Across the Universe: New Works by Tesfaye Urgessa in London

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Saatchi Yates, London // May 01, 2024 – June 16, 2024

Following his presentation at the inaugural Ethiopian Pavillion at La Biennale di Venezia, Saatchi Yates presents 14 paintings by Tesfaye Urgessa created between Addis Ababa, Nürtigen and Padua. The selection of paintings made in the past 2 years demonstrate the compositional development of Urgessa’s unique works and how the artist’s personal experience of prejudice has profoundly shaped his artistic practice. Tesfaye Urgessa comments, “I want my figures to have almost an emotional vulnerability… I want to keep them confident but at the same time fragile. They have been through something but made it. You might see a scar, but it’s not a mark of defeat.”

Having moved back to his hometown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Urgessa’s work delves deeper into socio-political issues of race, migration, war and displacement as he is surrounded by political turmoil in Ethiopia. The canvases are imbued with symbolic motifs such as aircraft, guns and open scripture that act as visual signifiers to prompt important questions around the dissemination of truth and violence. Representative of the artist’s signature style, his works are filled with contorted figures with overlapping limbs and withering bodies, whilst exploring the notion of family and the domestic setting. His subjects embody both strength and weakness. The figures proudly display their scars, symbolic of the battles they’ve conquered. Simultaneously, the translucency of their bodies displays a certain vulnerability as they’re laid bare to the viewer. A focus on portraiture and figurative painting reveals the artist’s classical education and early inspiration from traditional Ethiopian iconography. Urgessa’s works are occupied with question around race, the politics of identity, and the psychological tension hidden within domestic settings, as the artist carefully addresses these contemporary issues and confronts them in his tremendous paintings.

Tesfaye Urgessa comments, “I want my figures to have almost an emotional vulnerability… I want to keep them confident but at the same time fragile. They have been through something but made it. You might see a scar, but it’s not a mark of defeat.”

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