Wosene Worke Kosrof: WordScapes


Edward Cella Gallery proudly presents new paintings by Wosene Worke Kosrof in his debut exhibition with the gallery, entitled WordScapes.

One of the major established artists of African heritage living in America; the Ethiopian-born artist Wosene has distinguished himself as being the first contemporary artist to use the script forms of his native Amharic language as a core element in his paintings and sculptures. This recognizable signature emerges from the way he elongates, distorts, dissects, and reassembles the characters of the fidäl (syllables) of Amharic, which evolved from the ancient liturgical script of Ge’ez.

Recalling that writing is the basis of civilization and is, in fact, embedded with social existence across space and time; Wosene seeks to engender new forms, histories, and intentions. Uninterested in the inscribing of literal words, Wosene creates abstract images that speak for themselves as a graphic language or visual poetry accessible to universal audiences. Painting from a place between mastery and uncertainty, Wosene’s improvisations underlie his compositions, animating them with rhythmic movements and emboldening his masterful use of color.

Now seventy, Wosene’s recollections of his mischievous childhood in the streets of Arat Kilo, a central district of Addis Ababa, inspire the creation of the work today. Recalling watching black and white Hollywood Westerns in the darkness of the city’s movie houses – their moving images and sound washing over him depicting unknown landscapes and people speaking in languages mysterious to him at the time – Wosene now creates paintings that often elicit or provoke synesthetic experiences of color, sound, feeling in the viewer. Untethered from the original linguistic, cultural, or national moorings of the syllabic characters of Amharic; Wosene recognized that these signs and patterns are ready-made abstractions and welcomes them arising in the creation of his paintings. In turn, Wosene presents us with a challenge to look into the art, feel its effect, and to watch what emerges through unique interactions. In alluding to these letter forms, Wosene unlocks a sense of infinite possibilities hidden within the alphabet.

A highlight of the exhibition is the painting Coming to Life (2020), which features a Dogon-like standing figure emerging from the cacophonous thatch of letters, graphic elements, paint/brush gestures, and colors. Carved figures such as these once served as channels of communication between the living and the spirits of their ancestors. Contained on three sides by open surface and contrasted with warm bright colors in tight patterns, the painting surprises the eye with a loosely filled distant horizon holding a bright sun-like globe hovering atop the dense field.

Another recent painting, Heart of Dance (2020), deploys numerous boldly articulated fidäl as an organizing grid across the canvas, the individual characters constructing blocks or spaces in themselves – each space its own microcosm. The black forms also simultaneously evoke the artist’s painterly gestures and figures in movement, in concert with one another, ecstatic in energy and life.

Representing Wosene’s first exhibition in Los Angeles since his participation in the 2009 exhibition at the Fowler Museum at UCLA entitled, Transformations: Recent Contemporary African Acquisitions, WordScapes presents a concise aperçu of the artist’s current painting practice including several works made during the quarantine. Attuned to political and social issues and conflicts of the past several years, Wosene has continued to pursue the potential of his chosen medium, to testify to the visual power and capacity of language to cross divisions, to surmount boundaries. His body of work, as he explains, is about the human condition, all facets of the human drama – about social justice, human rights, civility, and always the complex beauty of humanity. He states, “I create a visible, interactive surface – like visual icons that are accessible to everyone. My paintings invite viewers to dialogue with them, to take them into their memory.”


Join us for the gallery's first back-in-person event with Wosene Worke Kosrof, design tastemaker and collector Thomas Lavin, and gallerist Edward Cella for an informal overview of Wosene's newest paintings on Tuesday, October 28, 2021, from 3 to 5 PM. A reception with the Artist to follow. Attendance is limited and please register for the event by contacting Edward Cella at director@edwardcella.com or call 323.525.0053.


Born 1950 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Wosene Worke Kosrof trained at the city’s School of Fine Arts, completing his BFA with distinction in 1972. Emigrating to the U.S. in 1978 and enabled by a Ford Foundation Talent Scholarship, Wosene earned his MFA in 1980 at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Encouraged by his advisor, AfriCOBRA artist Jeff Donaldson, to explore his native Amharic script as an artistic idiom, Wosene was part of an initial wave of artists drawn to Howard that created new political and cultural perceptions of the diasporic nature of African art in contemporary artmaking in America.  Since 1995, Wosene (his professional name) lives and works in Berkeley, California.

Over the ensuing several decades, Wosene has exhibited his work in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Solo museum exhibitions of his work have included the Keith Haring Museum of Japan, Yamanashi, Japan (2017); Fleming Museum, U. of Vermont, Burlington, (2011); National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa (2010); Mexican Heritage Museum, San Jose, CA (2006); The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ (2004); Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY (2003); Folkens Museum Etnografiska, Stockholm, Sweden (2000); Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1987); among others.  His work has been featured in other museum exhibitions: the Kennedy Museum of Art, Ohio U., Athens, OH (2016); Hood Museum, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (2015); Sharjah Art Museum Calligraphy Biennial, Sharjah, UAE (2014); Cantor Museum, Stanford U., Palo Alto, CA (2013); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (2011); Fowler Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA (2009 & 2006); Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC (2007 & 2003); Austin Museum of Art, Austin, TX (2005); and the Whitechapel Gallery, London, England (1995), among others. Gallery exhibitions have included Skoto Gallery, New York, NY; Hoshigaoka Gallery, Kochi, Japan; Majlis Gallery, Dubai, UAE; Gallery of African Art, London, England; Stella Jones Gallery, New Orleans, LA; Loft Galeria, Puerto Vallarta, MX; Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; Parish Gallery, Washington, DC; Bomani Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Paul Mahder Gallery, Healdsburg, CA; Lori Austin Gallery, Sebastopol, CA; and Spirits in Stone Galleries, CA, among others.

His works are held in the public collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC; National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa; The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh/Durham, NC; Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA; Völkerkunde Museum, Zürich, Switzerland; Howard University, Washington, DC; Krannert Art Museum, Champaign/Urbana, IL; United Nations, New York, NY; Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Rockefeller Collection, New York, NY; U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other institutional, corporate, and private collections internationally.

Recent publications include art catalogues WordPlay: The World of Wosene’s Art (Nakamura Keith Haring Collection, Yamanashi, Japan (2017), and WordPlay: The Life of Script in Paintings and Sculptures by Wosene Worke Kosrof (National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 2010), among others. Discussion of his work has been featured in new publications, including Pepe Karmel’s text, Abstract Art: A Global History, (2020); Richard B. Woodward, et al, The Arts of Africa: Studying and Conserving the Collection – Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (2020); and the soon to be released Phaidon publication, African Artists (2021).


Thomas Lavin is a leader in bringing an international range of exclusive high-end home furnishings, fabrics, lighting, and accessories to Los Angeles. Founded in the year 2000 by Los Angeles Native Thomas Lavin. Over the years the Pacific Design Center showroom has grown to 19,000 square feet—including an additional 4,000 sq ft added in early 2019—which encompasses a stand-alone showroom for French heritage brand Liaigre. To better serve his clientele in Orange County, San Diego and the desert communities, Lavin opened a showroom at the Laguna Design Center in 2014.


Edward Cella Art & Architecture is committed to supporting significant established, mid-career, and emerging artists, architects, and designers. Nurturing this hybridity, the gallery uniquely exhibits photography, painting, sculpture, architectural drawings, models, and design objects with an emphasis on the intersection of these disciplines. Edward Cella founded Edward Cella Art & Architecture in 2006, building on his background as an architectural historian with a decade of experience in art advisory and collection management and a passion for collecting architectural drawings and ephemera, as well as contemporary art and erotica. The gallery sustains a curatorial emphasis on discourses surrounding issues of cultural and conceptual significance and has represented historical and under-recognized estates and collections.


For Further Information, Please Contact:

Edward Cella - director@edwardcella.com- 323.525.0053 

For Thomas Lavin press inquiries:

K+J Agency
Karen Peterson - karen@kj-agency.com - 917.553.7638