Publication Details

Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery
Exhibition guide
92 pages, 17 visuals
16.5 x 11.5 cm
English and Arabic
Published by Sharjah Art Foundation
ISBN 978-1-915656-12-4


This guide introduces audiences to the exhibition Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery, organised by Sharjah Art Foundation in collaboration with The Africa Institute and Sharjah Museums Authority.

Historically, telsem art was primarily created to address specific concerns of the commissioning patron, often related to their health, fortune or environmental circumstances. Details from the subjects’ personal history, such as their birthdate, astrological sign and parents’ names and birthdates, would be carefully interwoven into the canvas through specific words, symbols, colours and imagery.

Rather than using traditional natural pigments, which deteriorate after five or six years, the telsem art shown in this exhibition has been created with acrylics. Henok Melkamzer was determined to preserve this art form within his community and family while also presenting it to new audiences by engaging with contemporary themes and experimenting with its formal language.

The guide includes a foreword by Hoor Al Qasimi, Foundation director, and essays by exhibition curator Elizabeth W. Giorgis and artist Julie Mehretu.

Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery

Melkamzer, Henok

Henok Melkamzer studied telsem in a monastery in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, for 16 years and also learned the intricacies of the practice firsthand from his father and grandfather, who were both telsem healers. Henok maintains an intimate interest in preserving telsem within his community and bringing the art form to new audiences.

Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery

Al Qasimi, Hoor

Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, established the Foundation in 2009 as a catalyst and advocate for the arts in Sharjah, in the region and around the world.