“Have you ever been to South Omo, Ethiopia? If you have, you’d remember. As the Lonely Planet guide book says: ‘Testing, awe-inspiring & heartbreaking – a journey you’ll never forget. You don’t explore Ethiopia for a relaxing getaway, you venture here to be moved. And moved you shall be.’
“Perhaps nowhere in Ethiopia is this more true than the tribal region of South Omo, the region that inspired this painting. It’s here that many tribes still live in the same way they have lived for centuries. Change has come slowly to this region — if at all.
“What fascinated me — I mean, really took hold and gripped me — was this lack of modernization, the adhering to a traditional nomadic way of life. I’ m not glamorizing, glorifying or judging this way of life; I’m simply an observer. There is much that is good, and much that is very challenging for me.
“Women of the region’s Merci tribe cut their lower lips, right where the lip meets the skin beneath, and insert a lip plate, the size of which indicates wealth. This is done just before marriage, around age 15. This stirs within me questions of humanity. It is said the practice originally started as a way to avoid the slave trade, as slave traders found these lip plates so distasteful. Again, my ideas of how things should be are challenged.
“Female genital mutilation is also still commonly practiced in this region, and interviews with local women indicate support for continuation of this practice. It’s here that I can no longer set aside my personal feelings in favor of impartial observation. I find the brainwashing of young girls into believing mutilating their genitals is a honor — in fact, a good thing — just plain deplorable, and again I am stirred inside.
“To look at this painting, you do not see this controversy; you only see my adoration for a way of life that still, for at least a short time longer, remains untouched by the modern world. No iPhones, no Internet, no social media, just a simpler way of life, all bringing about more questions than answers.
“Why have I chosen to honor this way of life, as opposed to using my art to bring attention to such horrifying acts as female genital mutilation? Because the nature of my art is not, nor ever will be, about political statements or controversy. My art is about the good in life, the joy, the positive things worth honoring. It is in my personal life and my writings that I explore the bigger questions, and by founding Art Aid International, I gave myself a platform for giving back.
“My painting remains an escape for me, an outlet of joy. It is my intent that through seeing what is fascinating about Africa— as in this painting: a nomadic way of life, yet untouched by modernization — you might be inclined to learn more, to ask the serious questions, and come to your own conclusions about things. To begin your own journey into humanity, or further a journey you are already on. Either way, I believe the tribes of South Omo, Ethiopia, if explored, will bring about a stirring in you, as happened to me. It is virtually impossible not to be moved, and you will likely find more questions than answers. And that just may inspire a personal revolution.”
“A Journey Through Ethiopia”
Size: 24 x 24
Medium: Mixed media
To purchase prints of Stephanie’s Ethiopia collection, click here.