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.
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.
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.