Ethiopia – Curatorial Research for Luxury Hotel

A primordial landscape of alchemy with origins back to the birth of mankind

Art consultancy for a 5* hotel project requires a specialised set of considerations: the artworks must reflect the ethos of the hotel brand, speak to the unique cultural context of the hotel, as well as creating an air of luxury which exceeds the expectations of high-end travellers.

For a recent luxury hotel project in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, Artelier undertook initial research by travelling to the area to truly engage with the context in which the artworks would be presented. Our mission was to travel off the 'beaten track' to experience the innate rawness of the landscape and get to know local cultures and customs that make this country a relatively undiscovered gem in the African continent.

Discovering a Narrative

Our research would lead us to discover a primordial landscape of volcanoes, sulphur pools and serene lakes with otherworldly qualities. Living in harmony within this dynamic landscape are ancient tribes and communities who have evolved customs and crafts with origins that date back to the birth of mankind. Experiencing the country firsthand would develop subtle themes and spark perceptive connections that would inform our curatorial vision for an art collection. We identified and curated four themes, which were evoked by the artworks in abstracted and unexpected ways.

1 – Tribal Body Painting

A unique feature of Ethiopia is its Omo Valley – the lower Omo Valley is a UNESCO heritage site for its fundamental importance to the study of human evolution and the birth of mankind. We wanted to pay tribute to local indigenous culture in our first theme, which is inspired by the Omo Valley tribes’ traditional body painting.

Body paint has been used as a form of visual expression and communication for millennia among the Omo Valley tribes. Due to the tribes’ distance from modern technology, the compositions and colours they use are inspired from within, using only nature as an external influence. The patterns used are principally inspired by natural and animal imagery, as well as having symbolic meanings.

The hotel artworks would explore the expressive and abstract qualities of the body paint, picking up on their gestural and pictorial motifs.

2 – Volcanic Processes

Erta Ale – an active volcano in Northern Ethiopia, famed for its persistent lava lake – was likewise a key inspiration for the art collections. We incorporated abstract works which evoke volcanic processes and eruptions. Some artworks also inherently had an alchemic quality through the reactive processes involved in their own creation.

The collection would embrace different media to achieve this, from paintings created with minerals and crystals, to abstract photographs of explosions and fireworks. Raku-fired ceramics were also of interest, due to their unusual production in a pit with fire and combustible materials, which makes their surfaces with smoke markings.

3 – Forms & Feathers

Another theme was inspired by Ethiopia’s myriad native birds; we brought together artworks that interpreted the specific features of the endemic bird species, and expressed the subtle qualities of bird forms and feathers through evocative textures and patterns.

Developing abstract hand-made screen prints was especially important to the project, as these hand-made artisan prints can be made in large editions with each one being unique and handle embellished – ideal for the 300+ bedrooms.

4 – Reflected Skies

The hotel's proximity to the banks of Lake Tana led us to consider the serenity of the landscape, and the otherworldly reflection of the sky in the still waters of the lake. The selected artists shared an interest in representing the subtle movements of the water's surface, as well as capturing the impression of sky and water mirroring each other.

Dynamic Arts Community of Addis Ababa

A key part of our vision for the project was to engage with local artists and actively promote the exciting and up-and-coming art scene of the capital Addis Ababa. Through studio visits and on-the-ground networking we discovered a rich tapestry of contemporary art practice and craft, and, with our keen eye for talent spotting and nurturing talent, we were able to collaborate with pioneering emerging Ethiopian artists to develop an art collection wholly unique to the project.

Turnkey Services – from Concept to Completion

Once themes have been researched, they are refined and allocated to different spaces within the hotel –the artworks are carefully curated for each area, to match the mood of the room and the desired impact.

Representations of calm water, for example, are appropriate for bedrooms and bathrooms, bringing the lake's tranquility indoors. Meanwhile, the main lobby is ideally suited for striking pieces, such as large-scale volcanic artworks, that contribute to an impressive atmosphere. Social spaces such as restaurants and bars likewise benefit from elegant, abstract artworks, creating memorable communal spaces.

As well as sourcing existing pieces, our turnkey service includes overseeing the process of commissioning new artworks. Working with both Ethiopian and international artists, we directly consult with artists at every stage of developing the pieces, in order to elevate their work to the standards for prestigious hotel commissions. Our services include full project management of installing and presenting the works in situ, until final sign off.

We have offered an insight into our art consultancy for a 5* hotel project in Manama, Bahrain, in a second article – which can be viewed here.