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Skunder Boghossian. An Artist Who Bridged Africa and West

January 9, 2014

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Skunder Boghossian, an Ethiopian-born artist who played an important role in introducing European modernist styles into Africa and who, as a longtime resident of the United States, became one of the best-known African modern artists in the West.

Time Cycle III 1981 Embossed bark cloth 122 x 122 cm. (48 x 48 in.) Lent by Contemporary African Art Gallery, New York During a trip to Uganda, Skunder collected bark that was used locally for burial. He worked the bark into a somber, totemic composition, one that derives its strength as much from the beauty of the materialÌs natural hues and textures as from the mysterious forms with which he endows it. One senses a profound narrative about the grandness of Mother Nature complete with volcanoes, lava flows and mountain formations (Solomon Deressa, "Skunder in Context", Ethiopian Bir, January/February 1997, p. 27). The artistÌs ongoing fascination with the cosmological is here given an abstract, lyrical form.

Alexander Skunder Boghassian was born in 1937 as the son of an Ethiopian mother and an Armenian father in Addis Abeba then went with a grant from the Ethiopian government to London in 1955, where he studied at St. Martin´s School of Art, the Central School of Art and Design, and the Slade School of Fine Art. In 1957 he moved to Paris, where he studied and taught at the École national supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Académie de la grande Chaumière till 1966, when he went back to Ethiopia and taught for three years at the Fine Arts School in Addis Abeba. He then became extraordinary professor for painting at Howard University in Washington D.C., to which he was followed by some of his Ethiopian students, but from 2000 on, he again devoted himself wholly to painting.

Skunder-BoghossianIn 1984 he was handed the Certificate of Appreciation of the United Nations´ Special Committee against Apartheid by the mayor of the District of Columbia, Marion Barry.

Skunder Boghassian is one of Africa´s best-known modern artists, and his works continue to be shown at many international exhibitions. He was the first Ethiopian artist to have his works bought by the Musée d´Art moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a set of his works was bought by the Smithsonian Institution in 1992.

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