Arts & Culture, Went There


Hana Yilma Godine's Layering of Cultural Presence, Community, and Femininity



Situated in the residential trenches of Cambridgeport, Gallery 263 is an alternative art and creative space that hosts a wide variety of community activities all while hosting gallery exhibitions. As a part of their newest proposal series, we’re gifted with a solo exhibition by Hana Yilma Godine titled Spaces Within Space. Godine draws from her worldly experiences and seeks to integrate varying layers of her identity into portraits that represent her morphing perspective of the spaces that define communities.

Raised in a southern Ethiopian village, Arssi Negele, the artist studied drawing, sculpture, and painting at Addis Ababa University’s Ale School of Fine Arts and Design. Much of the symbolic nature, the texture, and physical contextualization of her work can be attributed to her comparisons of cultural identification. Most recently, she’s moved to the United States to continue her education through literature and theory at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. Even in Spaces Within Space, a relatively small sample of her sagacious portfolio, Godine uses her multicultural understanding to emphasize socioeconomic nuances as they’ve appeared throughout the fabric of her life.

Her work, by Godine’s own measure is defined by “Finding nuances of similarities between totally different entities [which] paves the way for me to connect with my surroundings and observe their influences on one another. I find such investigative approaches help me to generate new combinations of formal expression in my work”. Best stated herself, her portraits investigate every-day life at the intersection of self and cultural identity.


‘#7’ (oil, acrylic collage, charcoal on canvas)


Spaces Within Space brings together Godine’s talented multiplicity and understanding of visual artistry. I found the paintings impressive even from peering through the window at the bus stop but to get the full effect, the work demands a more introspective look. Meticulously pieced and unruly by nature, each canvas has an entire narrative, an important memory, behind its treatment. The various materials she uses range from oil paint, acrylic paint, gesso, and charcoal, to fabric and newspaper/magazine pages sourced from Ethiopia. Of the magazines, Godine says that “…most of them are related with history or education… I guess the magazines have multiple functions. It suggests embedded history. Sometimes I use it as visual language to create texture or tone or transparency.”

By using a wide range of layering, tracing, and color blending, she establishes transparent layers that mimic the inconsistent, weaving and waving, nature of memory; of time elapsed. Here, we find spaces, and memories, within space. We begin to gain an understanding and, in turn, gain internal reflections on the cultures, communities, and overwhelming symbolism that leers in our periphery. It’s clear that Godine’s distinct vibrant, and at times exuberant, color palette, represent her unique comprehension of compassion and nature in a globalized manner as well as the specific places in time that are central to her identity.

“#14′ (oil, acrylic, charcoal on canvas)


From her observation, she has a bountiful understanding of the way that expressions take shape and are reliant upon cultural structure. Godine states that she “…[observes] these commonalities and differences among diverse groups of people, whether in cultural or tribal identification, religious or ritual ceremonies, or even socioeconomic stature….[These] have had such stark differences with the ones in the United States. This induced a shift in my way of thinking; in terms of both formal and contextual expression of my work. It opened up new ways of communicating ideas using the symbols, patterns, and signage that I find in my daily commutes in this new setting.” And these personal differences are noticeable in her work – overlapping but unmistakable. Her careful placement of geometric embedding, displacement, and the way that Godine contorts space within and outside the canvas, bring her investigation of spacial relationships to a tier. At the heart of Spaces Within Space, the work is communal and thoughtful.

As a woman of color, her experience through femininity as it manifests in the contextual surroundings of life endured in Ethiopia, Spain, and the US, are ever-present. Almost all of her portraits in the gallery attempt to breakdown her experience as a defiantly feminine woman. Her portrait style conquers internalized sexism in a way that’s less recognized in modern culture. We see feminine figures that are part of different cultures entirely. Perhaps they are of different generations, of fables, of memories, but these women are portrayed as new transparent visions that force us to think about identity larger than ourselves, larger than our ratty little cold New England communities, towards ones that fill spaces other than our own. Combined with the incredibly concise space that is Gallery 263, the exhibit overtakes the space quite serenely. The silence of the neighborhood, the echo of your footsteps; you’re immediately placed in a clearer, simpler, mindset. It’s transitory. It’s intimate.

Painting on Left ‘#1’ (oil, acrylic, collage on canvas) — Painting on Right ‘#8’ (oil, gesso, charcoal on canvas)

Spaces Within Space is on view at Gallery 263 in Cambridge until February 8th. There’s also a special artist talk this Saturday, February 1st at 2pm.

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