My name is Mahlet Birhanu and I was born & raised in Addis Ababa. I am a psychology graduate and I have a full-time job as learning support & special needs educator. Apart from my role in my full time job, I do arts. I was enrolled at Enlightenment Art Academy where I learnt the basic languages of fine arts and was able to fine tune my drawing skills. In addition to drawing, I mostly use watercolor, acrylic and oil paint as a media to express my ideas. Recently, I have started using computer soft- ware to produce digital art.
I consider myself as a self-taught artist with some knowledge gained from Art academies. I am highly inspired by the beauty of African ethnic elements such as adornments and symbols which I incorporate in to my artworks. In addition, I also started to use my artworks to represent social issues especially those issues that are a challenge to women in our society. I have been administering my social media page by the name ‘kuku’s pencil’ and using it as platform to share my artworks for the past four years.
Mostly, I use observations from daily challenges I face as a woman as a source of inspiration. I also take time to visit various creative people on Instagram and go to galleries to see art and photography exhibitions. Moreover, exploring good mu- sic is also a source of inspiration for me.
The theme I presented at the YeHa Digital Art experience mainly focuses on social issues that women in our society struggle with. Since I was born in Addis Ababa, I displayed some of the challenges that women living in our city face. It is mostly assumed that women living in the city have fewer struggles than those living in the rural area which is true to a certain extent.
However, even living in the city, there are various forms of Gender Based Violence that women face daily. It should be under- stood that a woman’s rights should not be violated in any form because she is a human before being a wife, a mother or a sister.
My creative process mostly begins from observations which I develop into thoughts. I usually sketch my thoughts and try to do some research on the idea to develop it further. After I sketched the basic idea I transform it to the media I chose to work with. I usually prefer painting in the morning (on my weekends). I rarely paint late at night unless I have a deadline to meet.
Working as a creative in Ethiopia is both challenging but also filled with opportunities. The opportunities being, the various social, economic and political topics that can be explored and transformed into creative works.
The challenges begin from our educational system where subjects like art and music are part of the education system only up to certain grade level. This makes it a challenge for children to continue exploring arts after a certain age and pursue arts as a profession.
There are also few individuals who are investing on art galleries or any other creative spaces and that also makes it a challenge to and a space to showcase creative works.
However, recently, there are many events in Addis Abeba that are creating a platform for creative people to showcase their works. Bazzars that incorporate art & crafts are be- coming a trend and people are also being appreciative of local products. I see this as a big progress.
I have a full-time job and although working with canvas, paint and pencils has its own beauty and uniqueness, it consumes a considerable amount of time. The digital medium has all the features to simplify creative process and made it easier for me to produce more.
The other advantage in working digitally is that I am able to move with my art- works and work from wherever, so long as I have my laptop or tablet with me. Moreover, digital medium makes it easier to reprint an artwork as many times as needed.
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