On Culture and Conflict - Online Event

On Culture and Conflict - Online Event

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Journey from preserving wall paintings to providing humanitarian assistance

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On Culture and Conflict

Stephen Rickerby and Lisa Shekede

Stephen and Lisa worked with the Ethiopian Heritage Fund, a UK-based charity, to preserve wall paintings in the rock-cut and built churches of Tigray. They worked on a project to conserve beautiful paintings at the church of Maryam Bahra, which is located about 26 km north of Hawzen in Tigray. Hewn into a sheer sandstone cliff overlooking the secluded valley of the river Sulluh, its impressive interior is considered to be more or less contemporary with its paintings, which are dated to the 15th century. On the pillars are standing apostles and evangelists, and a bishop and archangels flank the sanctuary. A rare dedicatory inscription also survives. Originally much more painting was present and surviving fragments are still visible in many parts of the church. Paintings at risk of collapse and loss were repaired and stabilised, others were cleaned of centuries of dirt and incense smoke. Vivid scenes and figures hidden beneath later plasters and limewash were carefully uncovered.

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The burden of care for the churches rests primarily on local communities and it was recognised that the gains made in preserving the church and its paintings were worthless if the local community could not also participate in, and benefit from them. Like other rural communities, Bahra is poor and isolated, and dependent on subsistence farming. Meetings were organised between the local community and Tesfa Tours, an Ethiopia-based trekking company, to agree logistical arrangements for including the church as a stopping point on walking tours. This brought to the village a small but significant income stream. An education sponsorship programme was started, directed at young girls. Sadly these cross-over initiatives between cultural heritage preservation and local community assistance were halted by the civil conflict that started in November 2020.

Stephen and Lisa founded a new charity, Desta Ethiopia, to be a conduit for humanitarian aid. Since their conservation work had been principally in Tigray and they have well-established contacts there, this region is the focus of the charity’s efforts. But they are helping people in other regions, too, including Afar and Amhara. Their aim is to help the most vulnerable, especially women who have been victims of sexual violence, women and their children who have lost their homes, and destitute children in rural areas.

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Stephen and Lisa will talk about their work restoring church wall paintings in Tigray, their efforts to improve the livelihoods of the local communities and the formation of their new charity to provide humanitarian aid.

All are welcome to join. Please book a free ticket via Eventbrite to confirm your attendance.

Prefer to attend the live event in Finchley? Register for a ticket to the event at the Ethiopian Community in Britain, 2a Lithos Road, London, NW3 6EF.

Stephen Rickerby and Lisa Shekede are wall painting conservators whose portfolio includes major projects in the UK, Egypt, Jordan, China, Bhutan, Cyprus, Malta and Georgia. They began work in Ethiopia in 2013 as consultants to the Ethiopian Heritage Fund with a preliminary survey of the painted churches of Tigray, which was followed by conservation projects at selected churches carried out between 2014 and 2018. In 2019, with funding from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, they embarked on a continuation of the wall painting survey. In 2021 they founded Desta Ethiopia.

Donations to their charity are gratefully accepted. Cheques should be made payable to Desta Ethiopia and sent to Desta Ethiopia, 12 New Street, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, HR9 7DA. Please e-mail Lisa Shekede (lshekede@rickerby-shekede.com) for details of how to make a direct bank transfer to the charity or if you are a UK taxpayer and would like a gift aid form.

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