Cartoonist Alemayehu Teferra

Alemayehu, popularly known in London as Alex, is an animation artist and political cartoonist specializing in Ethiopian current affairs. “Cartoons play a tremendous role in exercising freedom of expression,” he says referring to the immediate context of ongoing knife-edge political tension throughout the Horn of Africa country. “Kusella” is the ancient Geez word for cartoons so the art-form is not new to us culturally,” he says. “I’ve known quite a number of cartoonists who have published their work in newspapers, however, Europeans cartoonists have illustrated so much more history than we have.” Alex believes that the future generation now has better chances of aspiring to cartoons as references and depictions of political and historical process, “The hardest times are over now, thankfully,” he says remembering the times when he ran into dangerous situations including when personal attacks. The challenges are plentiful even today but on a different scale. “Its important to be able to exhibit my work and obtain public support,” he explains, “Cartoons may have a comical side but this is not always understood by my highly diverse audience – humor for one can be insult to another and there is no assurance that hypersensitivities to cartoon culture have been completely removed.” Finding allies and exhibition space in Addis Ababa demands both patience and perseverance, “I have earned many friends through my cartoons as well as a few enemies,” he chuckles. Alex moves on to explain the lens he uses to impersonate political personalities without getting personally attached to them. The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, has not escaped his eye. “It demands both courage and a measure of self-containment to produce the right flavor . . . just enough to provoke light-hearted discussion amongst politicians themselves. . .and its important to make them laugh, and allow them to experience a sense of trust so that the art-form can be appreciated freely not only between them but also within wider circles,” he explains. In this sense, Alex feels a sense of responsibility and obligation to take on the additional responsibility of role-modeling for the younger generation. “I only started drawing Ethiopian characters after I came to Europe – I found our features are great for fine art paintings but rather tricky for cartoons. Then I discovered I had a knack and a love for drawing maternal figures . . , no doubt from so many influences that stay with me from my childhood years. Eventually, I took my chances on key figures such as the late Emperor Haile Selassie and Presidents Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi. Those historical figures can now be seen and visualized by the younger generation in many forms including through cartoons.” Alex uses all kinds of mixed media material to produce his work. His favorite is also what he refers to as the simplest, which is digital media. He hopes that he will never again have to hide behind his creative work again, “Its only fair to have your name against what you have created, you know what I mean?” he asks with a jolly smile and chuckles again. Please like and follow at Facebook/Alemayehu Tefera.

Alemayehu Tefera Amharic language interview with Balageru TV.