Ethiopian Magic Scrolls |:| You Know You Love Talismans

Am I sounding like a broken record yet? Once again Phantasmaphile has hipped me to a happening we should all be clamoring to attend.

Elizabeth Street Fine Arts’ (209 Elizabeth St.) latest exhibit “Ethiopian Magic Scrolls: Talismanic Art of Ethiopia” (ending June 30th) is where you wanna be to get a glimpse of artifacts that actually took human relationships with the tangible unseen seriously. All of it coming from the very mystical, very old, Ethiopia.

Check it:

The mystery of talismans, and other esoteric arts – the knowledge of spells, the Names of God of cures and summoning spirits, composes lore of “Ethiopian Wisdom”, the tebab. Art of powerful healing images – talsam, from the Arabic tilasm, which itself comes from the Greek telesma, “effective object”, was developed by Ethiopians to a great degree. It likely came to Ethiopia during Axumite Empire from Mediterranean and the schools of late Hellenistic world, much like alchemy and Cabala did, and later borrowed heavily from Copts and Islam.

Understand any of that? Me neither.

Remember when the word “Ethiopia” only meant little African babies with distended bellies and flies buzzing around their ears? That’s the image that was drilled into my head as a child watching cartoons after school. Trying to find some old commercial footage of the crisis in the 80s (which has returned year after year, mind you), I came across this 2008 MSNBC article describing the dire food shortage situation a few years back.

Ironically, the article had an ad on the page for the “Best Brooklyn Restaurant Deals” with this accompanying image:


I mean, I get it…you take the ads that will pay the big bucks to keep you up and running, but the lead-in photo for the piece, the image just above the ad, was this:

(Anita Powell/AP) Bizunesh Hidana is 3 years old and weighs less than 10 pounds. The U.N. World Food Program estimates that 2.7 million Ethiopians will need emergency food aid because of late rains — nearly double the number who needed help last year.

You don’t need to be a fresh-out-of-grad-school fauxhemian to know that the juxtaposition of the image, the article, and the ad is demonically insensitive. Not only that, I think a chicken sandwich like that could actually kill the child if he even had the opportunity to get his hands on it. That’s like running an article on the beauty of insect with an ad for Raid paying for it.

Anyway, for the uninitiated:

So called “Magic Scrolls” are long rolls of parchment, illuminated by talismanic and figurative images and texts, usually in Ge’ez (Ethiopian liturgical language), of protective prayers, invocations of secret names of God, or sometimes demons. They are produced and used for varied purposes, healing, protection from spells, exorcisms etc. Scrolls are referred to as “ya’ branna kitab”, “written on skin” in Amharic, “asmat” or “names” in Ge’ez or “ta’lsam”, “talisman” in Tigrinya.

I need to see this.

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