Both the Lobby and entrance of ETG Tower in Bole Medhanialem Church, off Cameroon Street, is covered by mosaic art. The images and design are constructed from small pieces of coloured glass and stone arranged in specific patterns. ETG Tower and its mosaic art are the instigation of the 54-year old Eshetu Temesgen (PhD), a senior architect, founder and president of ETG Designers & Consultants Plc. Eshetu has three-decade experience in architecture and engineering.
Mosaic art was started some 4,000 years ago. In the fourth century B.C., Greeks modified and improved the art by creating images of people and animals. By 200 B.C., special pieces called tesserae, small pieces of marble, glass or tile, which are usually only a couple of millimetres in size, were used in mosaics in place of stones and pebbles.
Eshetu, who applied a mosaic to his building about eight years ago, believes that buildings with public interactions should be interactive, give comfort to clients and help release stresses. The decorative art form on his building cost the architect an estimated 700,000 Br to decorate the lobby of the tower.
He commissioned the project to Kefita Studio, established in 2015 .by Gizachew Kebede, Leykun Wondifraw, Nigussu Solomon and Yishak Hagos – all graduates of Alle School of Fine Arts & Design of Addis Abeba University in painting, sculpture and mural art.
“We worked groups of five and took us three months to complete the project,” said Gizachew.
Eshetu, says “Art should be blended and integrated with architecture,” and always feels delighted and refreshed whenever he looks at the design and mosaic work.
Kefita Studio used ceramic to produce the mosaic since the blue colored glass smalt produced with cobalt oxide are expensive and highly taxed import items.
“the adhesives, glues, and fillers that we used are found in the market,” said Gizachew, one of the founders of Kefita.
Artists of Kefita evaluate the potential viewers of the art and the purpose of the building to determine the type of mosaic that fits the specific location.
In addition to ETG Tower, Kefita has produced the art form for different businesses including Odda Tower in Kazanchis; Rift Valley Hotel in Adama; a cultural monument at Gambella City and Benishangul Region State Administrative Council.
Kefita, on the average, charges 10,000 Br to 12,500 Br to create a square meter mosaic pattern.
“Considering the complexity of the art and the time it consumes it is a fair charge,” said Leykun, adding “Still, the art is in its infancy,” he told Fortune.
The process of creating mosaic art consists of four stages. First, the artists evaluate the space and location where the art form is going to appear and consult with the client for inputs. Then, the design is created by hand or using computer graphics. The artists pay special attention to cutting the ceramics using different types of cutters, nippers or pliers, to create different forms.
The ceramic pieces are then fixed on meshed material sections and are readied for transportation to the project site, where they are placed on the walls with adhesives.
An alternative method is for the artists to draw the design on the wall and then attach the materials on the wall following the design.
The art form has become a trend sprouting up business opportunities for retailers and suppliers of ceramic, adhesives and glues.
Wassihun Abdo, 31, a ceramic retailer and sanitary goods for six years in Iri Bekentu, Piassa, is one of them.
“I have four permanent artist customers,” Wassihun said.
Wassihun displays in his store ceramic for bathrooms and kitchens imported from China, Dubai and Spain. He sells a square metre of the product between 350 Br to 450 Br based on their type and quality.
Ceramics in the marketplace have sizes ranges between: 20x20cm and 30x45cm.
Most of the artists take ceramics imported from China and Dubai, as they have simple to break off into different shapes and sizes, according to the artists. The ceramic made in Spain have a thicker nature.
Following the demand for the art form, Alle, the School of Fine Arts & Design at Addis Abeba University, has started to assign students project pieces for graduation work. The school was founded in 1958, as a teaching institute for drawing, painting, sculpture and commercial art.
In 1975, it started training and specialisation in graphic arts. Twenty three years ago the school was upgraded and subsequently incorporated into the Addis Abeba University system.
Under the recent University institutional restructuring, Alle, was amalgamated with Yared Music School and the Theatrical Arts Department and consolidated under one college, Skunder Boghossian College of Performing & Visual Arts.
After graduation, some students are organising in groups and have started business accepting project contracts, according to Getahun Assefa, assistant professor at the school. He has more than a decade experience and currently heads the design unit.
Elias Worku, a 37-year old artist who graduated from Alle in Monumental Painting and Graphic Art 13 years ago, is one of many graduates engaged in private business in painting, graphic and mosaic arts.
“The mosaic business is seasonal,” Elias said, “when one of my graduate group get the business we all gather and complete the work.”
Depending on the size the project, they organize in groups of 15 to 20 to work and deliver quality work on schedule, according to him.
His first assignment was at college, where he was assigned to decorate a private home as a school project with other students.
Azene Bekele (PhD), a prominent scholar on water, land and forest management and former technical adviser for the Ministry of Agriculture & Animal Resources of Rwanda, is one of Elias’s clients.
Elias worked for Azene on a mosaic art depicting a rural neighbourhood of huts and natural scenery with sunset, trees placed over the roof in his modern villa. Six years ago, the artist charged Azene 120,000 Br for the 30Sqm artwork.
Mosaic art created for private residences does not allow the artists to be creative, according to Elias.
“As the owners come up with the design of the art,” he said, “we do have to be creative in our design.”
Considering the difficulty of the work, raw material cost, payments for co-workers and taxes, what they charge is minimal, according to him.
“The aesthetic value of the mosaic art depends on the creativity and skill of the artists in addition to choosing the proper colour and pattern of the mosaics,” said Getahun, the lecturer.