years ago, there lived a giant snake named “Wainimba” who fed on the people of the village and their animals eventually leaving them hungry and poor for four hundred years. One time, Agabos (Father of the great Queen Sheba/ Makeda), who was just a traveler by then, received a message from God on how to kill this giant snake and save the people from all the misery it brought on them. Upon his victory, the villagers made Agapo their king.
I think of the system we are governed by as the giant snake; getting bigger and bigger each time it fed on our peace, unity, love, wisdom, and fears. The entire system around our world is against the human circle, the human community. Humans were created to live freely, but with moral freedom. And I say, just like Agapo used his message to kill Wainimba, I believe I can also battle this system that is dividing and wearying us, through my art.

I conclude my statement by asking all to observe the similarities between the system and the giant snake. I urge every one of us to live in our truest form under the philosophy of a circle and everything it represents; wholeness, original perfection, self, infinity, eternity, timelessness, all cyclic movement, non-existence and eternity, no beginning and no end, sun, universe, center, power, energy, enlightenment, and time.

I believe the philosophy of a circle is a sacred state our survival depends on.

Article About Habesha Art Studio

I was just a third-year art student at the Addis Ababa Fine Arts and Design School when a great revolution broke; led by university students against the government. Many were shot, injured, and arrested. Following the chaos, our university closed its gate indefinitely.

Many of us spent hours and hours practicing our artworks in the school studio. When the government announced a state of emergency, we stayed home; away from our artworks. At home, I used to spend a lot of time in my room thinking about how artists have to be free and neutral from all political or religious ties. I believed that the artist has to be an observer to document the truth.
That’s when the idea of opening a studio first struck me. I started by drafting my idea for a studio on pieces of paper here and there. I planned to include all dedicated young artists as studio members with the chance to pursue art as freelance artists after graduation. Back then, there wasn’t much art infrastructure in Ethiopia except the art school in Addis Ababa. For the students who enjoy art and art life, it was a golden time to spend four years in art school. We had several Ethiopian art teachers who had MA degrees from various art schools abroad, mostly from Russia and some from Germany. Aside from our teachers, we were also inspired by senior students’ works and art exhibitions at the German and French cultural institutes which played a big role in the art sector.

The limitation to the art life changed with the foundation of the “Habesha Art Studio”; the first of its kind in Addis Ababa to assist artists by creating the right environment they need to create their art and express themselves. Most art students were afraid of what would happen to them after graduation. At that point, there were only a few options for art students; to work for a private office, the government, work as a designer or illustrator, leave the country on a scholarship or try to stay and work full-time as an artist. In addition to that, the artist has to learn to get in touch with art dealers and art buyers. And so, after I drafted my idea, I discussed it with other 3rd and 4th-year art students. Many students accepted my idea and so I finally joined forces with four fellow students. Habesha Art Studio became our home away from home where we lived together and practiced our art. Following our initiative, many artists opened their studios after graduation.