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What's New: Gallery 351

Yaëlle Biro, Associate Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014

«At the entrance to the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, in the gallery devoted to Ethiopian art (Gallery 351), an installation combines historical works from the Museum's collection with a series of related creations by a contemporary artist on loan from a private collection.»

Gallery 351

Current view of Gallery 351

In Ethiopia, customized protective and healing scrolls that interweave sacred imagery with textual prayers are believed to have been prescribed by traditional healers, or debtera, for more than two thousand years. These scrolls, known as tälsäm in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia, are highly personal items, illuminated by a specialist with both motifs and scriptures chosen to relate directly to the individual they are meant to protect.

Scrolls in Gallery 351

Left: Healing Scroll, , 18th–19th century. Ethiopia, Tigray region. Parchment, pigment, cotton. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Marie Sussek Gift, 2012 (2012.5); Right: Healing Scroll, 19th century. Ethiopia. Parchment (vellum), pigment. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum and Library Purchase, 1895 (95.66)

The art of the late Ethiopian artist Gedewon (1939–2000) is intimately tied to this long tradition of talismanic art expressed through scroll paintings. A master traditional healer himself and a skilled initiate of talismanic art, he progressively moved beyond creating scrolls designed for individual patients to compose large-scale drawings in ink, ballpoint pen, and pencil for a wider audience. These works are characterized by intricate calligraphic compositions that draw extensively on imagery of the Cross, a motif central to devotion and a preeminent cultural icon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Gedewon's art creates a visually powerful bridge to the group of processional crosses on display, an ensemble recently augmented by a rare example of cast bronze openwork processional cross. Created during the thirteenth or fourteenth century in a liturgical center of the Ethiopian Highland, this example is striking for its elegantly balanced and serene composition.

Gallery 351

On the wall, four paintings by Ethiopian artist Gedewon (1939–2000). Left to right: Därtähal, 1995. Ballpoint pen, lead pencil, graphite and ink on paper; Räb Räqib (Ardent Cloud), 1996. Ink and graphite on paper; Popularity, 1990. Ballpoint pen, lead pencil, graphite and ink on paper; Unknown, 1990. Ink and graphite on paper; On loan from CAAC - The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva (L.2012.27.2, 4, 1, 3)

Ethiopian Processional Cross

Processional Cross, 13th–14th century. Highland Ethiopia. Bronze. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, 2005 Benefit Fund, 2011 (2011.159)

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About the Author

Yaëlle Biro is the associate curator in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

About this Blog

Now at the Met offers in-depth articles and multimedia features about the Museum's current exhibitions, events, research, announcements, behind-the-scenes activities, and more.