A feast for the senses: Week of art shows and workshops in Addis
Modern Art Museum GebreKristos Desta Center opened a new exhibition exploring major art works in Ethiopian modern art scene. Art works that stood out during the past year and other pieces of art that have not been seen in several years were brought together for this exhibition. The show opened January 5th to the public as part of the Addis 2019 African Humanities Initiative Workshop.
The exhibition consists of several works by different artists that are defining modern and contemporary Ethiopian art. BehailuBezabih’s rubber and wire installations from his memorable exhibition Phoenixat the Modern Art Museum are included in this collection. Phoenix was a question of Ethiopia’s political future following violent protests on the outskirts of Addis. Behailu had collected burnt tires from these protest sites. Coil of wire that line the inside of tires that burst during burning had been repurposed into square forms.
DawitAbebe’s equally memorable and highly evocative mixed media works from his 3-month exhibition at Addis Fine Art,Mutual Identity are also in the selection.
Large, nude male figures drawn in chalk and graphite striding above miniscule collages of popular peopleplays with our hunger for individual identity, people rush towards an intended destination or pose for an audience they are certain is entranced; their personal shadows hint they bask in a personal sun. The nude figures seem to represent the multiplication of a collective ego.
The works of Eyob Kitaba and BerhanuAshagrie also reflected massive urbanization and construction, burning issues for many Addis Ababa residents.
Eyob Kitaba’sUrban DNA dealt with the process of urbanization and its inevitable effects on social and communal aspects of the city. Door handles are strewn on the gallery floor leading up to a thin block of concrete that stretches to the ceiling. It feels imposing – an unscalablewall. It is juxtaposed with a corrugated metal sheet commonly used to conceal construction sites.
BerhanuAshagrie’sNon-site Topographies, an experimental photography project he began in 2010, shows up-close pictures of the aftermaths of demolitions. The images contain short bursts of information in photographic fragments that are methodically deconstructed.
The exhibition also brought performance artist Helen Zeru’s poignant video installation Memory Back and Forth. Produced in 2011, the video tells the story of profane dislocation as her mother’s body is exhumed from the grave following a highway construction project in 2010. The installation is moving, as is Helen’s detailed description. “The city Addis Ababa is going though a great deal of transformation where old neighborhoods are being torn down and people are forced to move from their old neighborhoods to new places … Public spaces are giving way to skyscrapers; places where society nurtured livelihoods are banished for the sake of ‘development, especially to the construction of buildings, roads and railways. Old graveyards are also being hollowed out and moved and office buildings and so on are replacing them. Hence, the city is becoming devoid of memory where the dislocation is leaving the city to an almost chronic and ongoing ‘transformation’…” While the words are from 2011, the circumstances are still similar – Addis Ababa’s rapid transformation that has left many suffering in its wake.
The final gem of this exhibition was the addition of AssefaGebrekidan’s work. Two chairs with stovetop seats are placed above bottles of flammable liquid, igniting in flames at intervals.
The Addis 2019 African Humanities Initiative Workshop on the theme of ‘Africa as a Concept and Method: Emancipation, Decolonization, Freedom’ washosted by Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) and Addis Ababa University’s College of Performing and Visual Art as well as Center for African Studies. The workshop also hosted two other art exhibitions and a theatrical performance of a TsegayeGebreMedhin’s play adaptation ‘Wreckage: An Ethiopian Mother Courage’ at the National Theater on January 5.
The exhibition at the Alle art school gallery was an extensive exploration of modern Ethiopian art with older works of artists like KirubelMelke and contemporary artists like Kerima Ahmed. The exhibition is worth a visit for those curious to see previous works of artists whose names with which they are familiar.
The final exhibition at the Addis Ababa Museum began with a performance by Robel Temesgen as he read from his absorbing Addis Gazeta. The reading explored the historic significance of Meskel Square as a center for social and political action in Addis Ababa. The performance was followed by a rather disappointing exhibition that showed images from last month’s Addis Foto Fest right next to installations of BehailuBezabih’sPhoenix. The juxtaposition does not seem deliberate. The small gallery space allows natural light on the front wall while the rest of the room is in shadows.
The Addis 2019 African Humanities Initiative Workshop’s thematic seminars have been led by Elizabeth W. Giorgis (PhD), Associate Professor of Art History, Criticism and Theory at Addis Ababa University, Simon Gikandi from Princeton University and MshaiMwangola from Kenya.
37 early-career scholars from across the continent have joined the workshop to discuss issues on art that emerges on the continent and African storytelling with a seminar from DagmawiWoubshet from the University of Pennsylvania and creating emancipatory spaces in the African academy: the place of the scholar-activist with AkosuaAdomakoAmpofo from the University of Ghana.
Renowned artist Julie Mihretu also gave a seminar on Art and Urbanism at Alle School of Fine art and Design. The seminar explored multicultural background and the role of physical space on her artistic practice. She gave in-depth analysis of her recent paintings that explore the history and aesthetics of a certain place and the techniques she uses to in her art making.
The workshop hopes to connect African scholars, redefining what it means to be African and ‘re-conceptualize Africa as both a theoretical category and a prism to examine the contemporary world’.
The workshop will also include a full day public panel discussion on Monday January 14 on the topic of visual culture, popular culture and sound studies as well as urban humanities.
Addis 2019 is the first such workshop to be held by CHCI Africa.
The three exhibitions will continue thought out the following week.