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Art in Addis Ababa

Within the last decade, international exhibitions have been bringing recognition to Ethiopian contemporary art. Rosalie van Deursen from Urban Africans – an art historian and curator specialising in contemporary African art – speaks highly of the “small yet vibrant art scene in Addis Ababa”, a city “undergoing a rapid change”.

Elizabeth H Wold’s latest digital work-in-progress based on the notion of knowledge. Photos courtesy of the artist.

“There are ample places to view art in Ethiopia, but one would also come across some Ethiopian artists at the1:54 African Art Fair and other international art fairs.”

The ever popular Makush gallery and restaurant may give the stereotypical impression of Ethiopia through the artworks sold here. Once artists establish themselves, they move to more upmarket galleries or open their own where they no longer need to sacrifice their artistic integrity. Van Deursen tells me that most artists in Addis Ababa see art “not simply about creating aesthetic images but about raising consciousness on contemporary societal topics such as uprootedness, identity, tradition versus modernity, Ethiopian history and behaviour of people who have power and authority”. Elizabeth H. Wold, a conceptual contemporary Ethiopian artist herself, fills me in on the notion of ‘performance art’, which is embedded in the Ethiopian customary and ordinary way of living so “audience participation in the act of creativity and its proċess is not a new phenomenon – one can witness it in places of worship, in the celebration and festivity of birth, death and in everything in between”.

Talented artists have been springing up from the art schools in Addis Ababa, with the Masters program at the Ale School of Fine Arts and Design having graduate students working and engaging in installation and conceptual art. Those artists involved in more contemporary arts such as installation art, video art, performance and conceptual art include, but are not limited to, Elizabeth H. Wold, Konjit Seyoum, Tamrat Gezahegn, Helen Zeru, Berhanu Ashagre, Mihret Kebede, Bekele Mekonon, Tesfahun Kibru, Tamrat Sultan, Elias Sime and Mulugeta Kidan. Although a few grants from corporate entities and non-profit organisations do exist for the purpose of encouraging creativity, most artists prefer the freedom and just take care of exhibition expenses themselves. Other Ethiopian artists, who focus more on two dimensional art, include Dawit Abebe, Wendimagegn Belete, Ermias Kifleyesus, Merikokeb Berhanu, Tizta Berhanu, Leikun Nahusenay, Tadesse Mesfin, Ephrem Solomon, Kirubel Melke, Nirit Takele, Dereje Shiferaw, Robel Temesgen, Tariku Sherifaw, Adiskidan Ambaye, Tegene Kunbi, Eyob Kitaba, Behailu Bezabih, Abdallah Bashir, Ermias Ekube, Mulugeta Tafesse, Tewodros Bekele, Wosene Worke Kosrof, Tesfaye Bekele and more. Many of these are represented by local and international galleries.

In Addis Ababa one will find art exhibited at the gallery of the college of the Fine Arts School, the national museum, the Addis Ababa museum, the Gebre Kristos Modern Art Museum, the Netsa Art village, Guzo Art Projects as well as the Alliance Goethe cultural institution. Fine Art galleries include the Asni Gallery, St George Gallery, Lela Gallery, Laphto Art Gallery, Zoma Contemporary Art Gallery, Guramaile Art Centre, Addis Fine Arts Gallery and the Fedika Art Gallery.

There are ample places to view art in Ethiopia, but one would also come across some Ethiopian artists at the1:54 African Art Fair and other international art fairs. Art lovers were looking forward to the 6th edition of the Addis Foto Fest in Ethiopia, a yearly photo festival founded by the internationally acclaimed Ethiopian artist Aida Muluneh, but that has now been postponed to December 2021. Elizabeth H.Wold is currently working on her solo show comprising of a fabric print display with a multimedia presentation, video art and animation. This solo show taking place in January 2021, is being organised at an independent studio space in collaboration with Konjit Seyoum who, besides being an artist, is also a curator and owner of Asni gallery.

Inside Dawit Abebe’s studio. Image courtesy of the artist.

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