The Aesthetic Dimension in Tecola W. Hagos. By Teodros Kiros
Tecola Hagos is a prominent Ethiopian intellectual with an enviable synthetic mind. He has written several substantial articles on our website and has an exceptional gift for unique book reviews—set apart for their depth and width as well as his rare generosity of spirit and analytic acuity.
His books are at home with ancient Greek philosophy, show a mastery of world history, and he is on the top of his field in Law. His writing is splendidly rich with the knowledge of Ethiopian history, which is communicated through his fluent mastery of English and many other languages. Tecola is, simply speaking, an iconic figure and a national treasure to his beloved Ethiopia.
Tecola is not only a conceptual intellectual of considerable praise; he is also a gifted visual artist. The aesthetic dimension looms large in Tecola’s ongoing love of the arts, including poetry and, most visibly, his brilliant painting.
The Ethiopian (Oil on Canvas, 8’x5’, 1970), produced in 1969-70, is an extraordinary contribution to Ethiopian visual culture. The work is visually striking and conceptually challenging. Framed in lush colors generously dispersed on the surface of the canvas, a fierce, proud, handsome Ethiopian male is shown carrying a gun, with his back facing the glorious rocks of Lalibela, the stelae of the historic Axum, and the gigantic castle of Facildas of the Facilidas of the 17th century.
The Ethiopian presents a hero conscious of his importance in the founding of Ethiopian history. He stands tall, his elegant legs resting on Ethiopian soil, proudly exhibiting his Ethiopianity to the cruel world, which once attempted to colonize his motherland. He is fiercely positioned like Achilles, the Athenian hero before him, to die for his country and preserve Ethiopia’s territory.
The Ethiopian is a masterful, visual documentation of Ethiopian history cast in a Beautiful composite of carefully chosen colors—the portrait of a classical Ethiopian personality. Tecola has given us is a national treasure that we must cherish and hang in our living rooms as a symbol of our rich history.
As Tecola put it: “The Ethiopian must, above all, remind us that our Ethiopian history of art is made poorer by the adoption and imitation of so called “modern art” by most of our young artists without first having built solid foundation with the depiction and narration of our history” (Tecola W. Hagos, October 2003, p, 2).
Like The Ethiopian, Tecola himself is an embodiment of a fierce, courageous and highly intelligent mind. He is pride to us all. Tecola himself is that Ethiopian who rejects mediocrity and advocates excellence, hard work and truth.
The Ethiopian, Grandfather (1974), The Allegory of the Artist (1971), and Self Portrait with Sun Glasses (1970) all share common aesthetic motives. They are profoundly and originally Ethiopian, meaningful, and communicative of core Ethiopian values. Their themes are transformative of the human spirit, pleasurable, and deeply autonomous. These historic paintings are organized by what Tecola calls “Basic Principles”, which he demands from great art (Tecola Hagos.com, p. 9, 2003).
I share Tecola’s grief when he movingly writes in a forthcoming book:
“I have several good reasons for being critical of the Editors of Callaloo: Special Issue: Ethiopia, Literature, Art and Culture. I am very critical of the project and its execution by Dagmawi Woubshet and his co-editors as a lowly manipulative schematic process of group interest, and also for casting Ethiopia and Ethiopians as if lost and searching for an identity. I cannot fathom how anyone can presume to write a comprehensive exposé on the arts and culture of Ethiopia without ever interviewing Master Artist Afework Tekle [Fig. 8: Total Liberation of Africa] who is renowned for his masterful works around the world, or Prof Getatchew Haile, the great scholar on Ethiopia’s literature from ancient through the medieval period to our own era, and a MacArthur Genius Award winner at that, and the many other gifted Ethiopian artists and writers living in Addis Ababa or elsewhere in the World.”
Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts)
Berklee College of Music