The African Building Platform


Branding & Visual Communication in Ethiopia, Part III

Exhibition by Efrem Beyene in cooperation with Addis Ababa Hilton. 14 Sep – 15 Nov 2023.
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I would like to dedicate this exhibition to the late Mr. Wubshet Workalemahu (the pioneer and erudite Ethiopian advertiser), to the proud Ethiopians of the past, and the creative of the present and future.

This is the third exhibition on Ethiopian brands and visual communication. The first exhibition in 2021 by the name Branding and Communication in Ethiopia for over 100 years was open to the public from 14 January – 15 March. Visitors could witness Ethiopia’s proficiency and awareness in the field of branding and visual communication, using strong symbols as early as 1889 (that is during the reign of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu Betul), when branding and visual communication was not perceived to be as essential as it is today in our global economy. The second exhibition in 2022, 28 April – 29 June. So far, at this same place, including this third exhibition, I have presented eighty-four Ethiopian iconic brands and many more to come.

Symbols have always been used to build an emotional and psychological relationship between the message sender and receiver, they are vital tools to establish trust and promise. They say something, they stand for something, they touch and they have history. A reliable sign for a certain advantage; it could be faith, good deed, exercising power, politics, sports, unity, belonging, and today for selling all kinds of merchandise. When you see the Ambo symbol, you suddenly feel thirsty, and when you see The Red Cross symbol you feel a sense of safety and calmness. Usually, the brands with the bigger reach are better known commercially and more expensive.

My interest in older and iconic Ethiopian brands started a few years ago by discovering Addis Ababa Hilton’s logotype designed fifty-four years ago in connection with the hotel’s opening in 1969. I was fascinated by how the beautiful Amharic letters were arranged geometrically in a humble and sublime manner. A respectful gesture by the designer and the management to the old nation and her people with their own distinct alphabet. That is building trust, which I mentioned earlier. And I have to admit that, I have a solid emotional bond with the hotel due to its majestic and fascinating architecture inspired by the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

I kept on looking for more symbols; refreshing memories from my youth, remnants of signs during my visits to Addis, books, and the internet for more. It is with great pleasure to be able to share with you what more I have discovered for this third exhibition. It is indeed fascinating that the leaders of the country during that time, organizations and companies understood the importance of communicating with powerful symbols, employing Amharic letters, and sometimes combined with European characters. The symbols and visual communication you are witnessing in this exhibition are executed skillfully with simplicity, sophistication, and honesty. Still fresh and cutting-edge to this day!
My name is Efrem Beyene. I grew up and studied in Dessie, a small town in the north-central part of Ethiopia and the former capital city of Wollo Region. I was sent to Sweden in 1989 (thirty-four years ago) by the Embassy of Sweden in Addis Ababa to study art. Before I left for Sweden I used to exhibit my paintings at Göthe Institut and Alliance Ethio-Française in Addis Ababa. Today I work as a consultant in Stockholm in the field of Branding and Communication. I am very grateful for everything Ethiopia, my hometown Dessie and my school Woizero Sehin School in Dessie have taught me to meet the challenges in a far and different country with dignity. When you know where you come from, it is much easier to navigate where you are going.

For the third time, I would also like to use this opportunity to thank Mr. Claus Steiner, General Manager of Addis Ababa Hilton, for his genuine interest in this matter and his unconditional support to realize this third exhibition.

Please kindly observe that the products displayed here are not for sale. And taking images of the symbols and reproducing them for commercial purposes will lead to legal consequences.

Thank you for visiting.
Keep Ethiopia plastic-free. Use textile or paper bags!

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© July, 2024 Ketema Journal

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