The young fellow is wearing a simple shirt and jeans; just standing still. Not knowing what is about to come, he waits solemnly. A businessman approached him. He did not react. The businessman carelessly opened his Samsonite and brought out a green and yellow paint. Then started painting on the young man. The young man seemed to have no choice except to stand motionless until the businessman finished. After painting on the young man head to toe, the businessman hastily left the scene.
This story is illustrated in “Under Construction”, a video art piece by Yacob Bizuneh. Green and yellow, a color used to infer construction is taking place, has inspired many artists to express their distress over the sudden changes occurring in the country. Especially Addis Ababa, a growing construction hub, is changing rapidly, leaving no reminiscence whatsoever of the past.
“Under Construction”, which is among the 17 videos encompassed in Addis video art festival is not the only artistic piece dealing with the change the city is going through. “Frightened”, a video art by Marta Haile depicts the fear and confusion city dwellers are facing as a result of high rising buildings swamping Addis.
The emerging constructions, which seem to have no space for preserving historical sites, has been up for discussion for years now. Debates about creating a balance between heritage preservation and the progressing construction are still going on in various venues.
The second edition of Addis video art festival, that took place for the past two weeks, has once again brought forth the issue for dialogue. Only this time it is using video art. The festival themed “Love Triangle” screened video arts dealing with various socio-economic and political issues.
The video art festival idea came about after an incident that occurred ten years ago, states the founder Ezra Wube. Photographer Aida Muluneh suggested he screens one of his animation videos at Meskel square. The square had a newly installed huge electronic billboard which was used to screen movies, football match and commercials.
He rented the screen to show a minute excerpt of one of his short animations. “At the time, one minute was the maximum time allowed to screen per day,” he told The Reporter. The video is based on a folktale inspired by everyday scenes from Addis Ababa. “Seeing my art echoing in the city, in context and parallel imagination with the everyday life was the most thrilling experience,” he remembers.
Years after that experience, he decided to create a space where Ethiopian and foreign video artists get a chance to screen their videos. He has been screening his videos in several video art festivals held in various countries. It does not require much to organize such festival since videos can be screened just about anywhere. “So I began to think about the possibility of organizing a festival in Addis too,” he states.
The art community quickly embraced the idea and the first edition of the festival dubbed “New Home” was held las year in various venues including galleries, Alle School of Fine Arts and Design and Tej Bet, a local bar where honey wine is served.
For the second edition, his team sent out an open call for video artists who has an artistic piece that falls under this year’s theme. Artists whose works were selected for this year include Mohamad El-Hadidi, Mulugeta Gebrekidan, Marie-France Giaraudon, Martha Haile, Edgar Endress, Shahar Marcus, Nezaket Ekici, Helina Metaferia, Carolin Koss, Michael MacGarry, Susanne Wawra, Onyinye Alheri, Meike Redeker, Ng’endo Mukii, Eyal Segal, Yacob Bizuneh, Jacob Podbler and Wala & Kush. All the videos are of a single channel and created within the last three years.
The videos were screened at Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Fine Arts, Addis Ababa Museum, the National Gallery, British Council and Fendika Cultural Center. There were also public screenings around Merkato, Sidist Kilo, Arat Kilo, Biherawi and supermarkets around Bole. “By sharing video art in both conventional and non-conventional settings, the festival will reach both the art community and the everyday passerby. The festival aims to create a dialogue between local, and international artists by encouraging digital media culture,” Ezra explains.
He says through screening movies in varies locations, including street corners, rooftops, public spaces, cultural centers and art hubs, his team hopes to grab the attention of the local community. “We hope to get the community interested, to ask questions and stay connected by finding the quintessential common human elements within the international videos we are sharing,” he points.
While screening videos in public areas, they have been able to create curiosity among the public. They have also reached the public aside from the art community. He believes the art community is small and the team wanted to reach outside that circle. “Art and life cannot be separated, the closer an art is to life the truer it is,” Ezra elaborates.
Video art is gaining popularity in terms of providing an alternative means of voicing different ideas. he states video is a medium that gives numerous possibilities for artists ranging from image, sound, movement and time. He says “A video can be a painting, a sculpture, a sound, narrative or non-narrative and also the combination of all,” giving an immense freedom to the artist.
According to him, video art is becoming an optional artistic medium not only in the countries responsible for developing it but, countries like Ethiopia too. “Digital media is not singular; it is infinitively copy-able. Which brings a gesture of generosity for the artist. It is a fluid medium and it can be forgiving as well, because if you don’t like it you can certainly erase it easily, forever,” he points.
He believes Ethiopian video art is a part of Ethiopians deep-rooted story telling culture. Nowadays, the digital technology made these culture more easily accessible. Anyone can produce a video using mobile phone or any other gadget without a studio.
He says “Our artists are interdisciplinary in their practices, incorporating the performative, the stoic and painterly art.” He refers to Yacob Bizuneh’s “Under construction”, Mulugeta Gebrekidan’s “Auropa” and Martha Haile’s “Frightened” that has highlighted social issues.
The videos tell stories from various countries including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Chile, India, Turkey, Canada, USA, Israel and Italy. Issues of migration and global warming has been depicted in some of the videos.
According to Ezra, the festival included videos that translate new positions which are created from the experience of moving between place, time and identity. He also explains why the festival is dubbed “Love Triangle” saying “It is to imply connection and ties between three entities; the subject and two objects. Due to a surge in development, many residents of the city of Addis Ababa will be relocating to new neighborhoods. For those who move, their sense of belonging is no longer singular, instead they are tied between yesterday and today, here and there.”