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-
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.
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
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?
moment – any moment, and the satisfaction I feel after completing
In general, do you think Ethiopians lack
interest in arts?
not! Similar to anyone else, Ethiopians also appreciate art that
talks to them.
brought you to the United States?
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
did you learn from growing up as a deacon?
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?
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.
you have the chance to meet the legendary artist Alexander “Skunder”
I only saw his artwork at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art.
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.
you scared of death?
bursts out laughing and grabs his guitar. As he stands playing
his guitar robustly, he looks at me, confused but still giggling)
do you ask that question?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.blengrafix.com/dt/