Merikokeb Berhanu (b. 1977, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) received her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Addis Ababa University, Alle School Fine Arts and Design in 2002, where she studied painting under the tutelage of a generation of Ethiopian modernist painters. Following her graduation, Merikokeb and her contemporaries founded an artist-run studio and exhibition space called the Nubia Studio (2004) with the goal of increasing their visibility and long-term career opportunities in a region where the arts have historically been under-supported. The next fifteen years were spent quietly developing her work and crafting her idiosyncratic visual language that so deftly toes the line between pure abstraction and recognisable form.
Merikokeb’s immigration to Maryland, USA in 2017 marked a time of sudden and intense change in all aspects of her life, a shift that is nowhere more evident than in her paintings. While Merikokeb’s work has always had a focus on lifeforms and biomorphic imagery, at this point she started to gravitate towards the more vibrant hues that define her latest paintings. New symbols – a circuit board structure, the skeletal remains of fish – began to emerge throughout Merikokeb’s work as she grappled with the implications of a society estranged from nature.
Merikokeb has featured in several European group shows and presentations, including Beneath the Surface: The Mysteries of Living and Dying, Addis Fine Art London (2019), From Modern to Contemporary: Artists from the Horn of Africa and Diaspora, CFHILL, Stockholm (2021), and Where Cloudy Waters Collide, Pippy Houldsworth, London, UK (2022). Merikokeb was included in the Milk of Dreams, The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (2022). The artist is set to be featured in Making Their Mark Curated, by Cecilia Alemani, Shah Garg Foundation, New York (2023), and Ethiopia at the Crossroads, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (2023).
Merikokeb’s paintings are in several public collections, including Denver Art Museum, Inhotim Museum, Brumadinho, Brazil, and Foundation H, Antananarivo, Madagascar.