CLEVELAND’S INTERNATIONAL CULTURAL GARDEN PARK
This beautiful riverine park, given to Cleveland by Rockefeller in 1898, stretching from Lake Erie to University Circle, evolved into a large multi-cultural peace garden. First was the Shakespeare Garden in 1916. Since then, plots have been granted to many cultural communities to develop gardens. This is the world’s only multi-national, multi-cultural peace garden park.
Following petition of the Ethiopian community in Cleveland, on November 12th 2013 at 6:30 pm at Judson Manor ( 107 and Chester avenue in Cleveland) ,Dr Carl Robson, Mr Aklilu Demessie, Mr Scott Embacher and Dr Surafel K Gebreselassie successfully argued Ethiopia’s unique historical and cultural role to the executive board of the Cleveland Cultural Garden Federation. Ethiopia ,the first from Africa, was awarded a site.
FROM CONCEPTUALIZATION TO REALIZATION: DEDICATION OF A GRAND MOSAIC FROM THE ‘LAND OF ORIGINS’
Phase 1 of our garden project, a ‘Grand Mosaic’ on both sides of a wall 12 x 18 ft., was envisioned, developed and completed by our Design Committee after six years of discussion, community planning and fund-raising, and in spite of financial shortages. The cost was higher than anticipated. But on August 24th, 2019, we had a wonderful Unveiling Ceremony. Among those present were Ethiopian Ambassador Fitsum Arega, Mayor Frank Jackson of Cleveland, and other dignitaries. Our guest of honor was Artist Professor Zerihun Yetmgeta of Addis Ababa University, who designed the Grand Mosaic and conceptualized the Stele Arch (to be Phase 2). Our Mosaicist, Ernesto Spinelli originally from Kulubi, Ethiopia, who fabricated the Mosaic from Zerihun’s paintings was present, and also Art Historian Dr. Ray Silverman from the University of Michigan, to introduce Artist Zerihun, his long-time friend, having introduced his art to America in the 1990’s. Interestingly, from that time, we already had Zerihun’s painting ‘Tarik’ (‘History’) – copy below – and had been referring to it for ideas, not realizing we would find him. Then, 25 years later, unexpectedly we found Professor Zerihun himself in Addis Ababa, happy to help with the project! In a traditional style, this Mosaic depicts six million years of the history of Ethiopia – ‘The Land of Origins’— from the dawn of humanity to globalization. It is the world’s only monument to Ethiopia’s remarkable history, unity, and diversity. Among the Cultural Gardens, it is a unique work of art.
MOSAIC CONTENT: 5 PANELS OF ETHIOPIA’S UNIQUE HISTORY and CONTRIBUTION TO INDEPENDENCE OF NATIONS
1. Cradle of humankind: Lucy (Dinknesh), 3.2 million years old, was the first significant hominid fossil find, in 1974 by paleoanthropologists from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, which is adjacent to the Cultural Garden Park. However, older, even more astounding fossils, dating back six million years, have been found by teams under the Museum’s present Curator of Anatomy, Dr. Yohannes Haile Selassie.
Also depicted in this panel are ancient rock paintings from 4,000 year ago near Dire Dawe.
2. Diversification within Ethiopia of 86 ethnic groups and almost as many languages is exemplified by the Konso People as one representative of the many – a group from the South of Ethiopia who first initiated terraced farming several thousand years ago.
3. Ancient Civilizations, Religions of Ethiopia: Foremost is the Axumite Empire – 200 BC to 1000 AD—with builders of uniquely carved, monolithic stelae 79 feet tall. They became icons of Ethiopia with an enduring impact on art and architecture. Queen of Sheba’s son by King Solomon is said to have brought Judaism (known later as Be’te Israel) along with the Ark of the Covenant, per ‘Kibre Negest’ narrative, now said to be ensconced in a chapel in Axum. Christianity was proclaimed by Emperor Ezana in 330 A.D. In 615 A.D., early followers of Mohammad from Mecca were given asylum by the Axum Emperor, and Islam has become a major religion in Ethiopia. About 1200 A.D. Emperor Lalibela, in a town that now bears his name, carved 11 amazing monolithic Orthodox churches based on Axum Stelae designs. Then, also about 1200 AD, Harar, now in Ethiopia, became (and remains) one of the world’s most influential centers of Islam, at that time building 99 mosques, one for every name of Allah in the Koran. Most Be’te Israel emigrated to Israel in recent times. Christianity and Islam are the two main religions of Ethiopia today, being very compatible when outside influences are not factors.
4. Nation-Building, King of Kings, Independence – Rule by Emperors from Menelik I, legendary son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba, to Haile Selassie. The Emperors, known as ‘King of Kings’, unified the nation and resisted European Imperialism, climaxing with the defeat of a large Italian army at the Battle of Adwa on March 1st, 1896, by Emperor Menelik II, Empress Taytu, and a remarkable coalition of patriotic regional rulers who put aside their differences and joined forces, surprising the Italians and defeating them, thus maintaining Ethiopian independence. This was a stunning defeat and a rallying cry for subjugated peoples around the globe, boosting morale, ethnic pride, and independence determinism. The empty throne in the mosaic indicates the interruption in 1974 of the ancient Solomonic Line of Emperors.
5. Globalization, depicted with a prominent ‘T’beb’ (Eye of Wisdom); also the proverb “Today’s flowers, tomorrow’s fruit”. The second eye is the ‘globe’ of globalization, with an encircling moon of technology. Finally is a message from Professor Zerihun on behalf of the imperative of Art, in the form of a symbolic doorway: the implied message: “We must keep knocking on the Door of the Visual Arts.”
MOSAIC SIDE 2: LOSS OF HABITAT, GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE – THE UNTHINKABLE POSSIBILITY
The other side of the Mosaic Wall displays Professor Zerihun’s painting from 1987, “When the Sun Gets the Moon”, indicating destruction of forests (e.g. Ethiopian forest coverage once 60% is now less than 1%), and large polluted cities. We have made the Sun a destructive force in spite of technology that enabled travel to the Moon. Environmental decay, habitat loss, fossil fuels, other pollutants, yielding climate change, crop failures, extinctions, zoonotic diseases (SARS, Covid 19), population movements, hostilities, reactive leaderships, destructive military responses– all are intertwined. We have come to the unthinkable possibility of the collapse of civilization as we know it. Yet contrary to the connection of these events, logic fails and destructive policies continue. This painting is a plea, from the land where human life began, to redirect efforts, work together in peace, restore the environment. This was elegantly stated by Michael Higgins, President of Ireland, on his visit to Addis Ababa November 5, 2014, commemorated in a plaque on the mosaic:
“In the very long term, in the multi-secular temporal horizon which is that of Lucy, we are but immigrants in time and space – transient travelers who must do our best to pass on to the next generation a hospitable ground on which they can flourish.”
AMPLIFYING GLOBAL IMPACT: PHASES 2 AND 3
The Unveiling received good publicity here and in Ethiopia. Ambassador Fitsum Arega was impressed that this project was conceived and accomplished by our small Ethiopian community. The Mosaic is impressive, yet we need project completion for global impact: 1) historical pride, 2) support for national unity – democracy with diversity – and 3) a plea for worldwide cohesion & environmental restoration. It is desirable to build the next 2 Phases together: Phase 2, a 35 ft. tall stone arch, an Axum Stele in Silhouette, and Phase 3, a stone replica of a Lalibela church doorway and patio in the shape of a map of Ethiopia. We have hopes for this Garden – a ‘Monument for the Ages’ – attracting worldwide attention and functioning as a unique gathering place. We are determined to complete Phases 2 and 3 as soon as possible.
For more including recent updates and to consider donating to complete phase II and III , visit the GoFundMe page created by Scott