Speech given at the opening of the Roots photography exhibition at Tafari Gallery, Fairfield House, Bath – 3rd January 2015.

Roots - Addishiwot Asfawossen- Fairfield House

Greetings in the name of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I and Her Imperial Majesty Empress Menen Asfaw.

Welcome to friends and visitors to Fairfield House, whichever mansion, community or identity you represent, or however you came to be here today.   You are all welcome.  Give thanks.

My name is Shawn Naphtali Sobers – and I am on the committee of the Friends of Fairfield House, and I coordinate the running of the gallery spaces here.

Today is the official opening of the Roots exhibition by Sis Addishiwot Asfawossen Zeleke – photography from around Ethiopia.  We’ll hear more about the exhibition from Sis Addishiwot herself soon.

I think it’s an important exhibition to hold here, as Fairfield House, as many of you know, was the headquarters of the Ethiopian Government in exile.  Even though Fairfield House was not officially an Embassy, if you think of the concept of an Embassy, as soon as you enter the gates you are in an outpost of the country that that building represents.  So to bring photography of Ethiopia to Fairfield House, made by an Ethiopian born photographer, is vitally important, as it is part of the seal and the contract that this building has with the country that gave this building its global significance.

This temporary exhibition, which will be here until 1st May – is the second in the space that we are now calling the Tafari Gallery.  The first was the Majesty and the Movement exhibition which was here from October until just a few days ago. That will be going to Birmingham soon to be exhibited there, and is then coming back here later in the year to be its permanent home, and will be displayed in a portfolio format.

The Roots photography exhibition opening today represents the first creative arts exhibition to be held here, and it will be the first of many.  The Tafari Gallery will celebrate the creativity within the Rastafari community and the connected communities of Fairfield House.  Rastafari are a creative people – through arts, crafts, design, music, language, fashion, interior design and decoration, even gardening.  Look at work being done in the gardens outside by Ras Oshin, Chris, and others, the structure they built and other beautiful Works.  Part of that creativity from the Rastafari community comes from the need to be resourceful and working within the limitations that we have.  The skill to make something out of nothing, and for making that something look good, and in music – sound good.  I’d say the garden here is symbolic of much of the artworks that come out of the Rastafari community – it has a use, as well as looking good or sounding good – whether that be educational, (and you can see next to the photographs upstairs there are captions for each image which teaches you something about the scene), and other uses of Rastafari arts such as raising awareness of a social issue, retelling history, or for food, clothing and shelter.

His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie understood the need for beauty in this world, in balance with what is needed.  He said –

“A purely materialistic art would be like a tree which is expected to bear fruit without flowering and to sacrifice grace and beauty for mere utility.”

And the Bible is full of accounts of creativity and craftsmanship. Take this account from Exodus 35: 30-36, about Bazeleel – who was the engraver of the Ark of the Covenant.

“And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship. And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass.  And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aho-liab, of the tribe of Dan. Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work.  Then wrought Bezaleel and Aho-liab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded.

And this is the key point, whether it be music, photography, design, or fashion (even a scarf or a hat), that the pursuits of making that art has a higher purpose than making art-for-art-sake for our own glory, or in the pursuit of making money.  Though I do believe in the right for artists to make money from their art – there should be no shame in that at all – there is also the pursuit that through the art, some awareness would be raised – as I said, maybe educational, history lesson, in the praise of God, or in service of the community.

So this gallery is no Tower of Babel.  The Tafari Gallery has a responsibility, and is it one that we do not take lightly.

So back to this very special day and the official opening of Roots exhibition by Addishiwot Asfawosen Zeleke.  This is her first exhibition in the UK, and as I say it is most fitting that her work is displayed in this wonderful and important location. Addishiwot is a qualified photographer and artist, founder of Addis Creativity, a jewellery and clothing designer, and you will see her works on display also today.  Addis is well travelled and speaks many languages and this has influenced and inspired a lot of her work. So without further ado, I introduce you to the talented, beautiful and smiley Addishiwot Asfawosen Zeleke. 

Blessed Love. Rastafari!


Addishiwot Asfawosen Zeleke (left) speaking about her photographs with some of the audience.

Members of the Rastafari community looking at the photographs.

The next exhibitions at the Tafari Gallery will be visual arts created specifically for this location by Sis Simbah Pilé – 31st May – 12 Sept.

Sept – end of this calendar year will be an in-house exhibition to coincide with the anniversary of His Majesty receiving Freedom of the City.

Jan – April 2016 – Ras Jata Creations – inspired by traditional Ethiopian style paintings of Biblical and Rastafari themes.



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