Ethiopia’s Art Scene Has Long Suffered From a Disinterested Government. But Shifting Politics Might Soon Make Culture a Priority – Google Alerts

On the third day of Ethiopia’s internet blackout on June 24, a group of artists gather together at Addis Fine Art in Addis Ababa. All phone data and wifi has been suspended following a foiled coup by rogue state militia the day before. The violence has left three top officials dead, including Major General Gezai Abera, who was killed by his bodyguard at home. “This has been a big shock to take a step back like this, as we are on the verge of positive change,” the gallery’s co-founder, Mesai Haileleul, tells artnet News. 

Addis Ababa’s streets are empty and citizens have been advised not to journey outside of the city center. Still, three of Ethiopia’s most promising young artists—Dawit Abebe, Tizta Berhanu, and photographer Eyerusalem Jiregna—come to the gallery to speak with this reporter about their work. While the last few years have signaled much promise for Ethiopia’s growing art scene, after the attacks, the future seems uncertain again. 

The recent violence illustrates how ethnic tensions are threatening the reform agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Elected just over a year ago, his plan to transform the country offered hope for democratic change to an eager Ethiopian populace—but his rapid changes have fostered uncertainty and tension at home.

Addis Fine Art Founders Mesai Haileleul and Rakeb Sile. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art.

Amid Abiy’s wide-ranging reforms is a renewed interest in art and culture and a general desire to bolster Ethiopia’s image at home and abroad. But it will be an uphill battle: artists still face structural issues with respect to access of materials, a punitive taxation system, lack of government support. In the interim, dedicated individuals have stepped up to push the scene forward.


Times of Change

After launching the most ambitious reforms in Ethiopia’s history, Ahmed’s government is under threat. At the same time, economic change is on the horizon for Africa’s second largest nation…

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