Art symposiums have been used as a way to curate and maintain the knowledge and skill set needed to create art for centuries on end, although it isn’t as common in Ethiopia it has been used in countries across the world. With the art scene taking a life of its own, it was only a matter of time before symposiums dedicated to share experiences that revolve around art were organized. The first of its kind took place right before the pandemic decided to grace us with its presence, with local artists putting in the effort to make an idea they had into actuality by creating a unique creative space for international artists to come together and paint in a reserved environment while being allowed to take inspiration from cultures that are not their own.
Addis international art symposium was founded by artist Tamerat Siltan after he noticed the lack of well-organized international symposiums with in the country. Artist Tamerat recalls having visited multiple countries during which he saw different symposiums that shone light on the creative works of citizens as well as foreigners. That gave him a chance to reflect on the art scene of his own country; he began to wonder why such symposiums weren’t being enacted in Addis Ababa, a city full of beauty deserving of being monumentalized. He decided to select individuals who he believed had the right assets and set of skills needed to pivot the idea he had in his head.
Artist Tamerat teamed up with fellow artist Hailu Kifle to select individuals and organizations that will help make the art symposium come to life. They set out to assemble a team of likeminded individuals who wanted to make Ethiopia a house hold name in the international art scene. They first started out by setting meetings with these individuals who had a common goal. After having discussed the ins and outs they selected, they contacted artists from across the world giving more opportunities to local artists first and for most, followed by African creative artists and the artists from anywhere in the world. 21 artists were selected out of which 6 were from Ethiopia. The plan was set in motion but the logistic, finances and venue were still hard to attain. Being the first of its kind did not help in bringing in big investors to fund it, so instead tamerat, Kifle and the rest of the team relied on themselves and individuals they knew to kick start the whole thing.
The symposium started off by picking the said artists from the airport and giving them a tour of the city, they took them to one of the most colorful and inspiration filled parts of the city -Merkato. The artists were shown around the city to gather up inspiration for the next 10 days, where they spent their time with their fellow artists painting in the beautiful compound of Addis Ababa Museum. The artists formed a community with in those 10 days to harbor an inspiration filled environment they could relish in. The symposium consisted of an exhibition, a panel discussion and a masterclass at skylight hotel.
The Addis international art symposium showcased works of artists from all around the world helping bridge a cultural exchange between the participating countries. Art has always had a way of bringing people together over a shared language of beauty and serenity; that is exactly what the symposium achieved. Art influences society as a whole by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time, Art in this sense is communication between the observer and the displayer; it allows people from different cultures and different times to communicate with each other via images that tell of a familiar story told from a perspective outside of one’s own head.
After the events of the symposium, the works of the artists didn’t get the proper stage time, due to the pandemic, so they were kept safe in the private studios of the founding artists until they could be displayed again. It has been more than a year since the symposium took place yet the Pieces remain just as relevant. People who were lucky enough to have attended wish it was an annual event for it shone light on important issues while educating the viewers and the artists alike.
Artist Tamerat thought it would be best if they were kept in the city’s museum open for viewing by anyone and everyone. They are kept there to serve as learning pieces. When asked why the artists choose to keep the pieces in the museum, he simply said it is to let anyone who wishes to view or learn from it have the opportunity to do so in the most convenient of space, after all museums are built to reserve and project the past in a subtly glamorized historical way, as such Addis Ababa Museum does that and more. The institution regularly displays some of the most precious historical artifacts while simultaneously managing to showcase new emerging art from across the country and the continent at large.
The symposium did not set out to be a onetime thing; it has educated, moved and entertained many in the short time it has existed. AIAS has partnered up with fendika cultural center and Addis Ababa Museum for a free exhibition starting from June 13 until July 11 at Addis Ababa Museum. Artist Tamerat has donated the art work to the museum and hopes to have such symposium in the future. He placed special thanks on Melaku Belay, founder and owner of fendika cultural institute, as well as other individuals who have supported the project from start to end. He believes Ethiopia has just as much potential if not more to harbor spaces for creatives from around the world. Our history is drenched in colorful palates of unique still art that can be used as inspiration to create more contemporary pieces. Anyone can head over to the museum to gaze and appreciate pieces created in an open space by artists from different walks of life.
Contributed by Yosthena Aynalem