As the art scene grows exponentially here in the continent, Founder & Creative Director of Desta For Africa (DFA), Aida Muluneh Speaks exclusively to Addis Experience about the growing popularity of photography and the young creative talents in the industry. Aida is one of the Ethiopian returnees that are increasingly changing the dark perception of the continent through experimental and alternative art practices. A graduate of Communication Department at Howard University in Washington DC, she returned to Ethiopia and founded Desta For Africa (DFA) in 2010. Desta for Africa (DFA) is currently gearing up to host the upcoming 5th Edition of Addis Foto Fest in December 2018 under the banner “Uniting Africa and The World through Photography”.
Why a photography festival? And tell us how you have managed to sustain it.
Firstly, I felt it was important to show that photography is an art form, a significant medium, and the importance of supporting its development in Ethiopia. Following from that, I wanted to build a network with other photographers from across Africa and the world. Through this event, the ultimate goal is to develop the field and support and encourage young photographers in Ethiopia and continent-wide.
AFF has been supported through the efforts of my company Desta For Africa (DFA), a private company that through its own network produces the event. Then we have local partners such as hotels and media companies as well as international partners such National Geographic who have an interest in supporting the photography sector. We have also had some ongoing relationships with various diplomatic missions here, with particular thanks this year going to the Swiss Embassy.
How has the Art Scene grown since you have arrived?
Since my arrival in 2007, the art scene in Addis Ababa has surged, and ebbed, in waves. Others who predate me approximate the same feeling.
Each time you feel the surge will move forwards, it subsides. So, while there are many new interesting galleries, venues, initiatives, at the same time there are many others that have been subsumed. Addis Ababa is a diverse place, not only in the numbers of artists that have emerged but also by the various cultural activities and galleries that are developing the sector. But yes there are more options as to where exhibitions can be held, for live music, performances, etc.
Are there vibrant spaces for creative expression in Addis Ababa?
There are interesting and important spaces such as the Fendika cultural center, a traditional music and dance space that has expanded to have its own art gallery as well as serving as the home base for some of the more innovative experimental fusions of jazz and traditional music. There are also other art galleries such as Lela Contemporary art gallery, Guramayne art gallery and Addis Fine Art to name a few, which have been significant spaces in development of artists. I think nowadays excitement happens more around events which could be in different spaces and who is curating/organizing it and so can switch as being linked to a specific space.
Do you believe photography and art practice are developed enough to reflect the sentiment of the society here in Africa?
As a huge question, asking sentiments of society for a continent that is hard to answer. But when you look at old photos from the Addis Reporter from ’69-70, images from South Africa’s Drum Magazine, Mali’s MalickSidibé and many more, these represent important, historic, and beautiful images that capture a time, a movement, and flavor of the society.
Does the Continent encourage Art Culture? What should be done to attract more creative talent and audiences?
Different countries have different cultural priorities, and Africa as a continent is not a monolithic whole. What I hope to present and support the development of, is the production of a multiplicity of voices and stories from across the continent empowering photographers in Africa to present their own stories.
What can be done to support that? On a local level, audiences supporting their own artists and producers. On a larger, and political, level, for the custodians – editors at publications, international juries, curators, etc – to reflect upon whom they choose to tell the stories that are coming out of the African continent and why their selections do not necessarily reflect the way those of us living and working in these countries feel.
What is your aspiration for the Continent?
For us to be able to tell our own stories on the complexities of Africa and not the clichés.
Whose work has influenced you the most and why?
As my inspirations come from poetry, paintings, music, and traditional art forms from Ethiopia and around the world it is impossible for me to select a defining artist whose work influenced me. (Though I can cite many influences from teachers and mentors of mine such as Chester Higgins Jr, Dudley Brooks, and to artistic inspirations such as James Baldwin, Nina Simone, FelaKuti, Miriam Makeba.)
What can we expect from the upcoming 5th Edition Foto Fest?
Our biggest edition yet! And our most exciting.
The fifth edition of the Addis Foto Fest marks the event as being the largest in Africa. We will be featuring works by 163 photographers from Africa, Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. This will be the largest event to date that we have organized and expecting to attract the largest number of audiences.