From April 16 through May 31, viewers at Fridman Gallery can immerse themselves in the life and work of Hana Yilma Godine. In her third solo exhibition with the gallery, the Ethiopian artist presents new works completed during a late-winter residency in Beacon, New York, blending traditional materials with lovely fabrics and vibrant colors to create a multidimensional experience honoring her early life. Godine, who relocated to the United States after college, attended the Abyssinia School of Fine Art and Design and then the Ale School of Fine Art in Addis Ababa before earning a Master’s in Fine Arts from Boston University.
She has taken an experimental approach to painting ever since, Substance in Ethiopia is more conceptual than Godine’s past shows. While previously the artist sought to cement a strong connection to home—an architectural link, if you will—today Godine largely focuses on blurring the bounds of surface and concept, bringing each work to life by reframing the body as a universal language.
The human body, according to Godine, exists in a communal space that transcends time and place, rooted in a continual energy exchange with the environment. This is apparent in the exhibition, which features two landscapes, eight portraits, seven mini still-lifes on panel, and Godine’s striking eponymous “Substance in Ethiopia,” a series of paintings with collage elements and a textural focus. Throughout, the physical and the environmental—landscapes and portraits—come together while inviting the viewer to take in different facets of the artist’s experiences. Landscape 1 (2022) is an oil-on-board work showcasing homes and trees, sand and snow, with hues so subdued that the lovely neutrals create a world of their own and even distribution of light spilling across the canvas. The unique Landscape 2 (2022) is a triptych made from fabric, glass, and oil on paper, with tree branches seemingly coming alive to unify the three panels.
Meanwhile, Godine’s portraits—large works featuring elongated figures and rich, purple tones showcasing divinity and traditional Ethiopian fabric patterns—blend past and future so compellingly that viewers may find themselves unable to look away. Substance in Ethiopia 1 (2022), featuring oil, fabric, and acrylic on canvas, depicts a mythical woman with flowers blooming from her body and her face and iconographic wings of the same shimmering gold as her dress. She stands atop a rich floral-patterned fabric that abuts the canvas, draping onto the floor of the gallery space. The same immersive, flattened perspective is apparent in Substance in Ethiopia 2 (2022)—the winged face and floral patterns, a bright pink dress, and a red shoe (with arms and torso to match) meld the body into the natural world, combining bold materials with bold compositions that force the viewer to take in all the layers before drawing a conclusion. In some of the works, the subjects’ facial features are obscured, masked by the plant life and fabric spilling forth across the canvas; others—Substance in Ethiopia 3 and 8 (2022), for instance—are more figurative, yet they nonetheless showcase the subjects’ faces, still winged and iconographic, yet more grounded in reality.
Godine paints on traditional Ethiopian textiles—generally fabrics women source at the local market—making mindful purchases so that she can link each piece to the manner or place from which, she sourced the materials. Fabric, for Godine, is a metaphor for life, for celebration. There are myriad subtle yet intentional processes involved in her work, starting with the gathering of textile resources or the artist’s own observations, and culminating in the final work. In this way, Godine fits seamlessly into the canon of artists who have influenced her trajectory, among them Paul Cézanne, Tschabalala Self, and Tadesse Mesfin, a giant in the Ethiopian art space and former teacher of Godine, whose depictions of Ethiopian women display the same finesse as his student’s.
At Fridman Gallery, viewers will appreciate the mythical elements of Godine’s work. Smaller-scale pieces like Substance in Ethiopia 6 (2022), oil on paperwork depicting a woman with winged ears and massive hands seated on a literal representation of Earth, are powerful in their simplicity. This stands in contrast to the natural, more realistic approach of Godine’s 7 Still Life Paintings (2022), which offers a grounding effect that ties the exhibition together. There’s solace to be found in the leaves and vases, in the flowers blooming atop the fabric, in the subtler plant-human connection implicit in the works: an element of peace and community, almost supernatural, that should not be overlooked.
Hana Yilma Godine paints women in private moments: in repose on the couch, at the hair salon, preparing for a wedding. The artist, who received her MFA from Boston University in 2020, studied with celebrated Ethiopian artist Tadesse Mesfin in her hometown of Addis Ababa. The flattened perspective and elongated figures in her compositions recall classical Ethiopian iconography, while her materials—she paints on fabrics that women buy at local markets and turn into dresses—come from everyday life.
Goodine’s second U.S. solo exhibition, “A Hair Salon in Addis Ababa,” on view through March 5, spreads across two venues in New York: Fridman Gallery and Rachel Uffner Gallery. While her home country is facing civil war, Goodine imagines a parallel dimension where women are safe and free to express themselves.
We caught up with the Addis Ababa-based artist ahead of a three-month residency at Fridman’s location in Beacon, New York, about life in the studio.
What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?
Paint and brush. I use acrylic and oil, depending on the surface, as I paint on both canvas and fabrics. The rest can be replaced.
Is there a picture you can send of your work in progress?
I have just opened a two-gallery solo exhibition at Fridman Gallery and Rachel Uffner Gallery, and all of my work has been completed for these shows. But here is a work when it was in progress:
What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?
I can plan all sorts of things and will probably end up doing something else. Tomorrow I have to start thinking about the next body of work, new structures, and new experiments with materials and techniques. For my upcoming residency with Fridman Gallery in Beacon, I’ve brought with me traditional Ethiopian fabrics that are typically used to make women’s dresses. I look forward to pinning them up on a wall of my new studio and considering what they will become.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
Usually, I prefer to listen to music, but my studio practice also has moments of silence. Sometimes I listen to lectures. Sometimes I take breaks and listen to the news. Music helps me focus on the making. On my playlist, you can find the “Ethiopiques” series of albums of Ethio-Jazz musicians such as Mulatu Astatke, music from Mali and other African countries, as well as Western music.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?
I love the materiality and techniques of painting. I can’t think of anything I despise about art. I have an appreciation for almost every painting I see.
What snack food could your studio not function without?
I don’t usually eat when I work, but I enjoy drinking coffee or tea.
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
I am not really active on social media, but I do admire Julie Mehretu, Tschabalala Self, and Jennifer Packer, as well as Paul Cézanne, Nicolae Grigorescu, and Tadesse Mesfin (an Ethiopian painter who was one of my professors).
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?
I rarely get stuck when working in my studio. When I do, I try to keep going by listening to music, working on a new painting, and doing different types of tasks, like stretching a canvas or fabric.
What is the last exhibition you saw that made an impression on you?
Adam Pendleton’s “Who Is Queen?” at MoMA in New York.
If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?
I’d use images I’ve collected on my travels or walks, resources I found on the internet, and photos I’ve taken.