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Contemporary arts in Ethiopia is yet to have a home.

Haile Gerima, a prominent Ethiopian filmmaker, famously pointed out that groundbreaking artists are only recognized after foreign validation. Even though there have been attempts to dispute this sentiment, it is the truth. Contemporary arts in Ethiopia is yet to have a home. At this time while we have a few spaces that work at the preservation of our art forms like dancing and some folklore, the next few years of the arts stands on shaky ground.

At this time, the progress is paved with foreign money and interest. Yet we may also debate the lack of local governments’ interest to do anything for the creative industry. As initiatives like Capture Addis take form to highlight the visual art of photography, we learn that photography has become the new art of the poor. Before the advances in technology and the spread of smartphones, the easiest accessible tools for art-making were pen and paper. Our country has many hidden writers in every home. The many emerging literary events and the large audiences they are attracting are proof of this developing art.

Other art forms are not accessible to the masses, making their development slow. As formal teaching and interest are not encouraged, traditional instruments like Masinko and other crafts, like jewelry making, are showing a vast decline. Encouragement is necessary to make progress. It is not in the simple sentimental need to keep tradition and culture but in the absolute belief that we benefit from our unique culture.

Among the innovators of my generation, Endeguena Mulu is a visionary music producer and one of the creators of Ethiopyawi Electronic.

As most in the Ethiopian film industry in Ethiopia stick to commercialised scripts and forms of storytelling, those pushing the limits are often not given the space they require. This year Ethiopia has put into consideration Running Against the Wind for an Academy Award. All countries are entitled to enter films of their choice. While Ethiopia has in the past put forward four films, only two were by Ethiopian filmmakers. According to Hollywood Reporter, Running against the Wind, directed and written by a team of German nationals is the first film that has the backing of the Ethiopian Culture & Tourism Ministry. The other submissions to the Academy Awards have been through individual effort.

While the validation of the Academy Awards is not the epitome of success, the support of the Ethiopian community is. Artists are not making art because they require validation, yet a national indifference toward the emerging art forms is a cause for decline.

Emerging industries are left to fend for themselves in a highly bureaucratic system. While our innovations are paraded to the outside world, internally we are discouraging change makers. Among the innovators of my generation, Endeguena Mulu is a visionary music producer and one of the creators of Ethiopyawi Electronic. His sounds have awed few of his fellow countrymen but the masses abroad. As an appreciation for his deeply culturally-rooted music overflows from outsiders, which of our own spaces are available for creators like him who are pushing boundaries?

This week as I made my way to watch a performance of a prominent artist, I was met with one question at the event entrance, “Will you be paying for a bottle or simply buying off the bar?”

As the degree of my alcohol consumption was questioned as a means of passage, I wondered what will be next?

I was there to enjoy the musical stylings of a celebrated artist, not drink myself under the table on a Monday night. Our artistry must not become a lullaby to drunken slumbers. As alcohol companies, foreign forces and political agendas play tag on our art, who is there standing up for it?

While we could also argue artists themselves do not do enough, and that a united voice is necessary for moving the industry forward, we must recognize that few ever get that far. We are losing many visionaries along the way.

I remember the first time I heard someone sing in an azmari house. I remember the feeling of wonder and beauty I felt. I am still in awe of Endeguena Mulu’s "Ethiopian Records" recent set that puts a mirror to neocolonial practices, the history of racism and gentrification.

There is a lot of potential within Ethiopia, yet until that potential is given a home, it is wasted energy. And while we would like to think of Africa as only being robbed of its natural resources, we are also willingly giving up our artistic potential. We are giving in, standing idly without putting any resistance as our art dies softly.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 28,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1013]

Hanna Haile is the founder of Zellan Creative & Cultural Center. She can be reached at (

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