There’s a world away from war, politics, or patriarchy. It’s lush. Flora, like that in “Beyond the sky #1” (2021) grows abundantly, as the waters that nourish it rush over sediment-rich cataracts. Some might call this place a modern paradise. A woman may enjoy having her hair done or preparing for a family wedding in the company of other women, as in “Preparation for Wedding in Addis Ababa” (2021). Women wear Ethiopian Orthodox robes or jeans with pumps. There’s no sense of worry or strife on anyone’s face.
This is the world painter Hana Yilma Godine creates in her show A Hair Salon in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian painter’s second solo exhibition portrays women in domestic spaces with elegance and grace. As with her first show, 2020’s Space within Space at Fridman Gallery, Godine employs the styles and techniques of Ethiopian modernism, such as flattened perspective and elongated figures, standard practices in religious art, to imbue her subjects with spiritual undertones. These figures are layered with various textiles found in local markets, painted florals, and cultural iconography. On view through March 5 at both the Fridman Gallery and Rachel Uffner, the works transport viewers into a timeless space where beauty in culture, community, and the natural world are valued above all.
Decorative vases, paintings within paintings, colorful fabrics and patterns — these visual elements are some of the building blocks Godine uses to create a world rooted Ethiopian culture and history. The fabrics she uses are typically for clothing, connecting them to the body and Ethiopian society, and flowers and plant life are recurring motifs. “A Chemistry of Time and Materials” (2020) feature women enrobed in traditional Orthodox Christian vestments. Her subjects are always connected in mind, body, and spirit to the arts, nature, and each other. “Hair Salon in Addis Ababa #2” (2021) shows two different representations of the “Lion of Judah,” the national symbol of Ethiopia and the title given to Ethiopian emperors and empresses. The river seen in “Hair Salon in Addis Ababa” (2021) almost appears to rush right into the salon, while the hair color of two women matches that of the waterfall.
Godine depicts femininity as both earthly and divine. She expresses its power through abundance and beauty. In “Adwa (2)” (2020), white roses fill both vases adjacent to a woman dressed in a long white gown, maybe a bridal gown. Roses featuring prominently in the works. This expensive and expressive blossom has become one of the largest and most profitable industries in modern Ethiopia. The woman in “Substance in Space #1” (2021) stands on a globe, her bright yellow high-heeled sandals atop the outlines of Africa. She sways to the side as she gathers the skirt of her olive dress. Red and peach roses cascade down from her head. Her skirt is trimmed with the colors of the Ethiopian flag, which also color her tongue, sticking out to feed a bee. The image posits the woman as the source of nourishment for a country that is widely considered to be the cradle of humanity.
The triptych “Hair Salon in Addis Ababa #1” (2021) shows this trinity of nature, femininity, and culture in dialogue. In the left panel, a woman stands in front of a long table, on which sits a vase filled with decorative flowers and leaves. Her hair is composed of images of Empress Zewditu, the only empress in the history of Ethiopia to rule in her own right, ruling from 1916 to 1930. Braided vines connect this woman to the woman in the central panel, whose hair is an array of pine green flora that thrusts upward dramatically. She wears white religious vestments and holds a book teeming with plants. Another braid leads into the right pane, a more modern setting painted in an indigo hue; the panel’s chic vibe is matched by the woman’s cool smirk. A cityscape is visible through a window.
Godine’s integration of spirituality with womanhood recalls Audre Lorde’s idea of erotic power in her 1978 essay “Uses of the Erotic.” Lorde connects sensuality and power in defining erotic power as “that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.” Erotic power fortifies women to reject archetypally masculine traits like brawn or logical intelligence as primary indicators of strength. A woman who acknowledges sensuality as powerful understands the fullness this authority brings. Therefore, she can never accept a lesser version of herself. The world Godine imagines explores is one in which fullness can be possible for women.
Hana Yilma Godine: A Hair Salon in Addis Ababa continues at Fridman Gallery (169 Bowery, Nolita, Manhattan) and Rachel Uffner Gallery (170 Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through March 5.
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