The African Union has declared 2021 the year of “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.” Well done! However, African artists have not waited for anyone, any country or any institution to recognize or support their efforts, in line with the theme. Ethiopian artists amongst artists on the continent have had to fend for themselves, before Covid19, and during 2020 when 99% of the world experienced serious financial hardship. These conditions have not deterred artists from finding new media, fresh narratives and innovative spaces to share their work. Moa Anibessa Art Studio Gallery is just one of these spaces. Located in Kazanches, the center of Addis, Artist Prince Merid Tafesse has decided to open his family home of over 35 years to the public for the purpose of sharing his art, ideas and creativity. Full disclaimer: I am married to Prince Merid and gave great consideration as to how to write a piece about the avantgarde artist and his decision to open his very private life to the public, without partiality. Problem is I am very partial to art and role it plays in our society; evidenced by this very weekly column.
There are a handful of galleries and art spaces in Addis Abeba which contribute in so many ways to the development of the country. In alphabetical order, to name a few, Addis Ababa Museum, Addis Fine Art Gallery, Gebre Kristos Desta Modern Art Museum, Guaramayne Art Center, Lela Gallery, Lafto Gallery, Oda Medemer Art Sculpture Space, St George Gallery and Zoma Museum. Being obviously biased to art and spaces where people can gather and have important exchanges on the relevance and analysis of social, spiritual, cultural, even political ideas; I am thrilled that Moa Anibessa Art Studio Gallery has entered the ring. The name of this newest spot is inspired by the gate. For almost 15 years the black gate with a golden majestic lion flanked by the green, gold and red flag; topped with cross and crown, representing the age-old Ethiopian monarchy has been a landmark. Located in a quiet cul-de-sac, just a 5 minute drive from the Radisson Hotel visitors are in for a treat. Once you enter the compound you are surrounded by an oasis of green. Ten meter tall banana trees; fruit filled Tamarillo tree; pink and red hibiscus bushes; jade trees with aromatic buds; towering cactus and orchids with beautiful red blooms and more grace the small yard.
The classic Kazanches style villa has all the design influences of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright including low pitched roof lines, central chimney and overhanging eves; typical mid-modern century architecture. A 3 meter wide red wall introduces viewers of what is to come with an equally long acrylic work with a depiction of life in Addis…construction, people moving fast and a cast of characters, many of whom we can identify as someone we have had an encounter with at some point in time. Then you enter Moa Anbessa Art Studio Gallery for an experience. The salon with warm polished parquet floors, 3 meter high tray ceilings with wood insets and a brick faced marble fireplace are transformed into a showcase for contemporary fine art. The 44 square meter space houses the first exhibition “Different Strokes For Different Folks” solo oil painting exhibition by owner/artist Prince Merid. Two dozen works ranging in sizes and content are neatly displayed on the crisp white walls. Subjects range from “Tribute to Lemn Sissay”, Ethiopian poet to “Tribute to Kahlil Gibran” who sits in an urban apartment surrounded by a flurry of activity. “Hamsa Lomi” depicts a typical cultural scene with one young woman dressed in cultural garb cradling an arm full of lemons while others enjoy the holiday setting. The fresh aroma of oil paint fill the gallery but not in an overpowering way. Instead, it’s just enough to remind you that you are in an artist’s home and studio.
When Merid’s “favorite female artist” Selome Muleta visited Moa Anbessa, the two discussed the shortage of space and thus limited options for exhibitions. They elaborated on the need for art lovers and buyers to experience the artists’ domain…where they live, eat, create. This may not be a novel idea however it does require some effort beyond showcasing art, propped up on walls which sit on the heavily paint encrusted floors. The concept of a studio gallery is about strong and focused artists curating a section of even the smallest space and inviting art connoisseurs, collectors, media and more to showcase and sell art work. Additionally, the studio gallery can be offered to young artists for pop ups as they rarely get a chance to exhibit in their first few years. Unleashing the power and potential of artists is essential to the shaping of tomorrow’s Ethiopia and there is no need to wait on galleries or government. They will catch up. Poet Lemn Sissay says, “I think I’ll paint roads on my front room walls to convince myself that I’m going places.” Likewise, may artists be surrounded by curated spaces that remind them they are not just producers of paintings but visual authors of our dreams, hopes and aspirations.
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.