BUY ME A CAR
When you live in Addis you get used to people on the street asking for money, food, pens, or the like. But being asked to buy someone a car is quite unusual. However, this is exactly what artist Robel Temesgen asks you.
The idea of the ‘BUY ME A CAR’ project is quite simple Robel’s aspiration to buy a car. But rather than working hard for two years (he of course did the math!) to be able to pay for a car, he chose to make an art-project out of this aspiration. So from November 2011 to December 2014 he asks people to buy him a car donating one birr each – nothing more, nothing less. When he has collected 300.000 birr (!) the car will be bought, and all names written on it. The lucky first 100 even get to choose the place of their signature on the car. In the end the BUY ME A CAR project will culminate in an exhibition of the process featuring the car, a documentary, and a catalogue of the project.
A community art-project
BUY ME A CAR is all about Robel; about buying HIM a car. But it is also all about an artist who believes in the involvement of society in the arts, and about realizing his community-based visions and ideas of art. For Robel the project is also a way of investigating whether Ethiopians can grasp this project as art, if they are ready for art to step out of the traditional painting-fixated corridor, and into society to engage and involve it in a new context.
By confronting people with questions in relation to his car-aspiration, and collecting answers, comments, reactions and not to forget birr from society, Robel conducts an artistic investigation, and creates an art project involving what he estimates to be more than 500.000 people. Because, as he says, he doesn’t expect everyone he meets to give him one birr. But then he will at least have involved them in the project. And this is one reason for the relatively high price of the car – the higher the price the more people will be involved.
Asking people to buy a 300.000 birr car might seem as an egocentric quest. And it probably is. But this quest also encompasses an ambition to create greater awareness of new art forms where art and society intertwine, and to engage in conversations about challenges in contemporary Ethiopian society. Has the globalization era fostered more beggars, are all beggars ‘legitimate’ beggars, what are YOU willing to sponsor. Has new technology and globalization changed what we consider as basic needs? Can a car in fact be a basic need, and how does people react to a person posing a luxury item such as a car as a necessity? These are but some of the questions that Robel wishes to discuss with the community. And in these questions lay also the second reason for the high price of the car: to make it a luxury item in order to question what is basic needs and what is not.
Robel makes no attempt to create a fictive community, where all people unite in the very project of buying him a car. He places emphasis on asking for ideas and thoughts rather than actually asking for money to purchase the car. To him BUY ME A CAR is a platform where he can connect and communicate with society, and discuss the artistic methods at stake with his fellow artist.
Talk of the town?
While his art-school-colleagues among others take great interest in his project and are firm believers, not all reactions reflect the same level of participation. “I don’t have the luxury to support your luxury”, and “Are there any place I can go where people don’t beg” are but some of the reactions from the non-supporters. Others who do not really believe in the project nevertheless support it and spread the word because it is only one birr. Bear in mind that supporters and non-supporters are equally important, because in each case a conversation and reflection has taken place, and the art-project has met new audience.
To document people’s reaction to the project Robel has planned a street performance around Arat Kilo, where he will be sitting in a sofa collecting reactions, comments and not the least birr for his new car. This will happen within the next couple of months.
So don’t be bewildered if you meet a stranger in a sofa around Arat Kilo or on the street asking you to donate one birr for an artist wanting to buy a luxury car. Robel has engaged a number of people armed with red notebooks who walks the street of major cities of Ethiopia asking for your one birr notes. With this satellite activity the word of Robel’s project has quite good chances of getting around Ethiopia, and perhaps even the world.
YES he can!
When asked if he thinks it is realistic to get 300.000 people to donate, Robel answers, “YES” with an unshakeable confidence. And if not, the money and notebooks will be donated to the Yohannes Gedamu Fund, a recently established art fund with the aim of supporting young Ethiopian artists. But with the character of the project the process seems to be of equally great importance as the actual end-result. Even though it would be a shame not to see Robel cruise Addis in his name-tagged luxury car, which not to forget must be made in Ethiopia.
At the moment Robel has no counts of the total amount of birr, but when I submitted my one birr note and signature, he told me that my chances of getting my name right over the left front light were long overdue. Whether the project will be fully realized or not, it is an important attempt to engage society in the arts and create discussions and conversations between an artist and his community. And Robel deserves big thumbs up for this!
For more info on BUY ME A CAR check the Facebook page by the same name.