Today was thrilling.
This afternoon I presented my illustrated lecture, Norman Rockwell: American Artist, Citizen of the World, to more than 125 of the Ethiopian artists who have submitted works to the Four Freedoms competition hosted by the US Embassy that invited artists to interpret the Four Freedoms from an Ethiopian perspective. The Embassy received 250 entries to this competition from 180 artists, a staggering amount of works to jury down to an exhibition of 25 images and four award winners.
The artists, mostly living in Addis Ababa, ranged in ages from students to accomplished senior artists, were predominantly men, though women participated too. The lecture was held at the Embassy in the new Embassy building, and this was a first visit by all these artists to the state-of -the-art high-security embassy.
The response to my talk was overwhelming. Students expressed appreciation for the encouragement and recognition of their work. The messages they took from Norman Rockwell were persistence in the face of adversity, telling the story of a nation, and that art can influence the world. My sense was that many of the artists need support and encouragement to continue to pursue their work. Economic hardship, lack of support for the arts, and access to arts materials is a struggle for them. It was a joy to meet and speak with so many artists of this community. They are bursting with vibrant passion.
One commented that, “At first I did not understand why we were being invited to learn about this American artist. But now I realize that he was a citizen of the world and that his art told the story of his country and I want to tell my county’s story.” I encouraged the students and artists to stay with their art – pointed out that Norman Rockwell matured in his art over many years. I urged them to create their self-portraits and leave a record of who they are and their vision of the world.
They were especially moved when they viewed my slides of Norman Rockwell in Ethiopia 50 years ago, sketching portraits and visiting with Peace Corps workers. They realized that this artist knew their country and many other countries and that he was a global citizen. It was deeply meaningful to them to learn that Norman Rockwell had purchased two works from Ethiopian artists, Worku Goshu and Taye Wolde Medhin, when he was here – I showed them slides of these works from our Studio collection and they felt a connection to this artist from another place and time. The Embassy’s work to encourage the artists, conveyed to them that their work is important and that they have a vital voice in their nation.