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Poems on Canvas: A multimedia Approach to Art

By :- Sona Berhane

Of all the genres of literature, poetry is held above the rest as being the most representative of the power of words to create vivid imagery, and is often used for literary depictions intended to relay a visual effect. It was this relationship between words and images that served as the central theme for Poetry and Painting, this week’s art exhibition. The event, which opened last Tuesday on the 2nd of April, was hosted at the club of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers.

The poet, Ghirmay Abraham, and three artists, Samandari Yosief, Biniam Tikue and Fuad Ali, all worked together to compose pieces that endeavored to show the poetry in painting and vice versa. In fact, the exhibition featured a crossover between three different mediums of art: poetry, painting and digital art.

Poetry and Painting brought to the audience a total of 21 works of art, 14 paintings and 7 digital art pieces. Based on ርቀትካ ዕጣን, a book of poetry written by Ghirmay Abraham, these works of art were inspired by or interpretations of individual poems in the volume.

“Across the arts, poetry and painting are the most closely associated,” says artist Samandari Yosief who had contributed 8 paintings to the collaboration. “I’ve really enjoyed reading Ghirmay’s book. We talked about it a lot, and our discussions eventually led to the idea of portraying his poems on the canvas.”

The two painters, Samandari Yosief and Biniam Tikue composed their pieces applying techniques that differ stylistically whereas Fuad’s medium of choice is digital.

The use of a bold color palette and angular shapes preferred by Biniam Tikue manage, somehow, to capture the abstract nature of the poems he chose to paint. One poem titled “ጽምዋ” was painted by both Samandari and Biniam, and it was interesting to see differing perspectives of the same subject. It was just as interesting to look at two separate takes of the same poem by one artist as was the case with Samandari’s depictions of the poem “ኣይትጥፋእ”.

Fuad Ali, the third artist, could not attend the opening night since he works in Nakfa, a historical town in the Northern Red Sea region of Eritrea. “It was an interesting coincidence,” recalls Ghirmay, “as soon as he told me he had chosen to depict the poem titled ‘Nakfa’, he found out he would start working in Nakfa.”

Fuad’s works evoke a feeling of surrealism. The subtle digital effects he uses alter the images almost imperceptibly so that they remain recognizable while also retaining a tangible strangeness, too.

One of his pieces entitled Nakfa, is an exercise in semantic deliberation as it compels you to engage with a word on multiple levels and explore all the possible meanings it can hold. In Nakfa, the poet and the artist arrive at the same meaning using imaginatively different routes. The fact that I stood there pondering this process meant the crossover between these two mediums had worked.

The evening’s events were diverse. They commenced with selected readings of Ghirmay’s book. A couple of songs had also been composed to accompany some of his verses. The NCEW club was filled to the brim with guests. Typically, music is played softly during an exhibition, as the audiences make their rounds examining the paintings. But for this event, instead of subdued music, the speakers emanated gentle voices reading the poems. This is one of the Painting and Poetry exhibition’s many departures from conventional art shows. “It is often the case,” Samandari said, “that artists and creatives of all disciplines hide in their own little corners and don’t think to collaborate.

I think working together, even across genres, makes for a better outcome. I believe it is for the first time that a collaboration of this kind is being showcased. That’s why this exhibition is important.”

By all accounts the first art exhibition to bring forth such collaboration, the Poetry and Painting opening night was a lively and entertaining one. It brought together seemingly separate art forms. “Poetry is simply the act of painting your vision with words,” Ghirmay had said. But beyond that, the spirit of collaboration and comradery between the artists was as enjoyable to behold as the art pieces themselves.

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