Meet Ethiopian artist Yonas Degefa


Yonas Degefa studied Fine Art at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design in Addis Ababa. He graduated in 2012 and since then has exhibited his work at Sheraton Addis, Kriftu Resort and Spa, Harmony Hotel, Makush and St George Interior Decoration and Art Gallery. Yonas joined Blue Nile Art as an artist, when it launched in October 2014, and now has key roles within the Ethiopian offices.

Who did you study under at Alle School of Fine Art and what impact did this have on your practice after art school?
Being able to study at Alle School of Fine Art was a huge turning point for me, as no one from my village was doing art so my acceptance was very special. Throughout school, I studied a range of media including sculpture, calligraphy, graphic and mural art, but after being taught by Mezgebu Tesema, a well-known Ethiopian realist painter, I now focus entirely on paint. Mezgebu has inspired me to be creative with my technique and ideas. He’s also made me very dedicated and focused, which has proved invaluable.

Which artists or movements influence your work? What is it about their style that interests you, and how have you incorporated their techniques into your own?
A huge influence for my practice was my older brother challenging me to paint complicated images from an early age. I learnt to paint figures in motion by joining a martial arts club at 13. After going to university, I was influenced by the unique Ethiopian style of my contemporaries, which led me to look at more day-to-day culture for content, while mixing this with a more abstract style. I’ve always wanted to use paintings to communicate with my audience and frequently use the motif of the eye, as I think it speaks the loudest and is the human centre.

When you see other art in Ethiopia, and Africa more generally, what inspires you the most? How does this work inform and drive your own creative output?
Ethiopian culture is rich with religious iconography. This visual language taught me the importance for the artist to convey a unique language and to use this to communicate with the viewer. The art must be able to talk by itself.

What are your future hopes for art in Ethiopia?
Blue Nile Art has given me new and much wider horizons and new opportunities to learn about international artwork and get useful feedback. For the Ethiopian artist this international exposure gives us a chance to talk about culture and communicate the way people think about art. I think this will be successful, especially since this increased demand for our art will give us the freedom keep working.

Yonas Degefa’s art is available to buy at