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Fesseha Demessae

Addis Ababa, Showa, Ethiopia

Designer (Product Design)

Member since February 14, 2013

 I was gifted and talented in the fine arts at the age of ten. Between 1984-88, I attended the Maryland Summer Center for the Arts. This unique commune of young visual and performing artists became a home away from home for me, away from the violence, drug abuse, and poverty I witnessed daily as a youth in the racially segregated neighborhoods of Baltimore City. My talent in the arts was recognized by my high school teacher who took it upon himself to craft my portfolio for review among the nation’s top art and design institutions. I received full tuition scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design in 1992.

My work at RISD reflected a deeper discovery of concept development. Machinery and processes also became intriguing to me; at that moment I choose Industrial Design as my major line of study. As a student in the ID Department, I found time to take up courses in Architectural Drawing (with the notable Friedrich St.Florian), Language and Africana Studies at Brown University, and was selected in the RISD-Pratt Exchange Program for Industrial Design in the Fall of 1995. My Senior Thesis at RISD explored shelter and the use of bamboo and other renewable resources as future design materials for product design. Expansion and breadth in my undergraduate studies was marked by early group exhibitions with the notorious Riot Of the Soul art group, with shows at Brown, Harvard, New York City and Boston. Upon graduating, I discovered the World stage instead of the stage of my peers at RISD. 

 Istanbul was the host city for the United Nation’s Second Conference on Human Settlements; where I, along with a distinguished faculty and student design team, represented RISD and the concerns of refugee shelter design and development. The Ujima Project, as it was known, became my maiden voyage into a world of self-discovery and revelation.

After returning to the States, I traveled to Jamaica several times to study tantra and complete my Local Full Time Worker status with the Ananda Marga Society, an Indian humanitarian relief organization that provides assistance throughout the world. I then traveled throughout Africa and India, creating visual work along the way, a wide spectrum of media, painterly collages, photographs, and posters representing various tales and moments in the history of my travels. Additionally, while in India, I earned certification from the Appropriate Rural Technologies Institute in Pune and the Kerala Forestry Research Institute in Thrissur. Somehow around these years of travel, I still made it back to Baltimore City to give my knowledge back to youths in need. This led to the creation of a collection of original music and musical instruments called zanza lamellaphones. I enjoyed many years of performance and instruction with those instruments; with them came a Mayor’s Award for my work with youths on these instruments, an original composition for the Baltimore Museum of Art, an original CD of lamellaphone music, and many lectures and performances at embassies, festivals, and other cultural gatherings. Simultaneously, I managed to complete a collection of collages during my time in Baltimore City. The collection addressed racial and immigrant violence against people of African descent, incidents that gained international attention for their open absurdity. For the theatrical imagery that recreated the incidents, I received strong marks by several notable curators and critics,  interviewed by Maryland Public Television, and exhibited the collages in various group shows. They also became the basis for my first solo exhibition at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore City and served as the inspiration for a city-wide discussion on racial relations.

Another hat I’ve seldom but successfully worn is as a cultural affairs ambassador with emphasis on Pan-African affairs. My recognition comes from the work I’ve accomplished with organizations , community elders, and leaders on Pan-African affairs. In various capacities, I’ve interviewed the first African Union Chairman, attended the Inauguration of the African Union, participated in the National  Summit on Africa, and worked in many other International Conferences and Seminars. My diplomatic work in Pan-African affairs has informed many visual responses as well, such as in the case of my first exhibited bronze sculpture, Rise of the African Renaissance. The piece stands in the collection of the Maryland Museum of African American History and Culture.

Since leaving my undergraduate studies, I’ve remained consistent within academia as an arts administrator and advocate for the Mayor and the City of Baltimore. I started as a teaching-artist while still at RISD; I then entered instruction inside the public and private secondary schools; I’ve also participated in various arts integration conferences and seminars, up to more recently, lecturing in the college and university. With a ‘zen-like’ pedagogy that helps students to find a path towards visual expressiveness, I make teaching and learning a joy. It’s a wonderful way to support humanity through the arts.

My Blog / View all (1) Blog Posts

#001: Joining Design21



Fellow Designers,

I'd like to craft this first posting to thank UNESCO for this partnership in brin...

My Work Samples / View all (4) Work Samples

  • Ujima_birdsview_thumb_57
  • Elsa_infosheet_thumb_57
  • Bamboo_walkway_sketch_thumb_57
  • Shinte_bete_front_iso_thumb_57

International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR)

Innovation in Socially and Environmentally Responsible Design

Contact Fesseha Demessae

My Interests

  • Industrial Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Communication Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Audio/Visual Design