Creating African Science Fiction: Ethiopian Conceptual Artist Fanuel Leul

Creating African Science Fiction: Ethiopian Conceptual Artist Fanuel Leul

We continue our series of interviews diving into the imaginative world of Concept Art. Fanuel Leul is an Ethiopian digital artist who is interested in depicting African scenes from his imaginations of the past and future. His most notable works include a comic book dedicated to tales of African Patriots. Enjoy.

“Sci-fi creates a combination of the rational, the possible, and the miraculous which inspires in me a ‘sense of wonder’ that when told in the African perspective, creates a wondrous world.”

Fanuel Leul

Let us begin by getting to know you Fanuel, can you please tell us more about yourself, where are you from and how did you begin your journey into art.

I am a digital artist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I grew up in Dire Dawa. I have always had a fascination with imaginary arts. I was obsessed with comic book characters, always drawing superheroes like spiderman and batman. But it wasn’t until I joined the Alle School of Fine arts in Addis Ababa that I wanted to do art as a career. When I was in my 3rd year in college I took a photo manipulation class which I really enjoyed and was actually really good at. That class opened up a new world of art for me, and I was obsessed with digital arts ever since.

You created Qedamawi Comics, a comic book that reflects the tales of African patriots, can you please tell us about this project? How did it come about? How has the project developed?

Qedamawi is a comic book project that narrates African history in a new light. It mixes the epic stories of African Kingdoms and mixes with fantasy and the supernatural. This project started around 3 years ago, around the 120th Adwa victory holiday, the celebration of the day Ethiopian army defeated the Italian forces. Since this Holiday is a great deal to Habeshas, it was common to see local artists create artworks commemorating the day. I created an artwork showcasing our own patriots as superheroes, which the youth audience seemed to really get inspired by. From then onwards I decided to create a platform to show the epic history of our continent to the youth. I then understood that the comic book was a perfect storytelling platform. It has been around a year since Qedamawi was structured as a team; right now we are comprised of story writers, digital artists, and illustrators and we are working towards launching our first issue in the next few months.

“I try to reflect both African tradition and Sci-fi imaginations in my artworks. The mix of these two seemingly contrasting concepts creates a fascinating and unique theme. Science fiction has a unique ability to stretch our imaginations more than other art themes…”

Your artwork comprises of many African science-fiction scenes, is this intentional? Are you inspired by Science Fiction? Does your work focus on history or look to the future?

I try to reflect both African tradition and Sci-fi imaginations in my artworks. The mix of these two seemingly contrasting concepts creates a fascinating and unique theme. Science fiction has a unique ability to stretch our imaginations more than other art themes. Sci-fi creates a combination of the rational, the possible, and the miraculous which inspires in me a ‘sense of wonder’ that when told in the African perspective, creates a wondrous world. My artwork narrates a setting rooted in African history and tradition and looks at a future that still holds true to its roots. I am always wondering of a sci-fi future that is based on the African culture. I love the beauty that is created by the vibrance of African characters juxtaposed with an industrial and robotic future.

“The vast and countless culture is an ocean for someone like me who wants to tell African stories…”

We are fascinated by African Sci-Fi and concept art showcasing wild imaginations, where do you find inspiration?

I believe that Africa is filled with countless untapped inspiration. The African culture is where I find my main inspiration; everything from outfits and ornaments to attitudes and characters. The vast and countless culture is an ocean for someone like me who wants to tell African stories. Each African person, ornament, or place tells a unique story about a character and their background. Most of the time the references or photos I get inspired by, drive the story of my artworks. I also study works of other digital artists and authors. I am fascinated to learn how they came about their artworks and their approach.

“Without African art, we will end up with a generation that is filled with a foreign culture and clueless of their own identity. As Africans, tradition is everything we value and want to pass on to the following generations.”

Fanuel, Can you tell us about the process of making your work? We want to know a little about the significance and scope of your work. How do you make your work? Are there particular tools/materials/software/technology that you use?

I am usually randomly hit with an inspiration be from watching a movie, reading a book, or commuting to work. I then do research on the specific concept which I will ponder on for days on the message it portrays, how the artwork will look, and how it should be composed. I often finish the artwork first in my head, I think of the colors, the character, and the composition. The next and most tedious step is I collect hundreds of references and images from the internet and also take photos that I need for the artwork; I create a collage of the images and create a rough look of the artwork. I finalize and blend the artwork on photoshop and paint in detail using a digital drawing tablet.

What is African art? How would you describe “African art”? What does African art mean to you? Do you think African art is important? Do you think that Africa is reflected in your work? If/so how? why not?

Artworks that reflect the vast aesthetics of African tradition and history. African art is crucial for creating a generation that knows and understands what is their own. Without African art, we will end up with a generation that is filled with a foreign culture and clueless of their own identity. As Africans, tradition is everything we value and want to pass on to the following generations. This tradition is usually reflected in objects, places, and practices that we use to tell stories about ourselves. These things define us and play a central role in shaping our sense of identity as individuals and communities. We are so attached to these things that even if we become more progressive, these things we value remains. I imagined a fusion between a futuristic, modernized Africa that is visualized by gadgets and cyborgs from the future, and the underlying objects we have attachments to that we use in our daily life.  This juxtaposition of two seemingly contrasting things forms a narrative that reveals that there are things that we as a society, even if we progress “modernized”, cannot seem to lose. These things after all, for the society, are less about functionality but more about our identity. Since these things, are crucial in how we define ourselves.

Where do you find inspiration? Can you share some of your favorite artists and why they have had a meaningful impact on your work?

I am inspired by the dramatic African visual arts. I stumbled upon Osborne Macharia a few years back and fell in love with his dramatic Afropunk artworks. His works helped me lean towards Afro-futurism and understand the vastness of the style. His use of contrasting colors heavily inspired my theme. Another photographer based in Bulgaria, Svetlin Yosifov, has epic photographs of African tribes which I usually look at for character inspiration. I love looking at African artists since they all have a unique approach that inspires me to look at the continent in a different eye every time.

Where is your favorite place to work?

Since the breakout of the COVID19 virus and staying indoors, I have moved into working from a home office; Which I found out to be my new favorite place to work. I usually hike to a nearby hill to ease my mind and think on new artworks.

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