The exhibition showcases 1,750 years of the African nation’s profound artistic, cultural, and religious history
Baltimore, MD (November 9, 2023)—On December 3, the Walters Art Museum debuts Ethiopia at the Crossroads, an extraordinary display of Ethiopian art exploring over 1,750 years of Ethiopian culture and history through over 220 objects. Co-organized by the Walters Art Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art, Ethiopia at the Crossroads is the first major art exhibition in America to examine an array of Ethiopian cultural and artistic traditions from their origins to the present day and to chart the ways in which engaging with surrounding cultures manifested in Ethiopian artistic practices. A selection of works by contemporary Ethiopian artists will be displayed in conversation with the larger group of historic works that form the core of the exhibition. Tsedaye Makonnen, guest curator of contemporary art for the exhibition and an Ethiopian American multidisciplinary artist in her own right, will share in-gallery insights about these juxtapositions.
“Ethiopia at the Crossroads moves beyond the traditional Western perceptions of Ethiopian culture and re-centers both our understanding of the country’s significant artistic traditions and its connections to the wider world. This exhibition demonstrates Ethiopia’s foundational role in world culture, religion, and the humanities, while illuminating the specific ways in which Ethiopian artists and communities encountered and exchanged ideas with other cultures near and far,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “Over the last three decades the Walters has built the most important collection of Ethiopian art outside of that nation, devoted curatorial resources to explore this collection area, and invested in conservation research and treatment for these objects. This new exhibition is the culmination of this long-term investment, an outstanding opportunity to share these works with our community, including the significant Ethiopian diaspora community in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area.”
The development of Ethiopia at the Crossroads was supported by a group of academic and community advisors, the majority of whom are of Ethiopian descent, whose lived experience provided essential input which informed the museum’s thinking around Ethiopian art and offered crucial guidance on the artworks included, the design of the exhibition, and community outreach. These advisors—a group of curators, professors, artists, clergy, business owners, and more—have forged invaluable connections between the museum and the local Ethiopian diaspora community.
Institutions in Ethiopia also offered essential partnership to the Walters throughout the realization of the exhibition: The Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Abäba University, and Addis Fine Art generously lent objects, while the National Archives and Library of Ethiopia and the National Museum of Ethiopia provided the Walters with a better understanding of how best to present the Ethiopian culture on view.
Ethiopia’s Remarkable History
Ethiopia at the Crossroads delves into Ethiopian art as reflective of the nation’s notable history, including its status as an early adopter of Christianity and the only African nation that was never colonized, and demonstrates its enormous cultural significance through the themes of cross-cultural exchange. In particular, the exhibition traces the creation and movement of art objects, styles, and materials into and out of Ethiopia, whether across the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean, or within the African continent, especially up the Nile River.
The exhibition features objects drawn from the Walters collection of Ethiopian art augmented with loans from other American, Ethiopian, and European lenders. Visitors will see painted Christian icons, church wall paintings, illuminated manuscripts, healing scrolls, metalwork crosses, coins, colorful basketry, ancient stone and 20th-century wood sculpture, contemporary artworks, and more.
Home to over 80 different ethnicities and religious groups, a large portion of the historic artistic production in Ethiopia supported one of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), all of which have early roots in Ethiopia. As one of the oldest Christian kingdoms, Ethiopian artists produced icons, wall paintings, crosses of various scales, and illuminated manuscripts to support this religious tradition and its liturgy. Visitors will learn the great religious significance of prayers to and images of the Virgin Mary, which were developed during this period under the patronage of Zar’a Ya’qob (1434-68). Bronze processional crosses and some of the earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts from Ethiopia are also on view. Ethiopia at the Crossroads offers insight into secular objects produced and utilized by Ethiopians, too, including coins minted by generations of Aksumite rulers and textiles used for manuscript bindings and garments.
Past Meets Present
Works by living artists are integrated throughout the space and juxtaposed with the historic works to help visitors comprehend and connect with the multiplicity of cultures and histories presented. In Tsedaye Makonnen’s role as a guest curator, the Ethiopian American multidisciplinary artist, curator, researcher, and cultural producer designed programs related to the exhibition and penned wall labels for works by living artists. Makonnen’s insights into the objects featured in Ethiopia at the Crossroads consider the tangible effect the historic artworks have on these artists, who frequently incorporate their themes, motifs, and stylistic features in varying degrees.
Wax and Gold X (2014) by Wosene Worke Kosrof utilizes graphic, abstracted forms of Amharic script, the Semitic language widely spoken in Ethiopia and descended from Gəʿəz, an ancient written system indigenous to Africa. Ethiopia at the Crossroads features dozens of Ethiopian manuscripts, including Gospel books and healing scrolls. Meanwhile, Aïda Muluneh’s All in One (2016) features a woman wearing body paint inspired by traditions of African body art and a composition reminiscent of Ethiopian church paintings of the Virgin Mary.
“Tsedaye’s keen and insightful interpretations of the contemporary works in Ethiopia at the Crossroads shine a spotlight on the profound and enduring connections between Ethiopia’s rich history and its vibrant present. Her work as a multidisciplinary artist and lived experience as the daughter of Ethiopian refugees adds a unique and personal depth to the exhibition, allowing visitors to gain not only an appreciation for Ethiopia’s immense cultural contributions but also a deep understanding of its people,” said Christine Sciacca, Curator of European Art, 300–1400 CE. “The generosity of Tsedaye’s interpretations in conjunction with the valuable guidance of our advisory group and our esteemed partner institutions in Addis Abäba has proved essential to this exhibition. Ethiopia at the Crossroads would not be possible without this collaboration and has ensured that the exhibition stands as a genuine celebration of this remarkable African nation.”
What: Members of the media are encouraged to cover Ethiopia at the Crossroads at this preview event. Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director, and Christine Sciacca, Curator of European Art, 300-1400 CE, will deliver remarks and be made available for interviews.
Walters Art Museum
600 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Please use the Centre Street entrance
Friday, December 1, 2023
10–10:15 a.m.: Complimentary refreshments
10:15–10:30 a.m.: Remarks from museum representatives
10:30 a.m.–noon: Exhibition tour and interviews with the curator
Ethiopia at the Crossroads is curated by Christine Sciacca, Curator of European Art, 300–1400 CE, at the Walters Art Museum. The exhibition opens at the Walters on December 3, 2023, and is on view through March 3, 2024. The exhibition will travel to the Peabody Essex Museum April 13–July 7, 2024, and to the Toledo Museum of Art August 17–November 10, 2024.
Ethiopia at the Crossroads, a richly illustrated catalogue edited by Sciacca and co-published by the Walters Art Museum and Yale University Press, will accompany the exhibition. A robust schedule of programs, including an opening reception for supporters on December 2, 2023; a public community celebration on December 3, 2023; an afternoon of Ethiopian performances curated by Tsedaye Makonnen on February 24, 2024; and more will accompany the exhibition. Visit thewalters.org/events for programming information.
This exhibition is co-organized by the Walters Art Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art.
Ethiopia at the Crossroads has been made possible in part by two major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom, and by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (MA-253352-OMS-23).
This project is also supported by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, the PNC Foundation, The Hilde Voss Eliasberg Fund for Exhibitions, contributors to the Gary Vikan Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Walters Women’s Committee Legacy Endowment, Nanci and Ned Feltham, The International Center of Medieval Art and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and other generous supporters. With additional support from The Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Fund for Scholarly Publications and the Sara Finnegan Lycett Publishing Endowment.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or other funders.
About the Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5,000 BCE to the 21st century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.
Admission to the museum is free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles St., north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For general museum information, call 410-547-9000 or visit thewalters.org.
Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible through the combined generosity of individual members and donors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.