I AM: Ethiopia
Addis Ababa, a nation comprised of over 80 nationalities and 80 speaking languages, was the site for I AM: Ethiopia in October, 2010. In a country still rebuilding its identity after a tumultuous history, general support and funding for the arts is nearly non-existent due to a lacking cultural infrastructure. Yet the yellow meskel flowers were vivid and in full bloom, like the 5th grade and kindergarten girls of the Bethel Makene Yesus School and the year one children of the Melenik II Public School. Alongside Behailu Bezabih, one of Ethiopia’s most internationally renown contemporary artists, we ventured into two of the city’s most populated public school systems. We also had the opportunity to work with the students of the International Community School, where a class of 4th grade children from more than 20 different countries took part in the program.
Most notable in the children was their sense of pride and resilience, as communicated by their self-portraits. Many of the youngest students seemed beyond their years – tiny scars, well-worked hands, and thick soles told stories of a lifestyle based on need and survival. Perhaps it was this sense of immediacy that facilitated the truly ‘in-the-moment’ images captured by the children themselves.
A new component of this project was incorporating Visual Arts and Arts Education students from Addis Ababa University. A formal lecture focusing on contemporary arts education methods and developmentally appropriate practices was presented to third-year students of the Alle School of Fine Arts. This was followed by 1:1 discussions with students who shared the results of their ‘field work’ in local public schools, their theses-in-progress, and their own artwork. The dedication and enthusiasm displayed by the students was a hopeful sign for the slow but steady growth of the city’s art community.
Very special thanks to Behailu Bezabih, Jon Gurkoff, Leo Lefort, Ellen Merritt, Teffiri Teressa.