Society shuns some art as disgusting. I’m tackling false conceptions about what is creative while training Africa’s new generation of artists.

A project that I’ve started called AmaArts aims to cultivate and train the next generation of African artists, raise awareness of global issues and tackle misconceptions about what constitutes artistic beauty.

Many artists, in Africa and elsewhere, have been stifled by false perceptions within their societies that their art is disgusting. In my country, Ethiopia, some of us have been called “shemane” — an insult in our language.

Society’s refusal to accept artworks can limit many artists’ freedom of expression. Artists should not be rejected by society for their artistic expression.

Because some people have gossiped about me as if my art was somehow wrong, I have chosen to do my work at the zoo where I can think without inhibition. This gives me a sense of inner peace.

My eye is not usually drawn to art that many people classify as ideal and exquisite. Artwork that most people find interesting might not evoke the same feelings in others. Having a pleasing or attractive appearance does not guarantee that art is appealing or pleasing.

I particularly enjoy the hidden meaning that an author is conveying to a reader. By fostering creativity and expression, some art that was deemed disgusting, shocking or taboo has, over time, had a significant impact on art history.

With other artists, I am helping dispel misconceptions about some art while raising awareness of international issues including global warming, overpopulation, climate change, resource preservation and drought.

Three questions to consider:

  1. What is the author trying to accomplish with AmaArt?
  2. Do you think there is a universal definition of beauty?
  3. The author says, “some art that was deemed disgusting, shocking or taboo has, over time, had a significant impact on art history.” Can you think of examples of art that were shunned by the general public at a certain time, only to be appreciated later?

Amanuel Bekalu is an Ethiopian artist, songwriter and music producer. A graduate of News Decoder partner school the African Leadership Academy, he is currently on a gap year before attending university in the United States. Bekalu is chief technology officer of Johannesburg-based E-verse, which offers website development, administration and maintenance, as well as coding courses to students who are interested in becoming computer scientists. He established the AmaArt project, which aims to train the next generation of African artists by raising awareness of global issues such as global warming, overpopulation, climate change and droughts.

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WorldAfricaWatch: I’m dispelling misconceptions about “disgusting art”