Self portrait created in 1961
|Died||4 May 2003 (aged 65)|
|Known for||Painting, Sculpture|
Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian (July 22, 1937 – May 4, 2003) was an Ethiopian-Armenian painter and art teacher. He spent much of his life living and working in the United States. He was one of the first, and by far the most acclaimed, contemporary Black artists from the African continent to gain international attention.
Boghossian was born on July 22, 1937, in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, one and half years after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. His mother, Weizero Tsedale Wolde Tekle, was Ethiopian. His father, Kosrof Gorgorios Boghossian, was a colonel in the Kebur Zabagna (Imperial Bodyguard) and of Armenian descent. Kosrof's father, Gregorios Boghassian, an Armenian trader, had established a friendship with Emperor Menelik II and worked as a traveling ambassador in Europe on behalf of the Emperor.
Boghossian's father was active in the resistance against the Italian occupation and was imprisoned for several years when Boghossian was a young child. His mother had set up a new life apart her children and although both he and his sister Aster (Esther) visited their mother frequently, they were raised in the home of their father's brother Kathig Boghassian. Kathig, who was serving as the Assistant Minister of Agriculture, together with other uncles and aunts brought them up during their father's imprisonment.
He attended a traditional Kes Timhert Betoch kindergarten where he was taught the Ge'ez script. In primary and secondary school, he was taught by both Ethiopian and foreign tutors and become fluent in Amharic, Armenian, English, and French. He studied art informally at the Teferi Mekonnen School. He also studied under Stanislas Chojnacki, a historian of Ethiopian art and watercolor painter.
As a teenager, and African American neighbor not only gave him his first feedback on his drawings, but introduced him to jazz, and throughout his life jazz was often playing in the background as he worked on paintings. He claimed jazz to be "a very heavy movement of the twentieth century. It is not one person; it is not one thought, it is a combination of genuises... the constand modulation of concepts... it is the one thing we have, black folks, as artists...".
Boghossian was married to Marily Pryce, but later ended in divorce. He has two children, Aida Mariam and Edward Addisu, a sister, and four grandchildren. Boghossian died on May 4, 2003, at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC. He was 65.
Political and Cultural Views
While he spent some time in Paris, Boghossian talked often about political and cultural influences, citing Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Cheikh Anta Diop and well as creative forces in modern art like Paul Klee. Not very well-known painters like Gerard Sekoto introduced him to the gread Cuban surrealist painter, Wifredo Lam. He also worked closelt with a group of West African artists.
We can even see the radical politics of Black Power and the Black Arts Movement in the United States and how they seem to have inspired his paintings with coded and overt political themes, such as Black Emblem (1969), The End of the Beginning (1972), and DMZ (1975). His involvement with the Black Arts Movement impacted his work in more ways than just one. His earlier paintins depended on the combination of biomorphic forms and minutely detailed abstract notations, he populated the spaces of his new work with bold, polychomatic, geometric, and "African" motifs.
Style and Technique
Taking a look at his heritage, Ethiopia has a long tradition of wall painting in churches and of illustrated manuscripts reaching back to the eighth century. It is from this cultural fountain that once included three-fourths of Ancient Egypt, the builders of the great pyramids and the cradle of civilization, that the drew inspiration from. He also mined his early childhood memories, Coptic markings in Biblical art, illuminated church manuscripts, and ancient scrolls to stamp iconic signatures thick and crusty, flat and smooth, on canvas, hardboard, bark cloth, aluminum or paper.
When considering his art as a whole, he really focused on color being used to illuminate, to create super imposed dimensions of form and shape, which in turn enables the viewer to first see the painting as a unit, then as a simultaneous breaking up of images, and finally as a recognition of the identities. He wanted his viewers to look at his paintings and make up their own interpretations, all the while imagining the figures on the canvas being brought to life, rather than just being placed on there, he greatly valued the importance of rhythm in his paintings.
Boghossian won second prize at the Jubilee Anniversary Celebration of Haile Selassie I in 1954. The next year he was granted a government scholarship which allowed him to travel to London to study at the Saint Martin's School of Art, Central School of Art and Design, and Slade School of Fine Art, and two years later to Paris, where he studied and taught at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1966 he returned home, teaching at Addis Ababa's School of Fine Arts until 1969. In 1970 he emigrated to the United States, first to Atlanta, where he became acquainted with the Black Arts Movement and taught at Atlanta's Center for Black Art, then he moved to Washington D.C., where he taught at Howard University from 1972 until 2001.
Boghossian was the first contemporary African artist to have his work purchased by the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1963. In 1966, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired his painting Juju's Wedding (1964).
In 1977, he became the first African to design a First Day Cover for a United Nations stamp. He was commissioned by the World Federation of United Nations Associations. His pen and ink drawing on the theme of "Combat Racism" for the cover and the accompanying stamp were issued on September 19, 1977.
In 2001, Boghossian worked with Kebedech Tekleab on a commission called Nexus for the Wall of Representation at the Embassy of Ethiopia in Washington, D.C. The work is an aluminum relief sculpture (365 x 1585 cm) mounted on the granite wall of the embassy. Nexus includes decorative motifs, patterns and symbols from Ethiopian religious traditions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other indigenous spiritual practices incorporating symbolic scrolls and forms representing musical instruments, utilitarian tools, and regional flora and fauna.
Most recently, Boghossian is represented in New York by the Contemporary African Art Gallery.
The umbrella organization for Ethiopia's oldest secular schools is named after him, the Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts.
- Haile Selassie First Prize for Fine Arts, 1967.
- Contemporary African Painters, First Prize, Munich, Germany, 1967.
- Twenty-Ninth Annual Show of Black Artists First Prize, Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia, 1970.
- District of Columbia Certificate of Appreciation.
- United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid Certificate of Appreciation, 1984.
- City of Miami Beach, Florida, Certificate of Appreciation, 1985.
- Ethiopian Embassy's Excellence Award in 2000.
- Contemporary Ethiopian art at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art.
- Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
- National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C.
- The Studio Museum in Harlem.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building in Addis Ababa.
- Cotter, Holland (2003-05-18). "Skunder Boghossian, 65, Artist Who Bridged Africa and West". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- Adejumobi, Saheed A. (2006). The History of Ethiopia. Greenwood Press. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-313-32273-0.
- Legesse, Selamawit (2005). "Skunderism (The Third Annual Blen Art Show)". Blen. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- Boghossian, Alexander Skunder (10 March 2010). "Alexander Skunder Boghossian". Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire. 10 (1): 126+.
- Debela, Achamyeleh (April 2004). "A Jewel of a Painter of the 21st Century (1937-2003)". Prepared for Arts Council of the African Studies Association Conference: 13th Triennial Symposium on African Art, 04/04. Blen. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
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- Barnes, Bart. "Ethiopian Artist Alexander 'Skunder' Boghossian". The Washington Post. WP Company. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
- Rowell, Charles Henry (2017). "Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian". Callaloo. 40 (5): 7–9. doi:10.1353/cal.2017.0148. S2CID 198678260. ProQuest 2273753093.
- Tritobia, Benjamin H. (1972). "Skunder Boghossian: A Different Magnificence". African Arts. 5 (4): 22–25. doi:10.2307/3334587. JSTOR 3334587.
- "Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian. Ethiopian Passages: Dialogues in the Diaspora". National Museum of African Art. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- "Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian". National Museum of African Art. Archived from the original on 27 December 2015. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
- "Nexus". National Museum of African Art. 2003. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- "Skunder Boghossian". Debre Hayq Ethiopian Art Gallery. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- "Skunder Boghossian". Contemporary African Art Gallery. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- Rowell, Charles Henry; Karg, William (2017). "Remembering Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian: An Interview with William Karg". Callaloo. 40 (5): 14–18. doi:10.1353/cal.2017.0150. S2CID 198779426. ProQuest 2273752556.
- Sturgis, Ingrid (2003). "Ethiopian Passages: Contemporary Art From the Diaspora". Black Issues Book Review. 5 (5). ProQuest 217754771.
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