Kebedech Tekleab

In 1989, Kebedech Tekleab arrived in Washington from East Africa with a book of poems and clarity of purpose. She was going to be an art student and she would not live passively in the face of injustice. She enrolled in Howard University where she earned both her Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degrees by 1995.

Kebedech was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but she arrived from a concentration camp in Somalia where she had been a prisoner of war for 10 years.

When she left Ethiopia in 1979, she was only a high school student, but was also an active member of a student-led movement organized to resist the brutal military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam who ruled Ethiopia for 17 years. Mengistu’s junta would decimate a whole generation through mass murder and disappearances. 

As the junta hunted the activists, Kebedech and a few friends fled Addis Ababa on foot for a 600 mile journey through the Ogaden dessert to Djibouti. But a long simmering border dispute between Ethiopia and Somalia flared into a full-blown war.  Kebedech and her friends were captured by Somali soldiers in the dessert and confined in the most dismal conditions. It was bare and colorless. She says of those years, “cruelty and selflessness lived side by side.” It was the beginning of her training as painter and poet.

After graduation, Kebedech worked as a studio artist in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area and taught at several institutions, including Howard University and Montgomery College.  In 2008, she moved to Savannah Georgia and joined the faculty of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). In 2016 She moved to the Art department of CUNY-QCC, where she is currently teaching.

She is a published poet, painter and sculptor.  Her selected shows include exhibits at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois; the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York City; and the Addison Reply Gallery in Washington, DC.

Her commissioned and collected works are on permanent display at several institutions, among them the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie; the Navy Memorial Archives in Washington DC; the American Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC.