The HealersLSHTM logologo: Africa 05 in collaboration with BBC
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Loulou Cherinet
Cyprien Tokoudagba
Zwelethu Mthethwa
Tracey Rose
Abdoulaye Konate
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Gera's work

Ethiopia, b. 1941

Gera is perhaps, the artist who embodies the spirit of this exhibition most completely since he was a traditional Ethiopian doctor who used a medicine based on the ancient idea of talismanic charms that held healing powers. Gera made talismanic paintings that he used to heal the patients who consulted him. The paintings or drawings are made according to different rules inherited from the traditional knowledge and connected with the Old Testament (in the Coptic tradition of ancient Ethiopia). Each healer uses them with a personal input and style. According to the diseases or disorders described by the patient, Talismanic painters make a disease- and person-specific drawing that is supposed to help the patient to bring order again to physical and spiritual afflictions.

Gera's paintings have extraordinary colour and density. The works in this exhibition illustrate his progression over the past 30 years. All paintings exhibited have been generously loaned by Jacques Mercier, a former professor at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris who can be credited with having discovered Gera's talent in the 1970s. Jacques Mercier recognized the artistic value of Gera's talismanic drawings and as a result of the encounter, Gera decided to become an artist as well as a healer. Since then his work has been shown worldwide including at the Biennale in Lyon, the Museum for African Art in New York and the Musee National des Art d'Afrique et d'Oceanie in Paris.

Jacques Mercier says of Gera's talismanic art:
'The Ethiopian religious authorities always looked at medicine with suspicion, accusing it of being mistrustful of God. Gera nonetheless practiced it, more or less in secret, apart from his religious studies. He communicated with the spirits; he treated the sick with plants, prayers and talismans. He learnt from a monk that the talismanic art is a secret from Heaven, revealed by angels and demons to a few 'sages': Enoch, Solomon, or again Alexander the Great. The prototype of the talismans is the seal of God the Father. As a form of writing before the invention of writing as such, they are the origin, no longer understood, of all known forms of writing. The Ethiopian talismanic art reveals a body of 'wisdom' which, historically, draws on the same sources as the Jewish Cabbala and Arabic Alchemy. (-) It owes its extraordinary development to the local cultural context, in which the image has become emancipated from the Christian dialectic, and where possession is a favoured interpretation of sickness. Talismans are not illustrations of prayer, but act by themselves on the spirit through the eyes of the possessed person.'
Cited by Jean-Hubert Martin (2002) in the Exhibition Guide 'Art that Heals', Apexart Gallery, New York City.'