Visual and aural associations of African American culture reverberate in his paintings, such as the “Comb Series”. The confluence of rhythmic designs and colors in an improvisational style are a reflection his love of jazz music.
As an African artist who has lived and practiced in the West for four decades, he is acutely aware of disorientations caused by migration and postcolonial experiences, and he is conscious of the possibilities inherent in these physical and spiritual journeys. At the core of Tesfaye’s recent work is an open-ended improvisational sensibility. The Afro-comb, a symbol of Black cultural identity is endlessly reworked and re-interpreted as a metaphor for an affirmation of “Self.”
“Ethiopia has a 4,000 year old history of visual art, Tesfaye says, “and I was lucky enough to see it organically. I know it’s going to disappear and I really feel it’s my business to keep that work alive.” Tesfaye grew up being taken to a church every day, exposing him to his deeply ingrained belief in a higher power, and “when I am alone,” he says, “that abstract higher power calms me down. When I close my eyes and think about love, I see colors and those colors are from somewhere I picked up when I was younger. You can’t create anything if nothing has registered earlier inside. What you don’t know doesn’t come out, what you haven’t taken in won’t come out. An artist needs to be like a river, to be innocent and to be sensitive to everything.”