Selome Muleta


Selome Muleta on the relationship between Portraiture and Still Life,

Inner Reflections and the Power of Art



The world is currently facing many challenges, and a number of us may find ourselves reflecting on certain matters. Throughout those periods the arts can become a tool to help alleviate emotions, highlight causes and struggles, act as a sanctuary or reflect ideas. Collapsing Space, an exhibition at Addis Fine Art London, displays a series of paintings by Selome Muleta exploring womenhood in states of inner reflections and the relationship between portraiture and still life.

Muleta unifies those two genres within her paintings, showcasing them as one, that an environment forms part of a person's being. Acting as agents of that unity, are the artist's use of colour and pattern, where a figure's inner reflections feel as though they are lifted up onto the surface, merging together with the still life. Blurred faces, cut offs, a focus on a particular part of the body, alongside energetic brushstroke movements, add to that, but also somehow to stillness, as a dialogue unravels itself between the viewer reflecting back at a portrait's own inner reflections. Those faces becoming any one person, a mirror onto sentiments.  

A calming sense rides over the paintings, as nature and humanity become one, thoughts and challenges drift into floral and other patterns. Selome Muleta's work both vibrant and tranquil, float between dream like and tangible atmospheres. The appealing artist's work occupies everyday spaces and recognizable sceneries, as they collapse into figures, into the portraits, conveying further reflections than what might be portrayed and seen, conveying inner reflections that are felt. 


What first drew you towards art?

My father was a photographer and I spent some time in his studio, that whole experience had quite an impact on me; and so at an early age, I truly believed that I was going to be a creative and more precisely a painter. Being exposed to the arts throughout my childhood drew me towards creativity more so than any other subject at school, where I was mostly concerned and consumed by my passion, art.

What are the different ideas you want to bring out through art that stem from depicting the relationship between portraiture and still life?

I don't see much difference between both entities; what I like to do is bring them together, the still life elements which could be interiors, objects, flowers, nature, in other words, a person's environment along with a portrait. I aim to unify those two aspects, it is honest and sincere as our portrays are embedded within surroundings, therefore I paint them as one. The title of the exhibition in London at Addis Fine Art is 'Collapsing Spaces', which relates to this question, spaces form part of us and vice versa. 

I would like for plants and flowers to consist of the creative process, for people to take them as an integral part of it. With much concern to the earth's own environment and climate change, painting nature as one with portraiture, is just my way to say that I am inclined for it to be part of our surroundings and our daily life, as well as our conversations. I have holistic approach to my work.


COLLAPSING SPACE VIII, 2021, Acrylic and oil pastel on canvas

COLLAPSING SPACE X, 2021, Acrylic and oil pastel on canvas

COLLAPSING SPACE IX, 2021, Acrylic and oil pastel on canvas

You explore womanhood in your art, showcasing the everyday, or women in moments of inner reflection, who are the characters you portray made up of? Some of the faces of the women you paint are cropped or blurred, is it done with an intention to highlight certain aspects or ideas, or do you go with the flow of the paintbrush and your feelings of the day? 

I don't think of a particular person when I paint a portrait. Subconsciously maybe there could be certain individuals that I might have encountered throughout my day or week that may be immersed within the canvas, however, the portraits are not specific to any one person, they represent the feelings I want to bring across through portraiture. 

Painting faces which are sometimes cut off or blurred, is not necessarily where my focus is at, I go with the flow of each painting and with each figure portrayed comes a particular focal point. It could be on the hands, the back, a certain part of the body, or even the face, I don't think about it, it comes through as I paint. 



What are your thoughts on how the art world/we all, can engage in ensuring gender equality in art? 

Being an artist in Ethiopia regardless of gender is very difficult. Being a women artist hasn’t inhibited me more than other artists. The gender question here is one point, but the issues of being creative whichever gender one is, are incredibly challenging.

Could you tell us a bit about those challenges?

As a developing country, Ethiopia is economically very challenged; within this situation, it is very difficult for parents to accept that their child would want to be an artist. Most feel it would be unthinkable due to the economic strains there are in the country, and would prefer their children to pursue other routes. Therefore even receiving some form of encouragement not just to pursue creativity, but throughout our paths, is hard to come by. 

There are many other issues, including finding art materials. Furthermore, the school system does not allow for creatives to come into those spaces and fully develop creatively. It does not have enough outreach to do so. It is quite a tough environment to be an artist in. 

You spent some time training children in Hawassa Town,

Around the age of 19 when I was living in Hawassa, there was a space where children from the ages of 5 to 14 would be able to go to rather than be on the streets. We would provide fun activities for them, I would draw or sew dresses with the children. Arranging creative pursuits with an aim to ensure the children were busy and stayed off the streets.

Sadly war ravages in many corners of the world, Ethiopia as well, unfortunately had experienced war, do you think art can be a unifying tool? Can it bring people or communities together, does art have that power? 

I believe art can, that it carries a lot of power, and not just in one specific medium. Music, the fine arts, theatre, all of the arts can have quite an impact on us.
Moreover, when people are faced with challenging times, hearing, seeing or feeling something artistic, may help, even for a while, distract from any adversities.

COLLAPSING SPACE VII, 2021, Acrylic and oil pastel on Canvas


You currently have a solo exhibition with Addis Fine Art in London

I am very happy to have the opportunity to show my work in London, and to have received positive responses. The paintings depict inner reflections and unifying portraiture with still life, and so it's wonderful to have those works painted in Ethiopia find unity in London and therefore, have the portraits' inner reflections travel even further.


Collapsing Space by Selome Muleta is currently on view at Addis Fine Art in London until 23rd April

All images are courtesy of Lucy Emms and Addis Fine Art. 

Selome Muleta (b. 1992) is currently based in Addis Ababa. Muleta studied art formally at the Abyssinia Fine Art School (2012) and Entoto Polytechnic College (2013-2014). She has had solo exhibitions at Guramayne Art Center, Fendika Art Gallery, Alliance Ethio-Francaise (2019), Tsedal at Addis Fine Art, Addis Ababa (2020), and at Addis Fine Art, London (2022), and has also participated in group shows including From Modern to Contemporary, CFHILL gallery, Stockholm, Sweden (2020).