Art: Ethiopia’s capital listening

By Crystal Orderson in Addis Ababa
Posted on Friday, 6 May 2016 10:38

The Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, looks and feels like a giant construction site. It is difficult to make sense of the city and its evolving landscape – even locals say they cannot keep up.

There is an excitement, however, about the scope for cultural renewal, which is why Ethiopian-born curator Rakeb Sile has seized the moment to open the Addis Fine Art (AFA) gallery.

We decided to open a gallery emerging from a local space in the heart of Ethiopia’s capital, showcasing modern and contemporary art

“We decided to open a gallery emerging from a local space in the heart of Ethiopia’s capital, showcasing modern and contemporary art from Ethiopia and its diaspora that simultaneously engages Ethiopian artists and the global art market,” she explains.

Habesha Art Studio and Netsa Art Village have carved out an important space for contemporary Ethiopian art in the capital, but opportunities for young and upcoming artists to exhibit in Addis are still in short supply.

After three years running AFA as a consultancy, Sile and her associate Mesai Haileleul are convinced of the demand from collectors, international institutions and galleries for art from the country and the region.

Sile and her partners struggled for months to make local contractors understand the idea of a white space and a gallery’s lighting demands. But finally on 8 January AFA opened its doors in the heart of Bole.

The inaugural show, ‘Addis Calling’, which ended on 26 March, presented seven artists aged 40 or under who live in Addis. The best known is Tamrat Gezahegne, whose abstract compositions have already been exhibited in Nairobi and Berlin. But it is Dawit Abebe’s Rank and Providence series, commenting on imbalances of power in Ethiopian society, that was chosen as the exhibition’s emblem.

All seven artists’ work reveals the strength and dynamism emanating from the city’s studios. The gallery plans five curated shows in 2016 and intends to host dialogues, facilitate collaborations and to take its artists to the rest of the world.

From 3-6 March AFA was the first Ethiopian gallery to exhibit at the Armory Focus in New York – an invitation-only fair that spotlights a different region each year. Sile’s ambition is truly to carve a path for Ethiopian artists. She says: “We want to champion the most critical, thought- provoking and cutting-edge work the world has ever seen.” ●

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