Walking in the street, walking in a landscape, walking through her imagination—all lead to a form of artistic expression for Emebet Belete.
To welcome visitors during the reception for her show this month, Emebet wore a traditional Ethiopian costume made of shemma, a cotton that is grown in her native country and woven into gauze-like or crêpe-like fabric. Her long white dress with shirred bodice was covered by a wrap with a border of bands of green, yellow and red, the colours of the Ethiopian flag.
Indeed, Emebet’s artworks reflect ties to her birthplace. Her series of female portraits, often back or side views that show head coverings and hairstyles, are a kind of homage to Ethiopia. The paintings were created after she attended an Ethiopian New Year’s celebration in Toronto. The streets, which had been closed off, were filled with her people, and she revelled in the festivities and the familiarity.
White is emblematic of Ethiopian dress, but for Emebet it also brings to mind winter, a season she had never experienced before coming to Canada, although one she finds beautiful and inspirational. In her series of white canvasses with names such as Together, Gratitude, Forward, The Lake Calls, she has let her imagination dictate the subtly textured white forms that are embedded on a white or pale blue ground.
Spring Beckons also falls into the white series, but its genesis differs. For five years Emebet worked in China as a primary art teacher at an international school. While there she witnessed the blooming of the white cherry blossoms of spring. But she also discovered the smooth white rice paper that is made in China, as well as the textured coloured rice papers of Japan and Korea. The former has found its way into the white series; the latter add colourful textural elements to her birch tree collages.
Emebet considers the changing of the seasons an exciting event. In her series that incorporates birch bark she has created a forest of bare trunks, repeated, rearranged, enlarged, miniaturized, marching through the colour spectrum of spring, summer, winter and fall. In looking at the exhibition as a whole I couldn’t decide whether they accentuated the white series or the other way round. I understood clearly, however, that in this grouping of works Emebet has displayed her attachment to place: Canada, then China, punctuated with a nod to Ethiopia.
The Language of Walking continues until September 30.