Contemporary Nights launched GOJO residency during the covid-19 pandemic, a salve to the anxiety of lockdown and the stress of political unrest that continues to plague the country.
Contemporary Nights is a curatorial forum directing, showcasing, and documenting post-disciplinary artistic productions. It functions as a platform of collaboration and dialogue, creating meaningful connections among art practitioners in Addis Ababa.
Established in January 2018, Contemporary Nights has been providing a space for experimentation and facilitating discussions for artists and creative workers. The newest program GOJO is a residency for 6 artists to explore and develop the idea of homemaking in a collaborative space.
Dancer and choreographer Dawit Seto, visual artist Solomon Kifle, performance artist Hamdiya Ahmed, designer and poet Betelhem Abebe, architect and urbanist Yasmin Abdu Bushra and circus artist Eyob Teshome were gathered by curator Sarah Bushra from March to August of 2020.
“What was evident to us was the lack of physical space available for people to come together. We felt the lack. Our initial intention of investigating home, gojo, changed because of covid-19. It made sense to name it gojo because of 2020,” says Sarah, explaining how the pandemic and the violent unrest were threatening our concept of home throughout the year.
“Physical space built together would have brought intimacy,” says Sarah but the residency moved around various places in Addis including Fekat Circus, Guramayne Art Center, and Kebena Gallery.
“Our expectation was to create a space where the artists say what they want, everyone had a goal in mind when they began but we wanted to make sure it was collaborative and we could learn from each other. We wanted to connect art with a local audience, finding an audience in places which are typically non art bases like a kebele. We wanted to galvanize disciplined art practice.” explains Sarah.
The artists gravitated towards two collaborative groups, working on common projects along one theme. The residency included three weeks of daily entries in text or in video recording the process of thinking and creating throughout the residency period.
“It was nice to be surrounded by friendly faces at that time. The pandemic experience brought pressure to produce without pay, to give free entertainment without giving value to the vessel. We needed sustenance, not to perform for the benefit of others,” explain Betelhem and Hamdiya.
Betelhem, Hamdiya and Eyob made up the first group who worked on a spoken word-circus project with an element of design.
“Being in the same space with other artists who have different perspectives and learning from their experiences was very good. It’s what art is supposed to be. It was a learning curve but it was very good. It was beautiful and challenging. Us being there was home,” they say, explaining their experience in the GOJO residency.
The second group focused on displacement as an issue with Dawit, Yasmin and Solomon exploring the theme in their own artistic medium.
Yasmin investigated Addis Ababa, walking around the city and absorbing the environment along with the other artists. The result of her research is Paper Trails, a collective mapping exercise outlining places of significance to Addis’s art and culture scene. This map is wonderful evidence of the connection between location and memory, seeing where ideas emerge and their physical reality. This project is ongoing and is available online.
Solomon studied protest and resistance acts through photographs, paintings and holding an actual protest.
Dawit, motivated by the peaceful and violent protests that took place in July, looked at the physicality and symbolism of the stick, culminating in a choreography performed by Dawit and two other dancers.
Artist-led workshops where each residency member gave an introduction to their media of choice and began conversations resulted in powerful collaborative groups. The discussions explored lockdown, political violence and repression, mental illness, artistic lifestyle, vulnerability, and various other issues.
The second workshop consisted of investigating protests, asking ‘what are you demanding’, the uncertainty of participating in a protest, discovering why it was hard to go out on the street and how it was empowering as a group but scary alone. The group held a small protest in the city, holding up handmade signs demanding justice and equality.
Refraction, the exhibition-in-progress showcasing the works produced during the residency, is available online. It is testament to Contemporary Night’s power to create substantial output from seemingly unconnected sources.
“We are thinking with Arundhati Roy when she says the pandemic is a portal, the residency has been a space to simulate this experience of walking through a gap and our work together has been a practice that constantly asks for an internal rupture, revealing an opening for the exhibition within the exhibition,” writes Sarah in her introductory statement to Refraction.
“It’s curated by someone we know and I respect. I know it’s not about money or for a foreign entity. You know Sarah appreciates your work. She sees the vision. She doesn’t interrupt. She takes it in and once you see all the elements together – wow.” says Hamdiya.