POP UP ADDIS
A new energetic curator-duo has popped up in Addis Ababa. Photographer Zacharias Elias Abubeker and film-producer Sara Eklund recently organized the first ever pop up exhibition in the Ethiopian capital, giving a much needed creative injection to the Ethiopian art scene.
Until recently the concept of the pop-up exhibitions was a relatively unknown phenomenon in Ethiopia. In the US and Europe, temporary exhibitions in abandoned spaces spread rapidly in the 00s. As Western markets declined and the financial crisis tightened its grip, small and large scales companies struggled for survival. In major cities like as New York, Chicago, Paris, Berlin and Copenhagen, many stores closed down, leaving storefronts, lots and cargo halls empty. Artists and art-professionals quickly saw an opportunity to make another kind of profit of the new abandoned spaces by turning them into temporary galleries. And thus the idea of the pop-up exhibition spread like a whirlwind across Europe and the US.
With a economic growth rate at 9% Ethiopia is not exactly an economy in decline. You will rarely find storefronts and space in general being abandoned for long – there’s always someone waiting around the corner to set up a small shop selling cell-phone equipment, various useless gadgets, grains and flour, jewellery, etc. Ethiopia is not experiencing a decline in artistic and cultural activities either. Things ARE happening but the problem is that these ‘things’ are most likely to be organized by a few art insiders and take place in the already established institutions and cultural institutes, thus rarely breaking new grounds. To continue growing artistically the Ethiopian art scene needs more new blood and outside-the-box thinking.
For Zacharias Elias Abubeker and Sara Eklund the challenging Ethiopian art scene was an opportunity to create something original and spontaneous. On May 9th, their first POP UP ADDIS exhibition opened in the Ethiopian capital, presenting a much needed fresh initiative in an art environment that has much more potential than it has infrastructure to cultivate it. According to the two young diasporas the premise of the show was “to curate something that was completely out of the normal art scene happening in Addis Ababa”. Thematically the objective of the exhibition was to try to define what Ethiopia means to people of different backgrounds and contexts. To break down and challenge some of the stereotypes that are so often associated with the country and its people. One month before the show an open call was announced encouraging artists from around the globe to submit works reflecting their interpretation of Ethiopia. With a goal to present multiple representations of the country, one of the main ideas was exactly to have art works from people who had never visited the country.
POP UP ADDIS did not only give way for a new exhibition format, but also for artists to review and present their works in new surroundings and for them to encounter artists from other parts of the world. And the numbers speak a clear language of the success of the duos initiative. 63 artists from over 15 countries submitted artworks, a total of 46 artists were exhibited at the final show, and approximately 250 people showed up on the opening night. The importance of an event like this cannot be underestimated, although to have a larger impact and play a serious role within Ethiopian contemporary art it will need to be repeated and re-invented. Luckily the success of this first pop up event has given Zacharias and Sara taste for more, and they’re planning another event of a similar concept – although possibly more focused and with fewer artists – in the fall. We look forward to following this new initiative.
Sara Eklund has recently graduated from New York University obtaining a BFA in Film Production. Having spent most of her life overseas she aims to tell stories from the backdrops of her upbringing. She returned to Addis Ababa in January and is in pre production for her next film to be shot in Ethiopia.
Zach Abubeker is a photographer and visual artist currently living and working in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He has been living in Ethiopia for the past year and a half working as a freelance photographer while also expanding his portfolio. He plans to return to the United States this year to pursue a Masters Degree in Fine Arts.
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