Fitsum Shebeshe is keeping it personal. The artist and curator who moved to Baltimore from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2016 to attend MICA’s Curatorial Practice program has made his studio work and his curatorial projects about this shift, which exposed him to a wide spectrum of cultural and existential questions.
The cultural shock of the global move was especially extreme for Shebeshe, who had not traveled outside of Africa before arriving in Maryland. Questions of assimilation and relocation remain the subjects Shebeshe addresses in both his planned exhibitions as well as his large scale landscape paintings.
Shebeshe has been a curator for the Harmony Hall Arts Center in Fort Washington, Maryland for the past three years, a position and a community center that are funded by the state arts council. He explains that the center’s budget has dedicated funds for exhibitions which has granted him a certain amount of freedom to curate the kinds of shows he is interested in producing and create a platform for artists he finds deserving— January 2023’s show was a solo exhibition of Baltimore artist Christopher Batten.
Shebeshe has found the flexibility of his current work refreshing after working as an assistant curator at the National Museum of Ethiopia for over three years prior to graduate school. At home in Ethiopia he was more constrained in what kinds of shows he could produce. He says, “the country Ethiopia has been, somehow, socialist, before the current government. There is still that tendency of the people in power wanting nice things said about the government. They want the national museum to showcase people whose paintings show infrastructure, roads, or farming.”
“It’s a censor you are fighting there, there’s always a challenge,” he says. “You find yourself fighting alone. That was always a challenge throughout my time there, but hopefully it has improved.”