By Kathryn MacDonald
“Creating art is constant reflection: I love finding the perfect colour to express a mood, or to balance a painting so that I can look at it again and again and lose myself in the scene.”
Emebet Belete is a world traveller, a woman who was born in Ethiopia where her career as an artist began and who moved from East Africa through South Africa and Zimbabwe, Eretria and Egypt, Europe and finally to Canada in 1997 where she earned Fine Art and Education degrees from Queen’s University. In 2008, she taught art in Tianjin, China, returning to Canada to settle in Belleville in 2013.
“In school I learned about Ethiopian art. I was fortunate to have a good art teacher. My parents were very supportive and I had a studio in our family’s yard.” Unfortunately, that studio burned down, but it was replaced, and Emebet continued to create art out of the materials she could gather together. These early roots have since branched into collages in which she explores her Canadian context.
Emebet Belete’s philosophy lives in her art. Her intention to seek something mysterious and lasting through colour, mood, and balance draws viewers deep within the work. In “Birch,” our eyes are pulled from the foreground birch, past the evergreen, deep into the depths of the Canadian landscape. This is also true of “By the Door,” a painting in which she captures a doorway into Debre Berhan Selassie, one of Ethiopia’s most beautiful churches.
As with the Canadian scene, we find a story unfolding. Here we see the hot colours of Africa and our eyes are drawn to the partially open doorway to wonder what lies beyond. The white-robed figure looks forward, while we see only his back. We enter with him. We can read the painting in different ways. Perhaps we see the fading frescoes or the ceiling of winged cherubs within the mid-15th century church. Or perhaps, instead of a sanctuary to contemplate, our mind focuses on the dark beyond the open door, on the unknown future. Art expresses a vision of the artist, but it also welcomes viewers with ambiguity, sparking curiosity and enlarging knowing.
“Art is a journey for me. I can see paintings…watercolours I’ve done. They relate to my life, my experience, my background. I like to put things together, to go deeper, to learn who I am.”
I glanced at the table between us. It is covered with work-in-progress and bits of birch bark and paper. “So your life is a collage, like your art?”
“Yes, it is.”
Emebet Belete is preparing for a show at the Modern Fuel Gallery, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, January 2019. It will explore “white space and mood. I’ll use traditional fabric from Ethiopia” combined with music—Seongah and Jimmy by Neil Diamond—“that I listened to again and again and again.”
For more about Emebet’s art, please see her website: Emebet Belete.