Ethiopia Names Tesfaye Urgessa for Its First-Ever National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Tesfaye Urgessa, an artist celebrated for his poignant and evocative paintings that explore themes of identity, displacement, and the human condition, has been selected to represent Ethiopia at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. This marks a historic moment as it is the first time Ethiopia will participate in the Biennale with its own national pavilion. The exhibition, under the curatorial direction of the award-winning author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay OBE, will be hosted at the Palazzo Bolani, a site steeped in history dating back to the 13th century.

Urgessa’s journey to the Biennale reflects his rising profile on the international art scene. Over the years, he has gained recognition for his contributions to major exhibitions and his ability to convey powerful narratives through his art. His work often centers on the depiction of human bodies within domestic scenes, rendered with a distinctive gestural form and a vibrant color palette. This approach allows Urgessa to delve into personal experiences and broader societal issues, such as racism and cultural displacement, particularly reflecting on his move from Ethiopia to Germany.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1983, Urgessa’s educational path led him from the Ale School of Fine Art and Design in his hometown to the prestigious Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart in Germany. After completing his studies, Urgessa lived in Stuttgart for a decade before moving back to Addis Ababa, where he continues to live and work. His artistic expression, which bridges Ethiopian iconography with the tradition of figurative painting, offers a unique lens through which to explore complex issues of race, identity, and the human experience.

Urgessa’s selection as the representative for Ethiopia’s inaugural pavilion a significant milestone for Ethiopia’s presence on the global art stage. The theme for the Biennale, “Foreigners Everywhere,” resonates with Urgessa’s exploration of displacement, immigration, and cultural identity, making his participation especially fitting for this event.