African Art

Girma Berta’s Individuality

Girma Berta is a self-taught photographer who uses the unique method of combining painting and photography to capture the life of Africa. Based in Ethiopia, Berta isolates a single figure from his photographs which he then puts against a bright background. In this photo, a young boy is shown, his face cast downward, holding a basket under his arm. Caught mid-stride, the boy appears troubled. His facial expression gives a hint of the hardship he may be enduring. And yet, Berta has not crafted a piece of art that gives reason to the boy’s troubled expression. Berta has chosen instead to isolate a single moment of the boy’s hardship and frame it against a vibrant blue-green background that seems to contrast with the downcast expression of the boy. What is the effect of mixing a fragment of reality, given by the photograph of the boy, with fine art crafted by Berta himself?

In this piece, Berta has chosen to focus on an individual rather than on an entire scene. Individuality is easily lost in a crowd, or in the context of a country’s troubles. Rather than have this young boy be lost in the background of Ethiopia, Berta makes him the subject of the piece. However, while the boy is alone, the vibrant background suggests that he is still surrounded by life. The bright background is telling of the crowd that may have surrounded the boy prior to Berta’s edits. The boy’s downcast expression would threaten to overwhelm the emotion of the piece on its own. Yet, coupled with the background, the piece holds some hint of life’s beauty and the boy’s isolation is lessened.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by your surroundings and to feel small given the larger context. Berta chooses to focus on individuality. The artist takes small parts of a larger picture in order to emphasize that the parts are just as great as the whole to demonstrate that the power of the individual supersedes the circumstances around him or her.