FORUM

BETWEEN SEATTLE AND ERITREA, YEGIZAW MICHAEL FUSES ART + COMMUNITY


Seattle, like so many American cities, is not unique in its "out with the old, in with the new" mentality when it comes to physical structures. As much as there is a push to include art in new development and public spaces, there is also a tragic history of excavating and turning into rubble, icons of place and memory revealed through art. When the popular Ethiopian Habesha restaurant closed, which was at 1809 Minor Avenue, now the location of Kinects, a 35-story residence boasting “art by local artists,” a piece of intricate art by Yegizaw Michael was lost along with the restaurant.


The Roots mosaic counter bar was the perfect complement to the exceptional food served up at Habesha, and a wonderful focal point for those caught staring downward to avoid eye contact in uncomfortable situations. Fortunately, there remain plentiful opportunities to experience the other public art installations by Michael.

Yegizaw Michael creating one of his public artworks

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Yegizaw "Yeggy" Michael is considered to be among some of the most influential Eritrean artists. Sharing his time between his home country and his Seattle home, his work has been exhibited in Kenya, Austria, Uganda, and Eritrea. In Eritrea, his art and leadership led Michael to organize a historic "Artists Against AIDS" nationwide campaign, which serves to educate and sensitize people about the scourge of AIDS.


In a 2020 interview with the Ministry of Eritrea publication, Yeggy as he is affectionately known, said, “my motivation and inspiration starts from what has stayed close to my heart, African people and culture." And his culture is always at the forefront of his artistic expressions. For instance, Market Place, which is displayed at Pike Market, brings the essential role of markets in African culture into the American market experience. The Tree of Life mosaic entry at Central Cinema displays the significant intermingling of rootedness to nature and joy. His wood installation, Visual Rhythm, adorning the Union streetscape at Midtown Square is a depiction of the Central District timeline using Eritrean symbolism and invoking community and familiarity.


Black man in hardhat and orange reflective vest looks up at his colorful sculpture of Eritrean symbols etched on wood blocks
Artist Yegizaw "Yeggy" Michael in front of his Midtown Square installation, Visual Rhythm

His artist statement articulates his “vision to provoke questions about natural cycles, provide a sense of place and to reflect on the movement of time.” Yeggy is also passionate about the necessary exchange of art and culture between US-born Americans of African descent, Africans on the continent, and US African immigrants.


When not creating works for public enjoyment, Yeggy volunteers his time as a Seattle Arts Commissioner, and he serves as the Arts Programs Director at the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association. We are so blessed to have him as part of our arts community! Learn more here about the art of Yegizaw Michael.