The Armory Show Focus: African Perspectives
A New Gallery Caters to Growing Interest in Ethiopian Art
C& talks to the gallerists behind Addis Fine Art.
Tuesday March 1st, 2016
Addis Fine Art is a new gallery space in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa that was established to cater to the growing public interest and participation in the country’s visual arts
C&: Congratulations on launching the gallery Addis Fine Art in January 2016. How would you describe AFA?
Addis Fine Art: The gallery is the culmination of work we started in 2013, providing curatorial and advisory services related to Ethiopian modern and contemporary art to our clients. AFA started in response to an increasing demand for engagement with and information related to art from this region. Since most of the requests came from private collectors, international institutions and galleries, we quickly realized that Ethiopian art lacked cohesive local and international representation, despite an increase in independent art institutions across Africa. It’s with this mission in mind that 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 and simultaneously engaging Ethiopian artists and the global art market.
C&: Bringing together artistic practices and perspectives from Ethiopia and its Diaspora is at the core of your project. How do you see these connections, especially in terms of collaboration and access?
AFA: Our primary aim is to provide a local space and an international platform for artistic expression from Ethiopia and its Diaspora, to champion the most critical, thought-provoking and cutting-edge output. However, the fact that the artists we work with are of Ethiopian origin is only a point of departure, not the whole story. Some artists challenge the assumed “African” aesthetic and some use the rich tapestry of their cultural heritage as an integral part of their work. Regardless of how their art is expressed, the artists we work with are determined to convey their personal narratives and develop their creative practices in an increasingly interconnected world.
We are particularly excited by a new generation of artists from this region such as Dawit Abebe, Emanuel Tegene, Leikun Nahusenay, Tamrat Gezahegne, Robel Temesgen, Aida Muluneh, and many more, who are influenced not only by their local contexts, but also use the exchange of international information and ideas as part of the creative process. AFA aims to be part of the local creative network by helping to bring new talent to a wider audience, whilst strengthening the presence of Ethiopian art within the global arena.
C&: Tells us a bit more about your inaugural show Addis Calling, featuring painting, photography and mixed media. Who are the artists showing and what are the links between them?
AFA: Addis Calling celebrates the breadth and depth of artistic practice in Ethiopia through the presentation of works by seven contemporary artists who live and work in Addis Ababa. We wanted to showcase the variety of artistic expression that can be found in this city. The exhibition is a vibrant mix of painting, photography and mixed media and reflects the city’s dynamic perspectives.
Addis Calling presents four painters: Dawit Abebe’s new series Rank and Providence explores the relationship between society and those in positions of authority. His work is concerned with the visible imbalances of power in modern life. Yosef Lule explores the impact of urbanization on traditions, religions, and lifestyles in Addis Ababa. Tamrat Gezahegne is known for his bold use of color and the repetition of motifs, but his practice also extends to installation and performance art. Emanuel Tegene is regarded as an emerging talent who started his career as a cartoonist at Saloon Ethiopia. Tegene’s pieces explore changing cultural dynamics in local society and are deeply rooted in his own personal encounters. We are also pleased to be representing Emanuel in this year’s Armory Focus in New York.
Mixed media artist Workneh Bezu draws inspiration for many of his compositions from his own dreams. Figures in Bezu’s paintings are often immersed in a supernatural world. Bezu’s practice extends to animation film, puppet making and sculpture.
Experimental works in fine art photography complete the group show. Leikun Nahusenay’s recognition as a fine art photographer is steadily growing. Using double exposure photography, Nahusenay documents the daily life and cultural motifs in Jijiga, the capital of the Somali region of Ethiopia. Fine art photographer Michael Tsegaye documents his surroundings. Series such as Future Memories display the artist’s grasp of change and the shifting topography of the city. Tsegaye’s work has been featured in the exhibition Snap Judgments: New Directions in African Photography (2007) and in The New York Times. Despite their various mediums, these artists are linked by the city of Addis Ababa.
C&: Addis Ababa seems to be slowly emerging as a thriving, creative hub. How do you perceive the reactions to this and who is the possible audience?
AFA: The future of the creative scene looks very promising as Addis Ababa is second to Geneva regarding its number of international offices and NGOs, which makes the city very important politically. The presence of this large, transient expatriate community lends support to the local art scene. The number of local artists invited to participate in art fairs and to show their work in prominent galleries and museums around the world is unprecedented. International collectors are noticing and buying, whilst local collectors are also spending significant amounts on artwork, which was unthinkable just a decade ago. The growing public participation in art-related events is also very encouraging. The youth of the city, in particular, are the most visible participants, and the most receptive to new forms of expression that challenge traditional norms.
C&: Where do you see AFA in 5 years?
AFA: Since Addis Ababa has become the political capital of Africa, our hope is that AFA will be a significant contributor to making it an influential cultural hub as well. In order to accomplish this, we plan to execute an innovative program of exhibitions, talks and events in our main local exhibition space. We intend to enrich our program by initiating collaborations and dialogues with artists, curators and practitioners from the continent, while increasing our presence at international art fairs and developing international pop-up spaces. Furthermore, we are planning to expand our physical presence in one or more cities outside of Africa.
Interview by Aïcha Diallo