Disabled Ethiopian artist makes a name by painting with his mouth
Published: Sep 01, 2021 06:28 PM
Sitting in front of a canvas in his small living room in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, 49-year-old artist Yoseph Bekele is fully absorbed in the creation of his new piece of art, drawing a painting of an Ethiopian countryside landscape with his mouth.

Around him, collections of his paintings over the years, consisting of physical aspects such as landscape, cityscapes and portraits, make colored decorations in his room.

Bekele lives in a small and compacted room along with his wife and three children in one of the slums located at the heart of Addis Ababa.

Born disabled, Bekele is chasing his dreams of becoming a painter against all odds and is now considered one of the most admired artist painters in Ethiopia.

"I was born with my hands and legs paralyzed, but as time went by, my legs started to function with the help of medical treatment," Bekele said in a recent interview with the Xinhua News Agency.

Bekele had to take a ride on his mother's back while going to a traditional Ethiopian kindergarten, dubbed Priest's School, until he turned 11 when he started to stand on his feet and learned to walk gradually.

Bekele first started painting at the age of 12 when he started to use his feet to draw things around him, seizing a pencil between his toes.

"I continued to paint pictures of saints and flowers on papers and sold them to boys who gave the paintings as gifts on Ethiopian New Year holidays," Bekele recalled, but the artist finally found it was far more convenient to paint using his mouth rather than his feet.

"It was by chance that I started to paint with my mouth. It came about when my oldest daughter left the house without placing the drawing pencil between my toes. I picked the pencil up with my mouth and started to paint. I found my mouth more comfortable to paint with," he said.

Bekele's professional painting career first started back in 2005, when he joined a local fine arts and vocational training center where he studied extensive painting techniques and enjoyed special support from the famous Ethiopian armless artist, Worku Mamo, who teaches aspiring painters.

His inspiration for painting often emanates from nature and the physical surroundings, such as landscapes, cityscapes, portraits of spiritual figures such as saints and angels as well as human beings.

Now a famed painter, Bekele has exhibited his artworks across Ethiopia's major artistic sites, including the Ethiopian National Theater, the Addis Ababa Municipal Hall, and the National Museum.

His paintings are now also on display across various international hotels in Addis Ababa.