Artist Spotlight: Tewodros Hagos

April 25, 2022
Portrait of the artist. Image courtesy of Margaux Huille.
Portrait of the artist. Image courtesy of Margaux Huille.

We are excited to announce we will be showing five new paintings from Tewodros Hagos at our forthcoming exhibition UNSETTLED opening on May 26th in Antwerp.

Tewodros Hagos’ (b. 1974, Ethiopia) striking portraiture explores the way we’ve become desensitised to depictions of migrants’ suffering. The artist uses the classical medium of painting to challenge us to look deeply into the faces of individuals affected by this ongoing humanitarian crisis. Hagos’ moving portraits look back at us, appealing to our shared sense of humanity.


Tewodros Hagos - Untitled (Journey 62) 2022 - acrylic paint on canvas - 60 x 50 cm


With the palpable sense of isolation and displacement that permeates the poignant paintings of Hagos, they resonate deeply with the theme of our exhibition UNSETTLED, which includes five new works of the ongoing series “The Desperate Journey”. This series initially started as a response to the artist’s increasing realisation of the ineffectiveness of news stories and imagery to convey lived experience or complex truths. While many of the pictures shown by the media may provoke an immediate emotional response, they are often deliberately sensational in order to shock the viewer and over time the overload of such imagery risks normalisation of this tragedy.

Through the classical medium of painting, Tewodros Hagos invites a slower, deeper kind of contemplation that counters the fast-paced consumption of digital media. His works not only elevate the crisis itself, but also the personal emotional experience of the individuals he paints. Significantly, his portraits convey a sense of strength as well as loss and grief. Yet, instead of pleading, the facial expressions are solemn and dignified. Hagos transforms the foil blankets, which are traditionally used in emergencies to keep people warm, into things of beauty, its gold and silver surfaces luminous in the darkness.

With his masterful craftsmanship, Hagos elevates his subjects to active agents of their own destiny. His compositions recall traditional European portrait paintings and the portrayal of grandeur, but instead of a lavish domestic setting, the vast, empty sky conveys an aching sense of isolation and loneliness. In this way, Hagos creates a more complex, layered narrative that demands a deeper level of engagement, while questioning which individuals and events are traditionally recorded by history.


Tewodros Hagos - Untitled (Journey 58) 2022 - acrylic paint on canvas - 120 x 100 cm


The contrast of the dark landscape with the luminosity of the metallic shine from the rescue blankets further heightens the unsettling atmosphere. Figures appear lost in the empty expanse of an unwelcoming hinterland. And yet, these works also possess an arresting, mournful kind of beauty that appeals strongly to a sense of shared humanity whilst simultaneously making us aware of our privileged position as passive spectators and challenging us to consider the realities that we choose to ignore.

Hagos is widely considered as one of the most promising artists of his generation. His works have been exhibited in Ethiopia, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the US. In 2017, he was awarded the grade of Chevalier of France’s Order of the Arts and the Letters. In 2021, Hagos received the second prize award from the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture. The artist is represented by Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, and recently had an acclaimed solo exhibition at her Berlin space.


About the author

Bruno Claessens

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