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“Beauty is hidden in unnoticeable things”

For the World Tourism Day, the Eritrean Tourism Service Association (ETSA) in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism Central Region Branch and the Asmara Heritage Project Office organized colourful events in the capital.

One of the events was a photography contest in which many photographers participated; the photos that made the cut to the gala were 71 stunning shots. In line with Asmara’s inscription into the UNESCO, the theme of the photo contest was related to Asmara’s exquisite rise on UNESCO World Heritage’s pole. The photographs were made public in an exhibition held in connection to the World Tourism Day.

We talk today to the first place winner, painter and photographer artist Ghirmay Kifle, also a winner of many previous contests.

Congratulations for your win! For starters, tell us something about the contest please.


Thank you. Several art contests are normally held on different occasions; they could be special events, dates and sometimes they maybe sponsored by international organizations. This one was organized on the occasion of World Tourism Day. We were asked to present unedited photographs of Asmara and its architectural beauty. Asmara is full of amazing wonders. Therefore, an artist can enjoy countless inspirations on a myriad angles and features.

The judges for this contest were elite photograph experts from around the country one of whom is Mr. Russom Fissahaye, MOI’s Head of Finance and Administration.

The photos were tagged by code numbers so the submission and nomination were totally anonymous. The points, a cumulative of 100, were divided in 4 categories of which three had 30 points each and one had 10 points. The emphasis was on focus, angle, depth and talent. I submitted two photos, one of Cattedrale and the second of Enda Mariam.

  • That of Enda Mariam was the winner, right?

Right. Personally, I go for hidden skins. The angles I get both for photography and painting are normally the unnoticeable ones. People normally don’t tend to notice these because they are overshadowed by bigger and shinier gems around.

Accordingly, I looked around for a long time trying to find things that escape the eye easily for reasons I mentioned above. I went to the biggest church of Asmara, Enda Mariam Orthodox Church, probably also the most beautiful. When we get into the yard the first thing which we put on target is the architecture of the church. Something even more stunning than that are the pigeons and the atmosphere they create with their presence and, of course, the hundreds of believers, non-believers and tourists that stroll around the colossal patio of the church.

After long walks and careful observations I aimed my camera lenses on one the gates. The main gate of the church is stunning and the most used but people don’t notice it because as soon as they enter they look straight ahead to the church itself missing behind the structure of the entrance. The front entrance is crazy beautiful and yet not a lot of people notice it. My winning shot was that one. I think it got the score of 96 point something.

  • So how are you feeling?

The theme of the contest is very important for Asmara and the world because now Asmara is officially part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Therefore, based on the importance of the theme, winning in this specific contest means a lot. It is an honor, of course, but professionally speaking, it was a reminder of how little we’ve done to capture and let the world appreciate all of these picturesque sensations unique to our city. In few words, I am feeling encouraged and responsible to do more.

  • You won several awards for your photographs, probably your most recognized shot was that of Debri Yohanes. Please tell us briefly about your photos.

I’d rather just talk about the one you just mentioned because it is also my preferred one. I carry my camera with me almost always. In 2014 I was aware of a contest launched by the Ministry of Information under the theme of ‘touristic atractions in Eritrea’. I then decided to focus on the Eritrean people and their diverse, yet harmonious, tradition. I was traveling when I came across this beautiful site I didn’t want to miss. I am talking about a monastery, Da Yohannes, perched on a high and richly green mountain. The elevation is situated in Mai Aini subzone, Southern Region.. Its altitude is peculiar! A beautifully bizarre edifice of the mountain, and more bizarre, is the location and construction of the monastery which is not on a plateau but on a lean path of the mountain. That stunned me the most. The monastery is mostly visited by young ladies and their mothers who go to pray for babies. Traditionally, people gather on the foot of the hill to sacrifice 10 oxen and climb the mountains for at least half of a day. I submitted the photo to the contest and made it 2nd place.

  • Can you tell us a bit yourself?

My full name is Ghirmay Kifle. I was born in 1972 in Asmara, Geza Kenisha. I joined the 1st round to Sawa soon after independence and I work in the Information and Agitation Office of the Ministry of Defense. I love painting and taking photos. I stay faithful to analog cameras, which honestly I know better and feel more comfortable with than the digital ones.

  • Take us back in time, how did you get into painting?

I started drawing when I was in 3rd grade. I normally drew maps for my school mates. In 8th grade I started taking art classes, and when I joined an Ethiopian painting contest in high school, I won first place. My instincts and passion for painting started then. I have been painting for more than 30 years now. Much later I augmented my paintings by going around and taking my own photos and paint at home. I like to carry my camera, and 90% of my photos are translated to paintings. I have many paintings in fact. I used to do byzantine drawings for ornaments and used to sell them in décor houses. But growing up I acquired a realist style and I follow it to this day. So far, I have won several awards for my paintings, had 3 major exhibitions and participated in several group exhibitions.

  • What about photography?

In my early twenties I started working part time at Desta Photo Studio. I used to do the so called ‘ritocco’. With no special computer programs and applications, back in the days, photos were mainly prepared manually in the dark room. It is since then that I have immersed myself in photography. I like to use my 120 mm manual camera and develop my black and white photos in dark rooms. However, sometimes I end up using digital cameras as I run out of films and some other things… it is more like a forced dependence on digital cameras.

  • What do you like the most as an artist? What are your inspirations? Any secret ingredients?

I can’t say. I mean I have no specific moments or events. I just love and dedicate all I have towards my profession. Honestly, I believe beauty is concealed in unnoticeable things. Therefore I travel a lot to find my revelations. I love Massawa, there is this ironic symptom I notice a lot, and that is when I set foot in Massawa the artist in me finds an instant manifestation. Do you think it’s weird? … But that’s just me, I love Massawa; the sea, the old buildings, its people and the heat… that is all art for me.

  • Is there anything you want to say at the end?

A small reminder to the young photographers. Thanks to technology nowadays even a phone comes handy for photography. However, photography means more than a preset digital camera and auto effects; it means light and brightness. Hence, I want to remind them to increase

their knowledge by going to the basic and learn about light and dark rooms. Other than that I am extremely proud of them!

  • Thank you!


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