Far from being an artist seeking his roots, Gedewon (born 1939, Bagemdir, Ethiopia, died 1995, Därtähal, Ethiopia) was one of the finest practitioners of poetry and rhetoric in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Along with his religious studies, he was secretly initiated into talismanic art, a discipline used for prayer and healing. Reaching back as far as the origins of Christianity in Ethiopia (i.e., to the fourth century), talismanic art draws on the same Hellenic sources as Arab alchemy and the Hebrew Kabala. But while the art remained embryonic in the Mediterranean world, it flourished in Ethiopia as a means to cure patients whose ills were understood in terms of spiritual possession. For Gedewon, talismans were a writing from before writing; they were at once equally figure and text.
Gedewon called his works “talismans of research and study.” The purpose of his art was to heal body and soul through ancient patterns, imagery, and invocation. While employing established models, Gedewon also considered it necessary to question the patient in order to incorporate specific experiences and visions into the talisman. In turn, he would create new images for new problems. His works, executed in pencil, ballpoint pen, or ink on paper, are primarily graphic and within their geometric framework, highly representational. In these “talismans of research and study,” Gedewon is both the healer—and because of his empathy—the patient, artist and hallucinator in another’s stead.