Dubai-based Ethiopian artist diagnosed with a rare condition can only paint lying down

The art of resilience


Hiba Khurram

Published: Thu 1 Sep 2022, 9:20 PM

Painting a picture is hard enough. But can you imagine the added challenge of painting while lying down? An Ethiopian artist in Dubai is breaking all stereotypes with his art, and lying down is the only way he can paint.

It was at the age of seven that Brook Yeshitila, who was born in 1982, discovered his love for art. As a child, he would be more excited about getting crayons and art supplies than receiving new toys and clothes. Brook says he used to take summer art courses that would be way too advanced for his age and that’s where he learned the fine techniques. With an astute eye for colours and remarkable sketching, people around Brook knew he was a rising star.

By the time he turned 12, Brook was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis — a rare, progressive form of arthritis affecting the spine and large joints of arms and legs. The condition immobilised his entire body when he was 17 except his arms, a reason why he had to eventually drop out of school.

Brook remembers this as a very challenging time in his life. He did not leave bed for almost 9-10 years and his dream of going to an art school seemed impossible.

The turning point, however, came when he visited a religious retreat and spent seven months away from home. He lived amongst people with various illnesses, and to keep himself occupied, began reading books by motivational authors. The whole experience made him look at life through another prism, and brought him back to art. “If you have something in your mind, just do it, don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it perfect,” he says.

Sit or stand for long hours? That’s the question he was faced with when he decided to resume painting. Brook eventually decided to lie down on his bed with face down and sketch on the canvas kept below the bed. “I can stay in that position for seven hours straight, regardless of the discomfort,” he says.

In June 2011, Brook presented his first art piece to the public in a group show, Mind Over Matter. His work, which received critical nod, included paintings, sculptures and installations. But the breakthrough came with the show Thirteen Months that displayed his contemporary sculptures and installations.

In Dubai, his journey started this year with an event organised by Reach Campaign that aimed to raise money for those affected by river blindness. Brook visited Dubai to support the organisation and auction his art. During his stay, he fell in love with the city and decided to work here. It only helped that Brook’s paintings garnered a lot of attention that led to him being gifted a studio at Museum Hub in Souq Al Marfa.

Brook’s paintings are a mix of abstract works and portraits. Of particular interest is his series on forgiveness. A captivating work shows a person with stones above his head, symbolising the lengths to which one would go to seek pardon.

Having spent five months in the city, Brook says Dubai is the kind of place that can actually inspire an artist and impact his or her work. Its multiculturalism is an inspiration which expands an artist’s view of the world. ‘’I also want to thank the UAE President, because of the support and opportunities for people of determination in the country.”

When Khaleej Times met the artist, he welcomed the team with a smile and had his manager help him out. The recurring themes in all his works are peace, harmony, pride and passion. “Every day when I start painting, I tell myself, ‘Let’s make a masterpiece.’ So, for me, every painting is a masterpiece, but two of my favourite works are in Ethiopia.”

When he is not painting himself, he is still thinking of painting — coming up with different art concepts, how to advance his skills, reading, writing and planning exhibitions. He also thoroughly enjoys being on social media and routinely shares his work on Instagram.

Perhaps it is a testament of his grit that the 40-year-old has already penned two books in Amharic that aim to inspire the youth in his country — Yene Sitia, which translates to ‘my gift’, while Yemisigana Tselot, which means prayers of greatness.

Brook’s story is surely inspiring and is a reminder of the age-old wisdom — where there is a will, there is a way. “I have faced a lot of obstacles. But I look at them just like any other problem. And for every problem, there is a solution. I am thankful for what I have, what I don’t have and what I am about to receive.”

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