We are Still Here: a photographic portrait of a neighbourhood in Arat Kilo. By Salima Punjani
The urban landscape of Addis is changing at a breathtaking speed. If you are away for a couple of months the city will be changed when you come back. Construction skeletons with nerve-wrecking wooden scaffoldings rise towards the sky where ever you look, and the number of them increases every day. The city has already transformed and will continue to transform in the next decades. In a few years areas of Addis will be unrecognizable for Ethiopians returning from years abroad, and even for the Addis Ababans. The strive to become a modern capital of the Horn of Africa, doesn’t leave much of the old Addis untouched.
The rapid changes in the urban environment is on many people’s lips, and for many reasons. What will the city become, what will be left, where will the displaced people go, how is social relations preserved when people get displaced, and what about the historical places of the city? The collective memory of a society rely on things such as social relations, interactions and a mutual history and sense of place. Will these things be abandoned with the heavy demolition, construction and gentrification going on? Basically, no one really knows how the city will look or perform in the coming years, all we know is that it will change completely and we have an idea that it’s not gonna be pretty… (in our opinion of course)
Recently it has come to our attention that different groups of photographers are working on documenting the city before it’s too late. This is one of the most important and relevant actions in times where the urban environment changes so drastic, that specific features of the city, historical buildings, whole neighbourhoods and groups of people are at risk of being forever forgotten. To photograph the present is a powerful way of preserving the past for the sake of the future (generations). We applause these projects and hope to share the work of the photographers with you on a regular basis.
We will start on a small scale, and zoom in to a specific place of Addis, that indeed still exists, but for how long no one knows. Canadian photographer Salima Punjani was based in the Arat Kilo area of Ginfle, before recently travelling to India. Before she left she spend hours strolling up and down the streets of Ginfle, talking to dusins of people, and taking hundreds of photographs, that would end up in a photo-reportage of her hood called We Are Still Here. With the continuing discussions on the changing Addis Salima felt that there was a gap documenting what is still here, while it is still here, and documenting her own area was a reaction to this feeling. We are Still Her was displayed at Asni Gallery, also located around Arat Kilo, and the video below shows Salima’s selection of photographs for the exhibition. Read Salima’s own layout of how We are Still here started below the video.
In the current contemporary art environment in Addis Ababa, there has been a strong focus on the city’s deconstruction and construction, demolition and rebuilding, what is lost or what no longer exists. I feel there is a gap in documenting what is still here, while it is still here.
“We are Still Here” started with the intention of questioning what modernization and gentrification do to social connections between people. I chose to focus on Ginfle in Arrat Kilo, an area set for destruction in the near future, but also an area to which I have a strong attachment to, my current neighborhood.
The process was full of challenges, including a strong questioning of my belonging and role as a foreigner in documenting the lives of “others.” Although those portrayed in these photographs are people who I consider my neighbors, what is the role of an outsider in interpreting the lives of others for presentation and viewing?
My intention is to show you how things are the way they are now before they change. The audio and photographic slideshow combines excerpts from interviews around Ginfle with different merchants and residents as well as sounds heard while walking in the area. The music in the background is inspired by traditional “Tizita” chords, symbolizing the feeling of nostalgia present in the neighborhood, nostalgia for a present which will soon be the past.
FOr more info on Salima, please visit her website: www.salimaphotography.weebly.com