Bartsi, or “Giving Beauty”, is the tradition of painting huts in decorative patterns, mostly for holidays, by the women of the remote Ari tribe in Ethiopia. They use their hands as brushes and paint made of clay, gypsum, charcoal, or cow dung. The patterns and symbols have no meaning other than being beautiful in the eye of the artist, each of whom is taught the tradition by her mother. Bartsi is only painted on round huts so as tribes become more “modern” and move into rectangular mud houses, the women paint less and less. Because there is no practice of writing down such traditions, there is worry this one may soon be lost forever.
The idea of creating Bartsi on textiles came from U.S. artist, Lori Precious, who spent much of her childhood living in Africa. She purchases textiles, made of 100% organic cotton and hand-loomed, in Addis Ababa then drives them to Omo Valley, home to some of the world’s most ancient tribes. The 10 women of the Bartsi Collective have been taught by Lori to carve their distinctive designs into wood and linoleum blocks and print them onto fabric with non-toxic, permanent fabric paint.
The tribes of the Omo Valley suffer from famine, drought, lack of medical care, and frequent tribal conflict. Lori founded Ethio Sky to help female artisans in Ethiopia earn an income by selling their arts and crafts in the U.S. Lori pays the women up front for their work, hoping that increased sales of the Bartsi will benefit more and more Ari artists. With this income, well-beyond what is standard in their area, the women are able to afford medical care and food for their families, send their children to school, and preserve their unique craft.