Tesfaye Urgessa

b. 1983, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Lives and works in Nürtingen, Germany

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Tesfaye Urgessa
Tesfaye Urgessa, The Holy Family Despair, 2021

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Tesfaye Urgessa’s paintings feature distinctively posed figures in settings that sit somewhere between the domestic and the surreal. Urgessa emigrated from Addis Ababa to Stuttgart in 2014 to study, and his work brings Ethiopian iconography into dialogue with the styles of diverse European artists from the modern canon. Urgessa’s paintings pointedly address the contemporary moment, in terms of both the highly charged intimacy of personal relations and the wider topics of identity and migration. The holy family despair is simultaneously tender and fraught. The couple cradle a new baby, and the parents’ legs are entwined as they sit. The pair’s facial expressions are intense and distracted, however, implying conflicting emotions. The white-gloved hand belonging to the statue on the wall behind, which lifts the foliage headdress of the seated man, adds a layer of unreality.