BIRDS, BULLETS AND THE ART IN BETWEEN

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“We are thankful that our artists continue to express what we are all feeling, yet most times, we are unable to express allowing us to rest assured that our artists ideas and ideals will never die.”

Since the Covid crisis, one thing I thoroughly enjoy is the return of nature, particularly the plethora of birds ranging in size and species, singing at my bedroom window right before dawn. Those sweet sounds in Kazanches coupled with kedase, chants from the nearby church, ensure the start of a good day, even in these uncertain times.  Indeed, it is a joy to rise to these sweet sounds, either preceded or followed by the heavy kremt rains. However, my early morning soundscape came to an abrupt halt following the senseless coldblooded murder of Ethiopian artist HaacaaluuHundessa, proudly Oromo. For several days the sound of shots being fired, permeated the peaceful mornings and I was drawn into a discourse I often have…quiet does not always indicate peace. A morning ritual would become the least of my concern, replaced by the subsequent effects of the killing of young Haacaaluu, who expressed the hopes and aspirations of his beloved people, bearing the most unifying identity of all, Artist.

In the midst of the mayhem, specifically, COVID19 lockdown; Black Lives Matter protests; and Egypt’s meddling in the filling of the GERD, the All Ethiopian Visual Artist Association (AEVAA) filled the space in between with promise. AEVAA was established in 1958, Ethiopian calendar, with the Most Honourable Laureate Artist Afework Tekle serving as the first Secretary General. His impact on Ethiopian art is well documented and serves as a point of great pride for Ethiopia, setting high expectations for the Association. Fifty plus years later, the current SG, Wendwosen Kebede, reminds us that artists continue to contribute to the country and should not be taken for granted, especially during these difficult times. In a phone interview, Artist Wendwosen shared the efforts of AEVAA to support artists impacted by Covid. “We have proposed to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT) and other concerned stakeholders that the creation of graffiti art and monuments in Addis Abeba will add aesthetic value to the city during the stressful time while providing a small honorarium for up to 150 of the possible participating artists. We are also discussing MoCT’s purchase of art from AEVAA artists.” This is a brilliant idea, supporting artists while assisting MoCT in creating an extensive collection by a range of Ethiopia’s emerging and established artists.

Wendwosen further states, “We have a membership of over 400 Ethiopian artists, a few live abroad…although many artists are going through great financial hardship, they are ready to help Ethiopia. We recently identified Ekka Kotebey Hospital…with over 300 physicians and health workers on the frontline fighting Covid…to provide art and books for the hospital staff in an extremely stressful environment. We have collected 85 of 150 art works donated by artists to be curated in the hospital. Dr.’s and health staff spend long hours in the hospital and we want to provide a space that gives comfort and relaxation in between patients…an interior design and bookshelf with over 750 donated books will help them to help us. Who knows, one day I could be a patient there and so we do this for the country for the Dr.’s and health staff but we do it for ourselves…not only is Ekka Kotebey a beneficiary…it is for everyone.”

Finally, the iconic cultural institution, Fendika Cultural Center – almost 30 years old, based in the heart of Kazanches and best known for its amazing Azmari performances- is providing a platform for painters. World renown dancer Melaku Belay, has employed and supported numerous traditional performing artists over the past 14 years, since taking ownership of Fendika. Melaku’s recent initiative to support visual artists through online exhibitions helps maintain the connection he’s built between Ethiopia, Europe and the USA. His personally hosted online exhibitions at www.fendikaculturalcenter.org or on Melaku Belay Facebook page brings a bit of the energy and Fendika feeling, to art lovers where ever they are.

The current Fendika exhibition features a dynamic duo, Prince MeridTafesse and Dereje Shiferaw.  Their 13 pieces each satiate the small neat space with a verve I best describe as powerful visual voices of protest, pain and potential. Melaku says, “Since covid started people are at home and there is no chance to come to galleries or to enjoy Azmari nights so the online exhibitions can help people from being depressed while connecting society with the artist who also explains their work online.” Prince Merid says, “This is an opportunity for artists to show and sell art work at a time where we are all hit so hard.” Dereje adds, “LeulMerid and I agreed to create and display recent art that best expressed the current political, social, spiritual, health and economic situation here and worldwide.” We close thanking our artists for expressing what we may feel, yet most times are unable to express, while we rest assured that our artists ideals and ideas will never die.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born

Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.