It was while watching the news during the holiday season last year that Alitash Kebede suddenly realized the severity of the African famine.
“There I was, accepting invitations to this party, and that party and in the midst of it I saw all those people who didn’t have the barest of necessities,” Kebede recalled recently. A Los Angeles art consultant and private art dealer, she was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. What she saw hit home.
“It was the first time since I had left home 15 years ago that I realized what Ethiopia had come down to,” she related, her eyes turning red with tears. “It was the most devastating human tragedy I had ever seen.”
So moved, Kebede organized “Artists Against Hunger” (taking her cues from the British rock-charity project Band Aid), a fund-raising art exhibition at the William Grant Still Community Art Center in Los Angeles. . Forty artists from across the nation have donated abstract and figurative works to the multimedia exhibit (running through Oct. 27). Kebede hopes sales will raise $35,000 that will be channeled through either United Nations Children’s Fund or the Black American Response to the African Crisis for food or medical aid.
Kebede, 30, came to the United States in 1970 to finish high school. She later received an undergraduate degree in political science, with a minor in art, from Linfield College in Oregon.
Calling around the country, Kebede invited both well-known and emerging artists to donate works of their own choice, or those she herself selected. She then coordinated her efforts with management at the William Grant Still gallery.
Artists in the fund-raising exhibit include Frank Romero, who has donated a bright pastel titled “Crouched Nude”; John Outterbridge, director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, who has given “Broken Dance,” a playful mixed-media sculpture of a dancer with a tiny metallic head and huge leather thighs; and Betye Saar, who has donated “Ye Little Log Cabin in the Woods,” an “assemblage box” filled with faded flowers and an old pocket knife.
Among other artists in the show, which also includes photography, prints, acrylics, oils and watercolors, are Alonzo Davis, Frederick Eversley, Samella Lewis and John Biggers. Kebede said the response she received from each artist asked to participate was “incredible.”
“People just felt for this tragedy, and it’s hard to say no when you’re in a position to help.”
The only real hitch she encountered in the organizing process involved a city ruling that prohibits fund raising on city sites. However, City Councilman David Cunningham (his 10th District includes the William Grant Still Center) arranged approval for the show at the community gallery. The exhibit is carrying the sponsorship of both Cunningham and the city’s Cultural Affairs Department.
Recently, Kebede saw another television news report about the famine in Africa. Like last year, she was deeply affected by it, she said, but this time in a different way: “I could see that things have improved in Ethiopia. I saw a clothes line with nice clean clothes and children playing, actually jumping rope in the street. Though more must be done, I was pleased to see these changes.”