Conversation with the Artist Daniel Taye
By Selamawit Legesse

Daniel Taye grew up closely involved with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and eventually became a deacon. The church played an important role in his education and was the cornerstone for many of his life’s lessons. Fascinated by its power, he asserts that he reads the Bible often.

Mr. Taye extended his devotion to the realm of visual arts when he entered the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts in the late 1980s. He has seen his work exhibited in Ethiopia as well as several major cities in the U.S. His next show will be exhibited at the Atlanta Convention Center in Georgia in June 2004. Macush Ethiopian Art represents Mr. Taye’s arts.

He currently lives in Washington, D.C., where he not only cultivates his passion for painting but also hones his skills as a musician and prose writer. While some mock his music because he lacks formal training, others describe his self-taught music as contemporary- improvisational-classical. The book Kejzet, the Amharic word for confusion or nightmare, is written in Amharic and features his allegorical writing and cover page illustration drawn by the artist himself.

Mr. Taye’s mind and body work at a very rapid pace. Intense emotions dwell in his eyes. Like many artists, Mr. Taye has eccentric tendencies. He enjoys solitude most of the time, but says that he also occasionally craves hearty conversations and performing for people. He prefers that people interpret his art themselves. One of his untitled works depicts a person committing suicide by stabbing his arm with a big fountain pen. The face, in the shape of the African continent, gives an impression that the art may be referring to African martyr writers such as Bealu Girma, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Phillip Wamba.

The following conversation was conducted in Amharic on February 20, 2004, in the Howard University neighborhood of Washington, D.C. As I entered his studio, I noticed pictures of Jesus Christ, Mary and Mr. Taye’s girlfriend. Also visible were finished and unfinished paintings, Bibles, and stacks of books, as well as a piano, guitar, and cello. His literary works-in-progress were piled between his piano and a table holding a large mirror, a plate of oil colors, and paintbrushes. He was dressed casually.

Mr. Taye, you seem to be a prolific artist. What inspires your work?

This moment – any moment, and the satisfaction I feel after completing my work.

In general, do you think Ethiopians lack interest in arts?

Absolutely not! Similar to anyone else, Ethiopians also appreciate art that talks to them.

What brought you to the United States?

My art! When the opportunity arose to present my work at a New York exhibition in 2001, I was contemplating a move to Hamer, which is located in southern Ethiopia. A visit with a friend of mine exposed me to this region. I had fallen in love with many things in the area – including the people and their lifestyle – particularly their preference for nudity. Hamer is a place that I still consider as a refuge. Now, I love living in Washington, D.C. I feel as if this is the best place for people with mixed backgrounds. D.C. also allows me to remain surrounded by Ethiopians, while enjoying broader opportunities in general. It has even inspired me to start painting with an Ethiopian theme, whereas before I just painted my emotions.

What did you learn from growing up as a deacon?

To attempt treating everyone the way I want to be treated. Life is full of art and everybody is an artist. The church also exposed me to art and offered me access to closely study the arts.

Currently, the price of your artworks ranges from $1,500 to $10,000. Have you ever been broke?

Yes, I have been broke in the past. I have worked in a liquor store in D.C. I also have been homeless, but thanks to the Creator, I’m now able to make a living and help my family using my hands.

Did you have the chance to meet the legendary artist Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian?

Did you?

No, I only saw his artwork at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art.

Once I went to visit Skunder at his place over on U Street in Washington, D.C. I showed and told him how I admire him and his work. I kissed his feet. He was very ill and by himself when I saw him. Even though I know many artists die in despair, I pray to God to offer me a better fate.

Are you scared of death?

(He bursts out laughing and grabs his guitar. As he stands playing his guitar robustly, he looks at me, confused but still giggling)

Why do you ask that question?

Because I heard most artists, especially ones who paint or draw self-portraits, love themselves and life so much that they cling to it more than other people do.

That may be true. Even though my artwork so far has tended to be gloomy, I myself am an extremely happy person. I am constantly attempting to free myself from negative, constricted feelings, and to increase harmony within myself. I used to paint many rattraps without knowing it was coming from my unconscious mind that was crowded with many unleashed thoughts and emotions. To tell you the truth, more than death I am scared of any imprisonment.

Me too!

Then you should understand why I hesitated to allow you to quote the sentence that you wanted to use for your article on the Second Annual Blen Show. To help you understand more, I would like to show you a paragraph from my book Kejzet.

We can’t understand many things through words; it shouldn’t be that way either. Our first mistake is that we attempt to understand everything with a specific terminology. We should know that there are ways and ideas beyond words.

Misunderstanding is rampant. When I was in Addis, I enjoyed staying around the Addis Ababa University to visit friends. While many were extremely supportive, some strongly believed that the younger artists shouldn’t follow my footsteps because they thought I was “crazy.” I actually did not mind that title; it freed me from other restrictive labels.

The one thing that I would like people to learn from me is to think globally – about the big picture – the Creator. I want people to avoid divisions through ethnicity, language, color, education level or any other grouping, and to find ways to enjoy every moment without judging others.

As Daniel Taye puts down his guitar, he politely asks me to leave the studio for ten minutes so that he could figure out what energy presided in his space prior to my entry. He explains that he must repossess full control of the place that he had before.

For additional information on the artist’s work please visit and 28/ethiopian.taye/

Self-Portrait of Artist Daniel Taye
The Artist in his Studio

Internet links

Daniel Taye's web site