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Art at MSRI/SLMath: Wosene Worke Kosrof (Opening Reception with the Artist), featuring live music October 20, 2022 (05:30 PM PDT - 07:30 PM PDT)
Parent Program: --
Location: SLMath: Commons Room, 2nd Floor Deck

Art Exhibit: Wosene Worke Kosrof (Opening Reception), featuring live music by guitarist Daniel Fríes

Thursday, October 20, 2022 from 5:30-7:30pm Pacific Time

Address: MSRI, 17 Gauss Way, Berkeley, CA 94720 (Google Maps)
(See below for parking & transit details.)

Free and open to the public. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination required for entry, including booster where applicable. Masks required at all times indoors. Outdoor reception on 2nd floor balcony. Registration is not required for this event.

Visitors: This exhibit is closed to the public except during this special event. We regret that we cannot accomodate requests for access outside of this event. 

Born in 1950 in the Arat Kilo district of Addis Ababa, Wosene Worke Kosrof is a contemporary artist who has achieved international acclaim.  Formally trained at the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts, he completed a BFA with distinction in 1972. Then, as a Ford Foundation Talent Scholar, he was awarded an MFA in 1980 from Howard University in Washington, DC.

Over the past five decades, Wosene (his professional name) has created an internationally recognized artistic signature in his work by being the first contemporary Ethiopian-born artist to use the script forms – fiedel – of his native Amharic as a core element in his paintings and sculptures. This recognizable ‘signature’ emerges from the way he elongates, distorts, dissects and reassembles Amharic symbols – not as literal words – but as images that speak for themselves in a visual language accessible to international audiences. Jazz improvisations underlie his compositions, animating them with rhythmic movements and emboldening his masterful use of color.

The very nature of Wosene’s work – his visual vocabulary, his ‘mapping’ of cultures across time and place, his sensual use of form and color - testifies to the visual power and versatility of language. “I create a visible, interactive surface – like visual icons that are accessible to everyone.  My paintings invite viewers to dialogue with them, to take them into their memory.” A major aspect of Wosene’s works is that they present us with a challenge to look into the art, feel its effect, and to watch what happens. He paints from a place between mastery and uncertainty – and so the viewer too can approach his work to discover meanings that emerge through interaction.

Artist Statement

I am the first Ethiopian-born painter to transform Amharic script forms into contemporary abstract art, and these script-images are now internationally recognized as my ‘artistic signature.’  Amharic, derived from the ancient language Ge’ez, and a major modern language of Ethiopia, is one of the few written linguistic systems indigenous to Africa. Though Ethiopia has centuries-old traditions of two-dimensional art that include script, such as Coptic icon paintings underscored by written narratives, the script symbols themselves were never developed as a fine art form.

During more than forty years, I have produced six major series of paintings in which I define an ‘aesthetics of script’:  Graffiti Magic (1980-1987); Africa: The New Alphabet (1988-1994); Color of Words (1995-2003); Words: From Spoken to Seen (2004-2008); WordPlay (2009-2021); and, in my current series Beyond Words (2021-present), painting becomes an intense process of ‘dialoguing’ with the script images, exploring the versatility and playfulness of their surfaces and interiors, dissecting their ‘skeletal’ structures, observing the ways they move, interact, and intersect.  I elongate, distort, invert, dissect, and recombine their shapes and volumes, and turn them inside out to discover their moods, tempers, and personalities.  On canvas, the script images are divested of literal meanings and become gesture, dance, music, movement, and stories of the human drama.

I don’t pre-sketch paintings; my process is inchoate and exploratory: the interplay of accident and intention, of curiosity and discovery, of mastery and uncertainty. Quick-drying acrylics allow me to easily build and destroy colors and figures on canvas. I use a wide-ranging palette, from bold primary colors to muted tones that look almost repellent on my palette, but that smoothly integrate into a composition; to black and white paintings with bare touches of color; to works in several tones of a single color.

Since my student years at the School of Fine Art in Addis Ababa (1967-1972), American jazz has asserted a significant influence on my painting.  Like jazz music, the script provides a repertoire of dense, yet supple, elements that lend themselves well to visual improvisation. Jazz also influences my sense of composition: like improvisational music, the language symbols can be juxtaposed on canvas in nonverbal ‘word-plays’ to create a visual language of form and color, rhythm and movement.



MSRI / SLMath: Event Access and Parking
17 Gauss Way, Berkeley, CA 94720

Parking information - Campus shuttle bus information

Paid parking (50 cents/hour, via credit card only) is available in the Space Science Laboratory (SSL) lots via PayByPhone smartphone app, website, or phone - please follow instructions on signage. The lot number is 9477. You may pre-register to save time upon arriving, and this app is used throughout campus for future events. You will need your license plate information in order to register your vehicle. 

** Please note a change in parking since previous events: the MSRI Only free parking lot off Centennial Drive is not available for parking after 5pm if the lot gate is closed.

A limited number of accessible parking spaces are available first-come, first-served at the MSRI/SLMath building entrance.

UC Berkeley's Hill Shuttle operates on campus from Evans Hall / Mining Circle to the Space Science Laboratory twice per hour. Non-UC Berkeley or MSRI ID holders can ride for $1/trip, payable via cash only. The final shuttle of the evening departs MSRI at 7:15 PM. (View shuttle schedule) This shuttle drops off at the top of the MSRI driveway and riders will need to walk down the inclined driveway to reach the building.

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