Abel Assefa is a noted Researcher for Ethiopian Art, Culture & Heritage. Here, he converses with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew on his background, his vision to build a museum ‘Ankober,’ on finding a partnership, on helping protect some of Ethiopia’s vulnerable heritage and on his upcoming photographic exhibition titled, ‘The Wax and Gold of Hair Style in Ethiopia’. Excerpts:
The Reporter: You are a researcher in the Ethiopian Art, Culture & Heritage. Tell me about that? (Talk about your career, what you do on that front etc.)
Abel Assefa: Just to give some background about myself, since 2012, I have been working at the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), as an expert of Heritage Conservation & Management; and an Archeologist. Among many projects that I have been involved in and to mention two prominent ones; I was the technical committee and advisor for the relocation of the statue of Abune Petros from its original place in Abune Petros square, to the compound of the Ethiopian National Museum in 2013, and also its return to its original place in 2015-16. I was also a lead conservator and team member for conservation and restoration project study for the Equestrian Statue of Emperor Menelike II and Sebastopol Statue in Addis Ababa; in 2017.
Besides my professional career, I also practice photography and painting as well. I am also a freelance researcher and collaborate with different national and international artists and researchers on the mater. I was involved as a researcher in a project entitled “Decolonizing Architecture in Addis Ababa 1935-41,” which was organized by RASS Architects and The Royal Institute of Art/Stockholm. A panel exhibition was displayed at an Urban Center curated by Kebeteeske Ketema from January 31 to February 7, 2019. I was also Organizing Team Member and Participant as a Researcher for “Shoa – A Geographical Passion” a project that was jointly organized by Goethe-Institute and Alliance Ethio-Francaise, in 2018 and 2019.
In addition, I am working on my upcoming photographic exhibition entitled ‘The Wax and Gold of Hair Style in Ethiopia,’ that is going to be presented both in Addis Ababa and Frankfurt/Germany. Furthermore and most importantly, I give lectures every semester in Arba Minch University for Architecture and Urban Planning students’ about Heritage and Heritage conservation.
You have travelled to a number of nations and have looked at experiences there. How are we, as Ethiopians helping protect the local culture, including historical artifacts and sites?
Our community, especially those living in historical sites or places, value and preserve their culture. The role of religious institutes especially, is very immense in preserving and assessing historical treasures. In context of valuing and protecting heritages, it depends on the type of culture and heritage and also where it is located. When I say type of culture and heritage, our community is incredible in protecting, practicing and caring for heritage sites and cultures, which have religious value. Currently, due to the importance of Ethiopian heritages on the international scene, there is a serious challenge in theft and illicit trafficking of cultural heritages. Due to this, there needs to be a serious work that must be done to raise awareness in the local community.
Tell me about the museum project in Ankober?
The museum was initially initiated by Ankober Palace lodge and Minilik Memorial Association. However, it was built by Ankober Woreda and North Shoa culture and tourism bureau. Although the construction of the Museum was completed in 2015, due to conflicts of interest between various stakeholders to manage and own the museum, it was forced to close for about four years. The project, “Shoa – A Geographical Passion” authored by Hugues Fontaine, which was divided in two phases, became a good reason for the opening of the museum. (Anyone interested to visit the content of the exhibition and overall project can visit https://shoageographicalpassion.com/)
On the second phase of the project, with the idea of presenting such exhibition to the local community, all contents of the exhibition that were displayed in ethnographical museum of the Ethiopian Studies Institute of Addis Ababa University, were transported and mounted in the museum. In addition to the content of the exhibition facilitated by Fontaine, 21 historical photographs and 7 maps have also been included and have become part of the exhibition and museum properties.
Finally, on October 26/2020 the exhibition will open. On the day of the inauguration, it was possible to mobilize more than 400 local visitors from the area. Since the day it was opened, more than 5000 people visited the Museum.
Why do you think such a museum is important there?
Such museums in places like Ankober are a great deal in fostering community engagement, in management of cultural heritages and creating awareness for youngsters. In case of Ankober for example, it was the capital and largest administrative town of Shawa in the 1830s and 1840s and was an important place in 19th century. In this case, different structures primarily related to its formation and expansion of Ankober including courts/palaces of Shoa’s kings and nobilities were destroyed. Therefore, the valorization of the historical sites and the town by opening the museum is very important for tourists and also the local community.
Who have you partnered with to make this happen?
Lots of partners were involved in this project. As I have stated above, the main reason for the opening and operation of the museum is the project “Shoa- A Geographical Passion”. The project has benefited from the Franco-German Fund and the French Embassy, and it is part of a partnership between L’Alliance Ethio-Francaise in Addis Ababa, the Goethe Institute in Addis Ababa, and Gurameyne Gallery in Addis Ababa.