Monday, 5 December 2011

Ethio-Postcards (3)

Piassa (Addis Ababa) - Ala Kheir

Fresh Work Day (Addis Ababa) - Ala Kheir

The Depictive Present (Addis Ababa) - Ala Kheir

Our efforts, in the last few days, have been geared towards a grand presentation at the Modern Art Museum. The presentation, deo volente, will hold on Tuesday 6, by 6.30pm, and we implore our friends to extend their best wishes in whatever way possible – posts, tweets, comments, emails, silent prayers. From the start, we have emphasized how this project is a one that thrives on the public space – in other words, the project is bland without our blog, website, Facebook page and Facebook group. In other words, our work is premised on public engagements, even public indulgence.
                Which is why every participant has found a way to engage with the other; for instance, Jumoke has a ‘Faces Project’ in which she wishes to highlight the divergent-similarity of the faces of people across the countries we have worked in. Nana is researching on how the art of each country intersects with its socio-political life.
                Ethiopia is not different in any way; Ala has maintained a daily ritual of walking around Piassa, the suburb where we live, returning with tons of photos, sometimes up to 7GB. His discovery, or the manifestation of what he sees, includes photos that speak of the complex ordinariness of the suburb. I was reminded by Kussito Kursha, a medical epidemiologist I met in a mini-bus, that Addis was undergoing changes, thanks to the move to fill the landscape with new, modern buildings. As such, Piassa includes the old and the coming-of-age as its postcards, which is apparent from Ala’s images. Ala’s work is similar to Ray’s in the sense that both artists are seeking to capture the essence of a city at work, or perhaps a city struggling to (re)define itself.
                The modernizing of Addis, a policy which dates back to the 1940s, when the last Emperor was reinstated, seems to be an unending quest. ‘Modern’ might be a stale word, for this might be the phase of ‘ultra-modernization.’ There is some evidence of this form of questing in every city we have visited; new buildings rising at almost every street, some renovation being carried out on existing structures, digital advert boards becoming conspicuous, and the increasing reliance on electricity for several activities. True, this might be apposite pointers to ultramodernization, and I make no attempt in listing irrefutable markers. What is important, is that whether as artists or occupants of African cities, we find ways to define ultramodernization in our own words, demanding that the change that is happening before our eyes is what we seek, not what is imposed on us, and what is essentially useful for our continued existence. There is the danger that the buildings being demolished in the Addis metropolis will become an indicator of change without conscience.  
                There are Ethio-postcards that must be accorded longevity. I do not have the right, I know, to suggest which activity must be retained in the quest for ultramodernity. But such right is not restrictive to indigenes or occupants, in the sense that every city that seeks to ultramodernize itself welcomes the fluidity that comes with supra-culture; take Lagos for instance. So, I have earned the right, however restricted, to demand for the continued existence of certain tinctures:

Cafes and coffee shops – in these hangouts several foreigners can be found, perhaps the presence of several foreigners can be attributed to the ICASA Conference being held this week, starting from 4th. But foreigners, like us, will come and go.

Queue at the Cinema house -  Emeka noticed this first, then Nana. There is, almost on a daily basis, a long queue in front of the Cinema house. And the movies being shown are mostly in Amharic. This could be that there is a gradual return to the golden age of Ethiopian art, which lasted from the early sixties until the Revolution in the 70s. And what more could we ask for, especially as artists, than a direct influence of society by every form of art.

Ethio-jazz – There is a fine fusion of jazz with Ethiopian music. The various night-places which provide live Ethio-jazz music appears to be on the checklist of tourists, visitors, even indigenes. We have been to such places as Fendeka (where we watched a live azmari band), Jazzamba, and Club Alize which are yet to visit. Aside the growing influence of Ethio-jazz, there is good live music being played in hotels – on a trip in a mini-bus to use the free wifi service provided by Jupiter International Hotel, Nana and I became friends with Enoch, who belonged to an acoustic band that was playing that night at the hotel. The band sang songs in both Amharic and English. The English songs included songs by John Legend, Adele, Anthony Newley, The Script, Colbie Caillat etc, rendered beautifully by the band members including Enoch, who was a 6-month-old member of the band.

I consider that our Presentation at the Modern Art Museum will be, somewhat, an act of confrontation with a society in motion – we shall present Addis Ababa with our texto-visual imagination of Ethiopia.

Hopefully, there would be dialogue.