The best places to see art in Addis Ababa
Here’s where to get your finger on the pulse of the Ethiopian capital’s vibrant arts scene
Addis Ababa is a rapidly-growing hub for visual art in East Africa, and there are numerous galleries, cultural centres and other spaces displaying a huge range of work, championing both Ethiopian and global artists. To get you started on your Addis art quest, we’ve highlighted eight venues that demonstrate the best of what the city has to offer.
Built by cultural anthropologist and curator Meskerem Assegued and artist Elias Sime, Zoma was inspired by traditional Ethiopian architecture and landscaping, encapsulating how innovative design and sustainability can work in harmony. The museum also hosts residency programs for artists and architects, and its excellent restaurant fits perfectly into the urban oasis.
One of the best commercial galleries in the city, Addis Fine Art is located at the heart of the Bole area in the NOAH Centrum apartment building. Run by curators Mesai Haileleul and Rakeb Sile, the gallery showcases the best of contemporary Ethiopian art. These seasoned curators also run Addis Fine Art’s London branch, linking Ethiopian artists to international markets. Up-and-coming artists like Michael Hailu, Gouled Ahmed and Selome Muleta have been exhibited alongside bigger names like Tadesse Mesfin, Merikokeb Berhanu and Dawit Abebe.
Showcasing a large collection of traditional Ethiopian furniture and interior design pieces, St. George is full of treasures that give a vivid glimpse into Ethiopia’s past. Its cosy showroom takes the visitor on an adventure through time; headrests from the 1800s are found alongside an intricately designed armoire from the 21st century, and telsem paintings (an ancient form of Ethiopian art) are juxtaposed with work by contemporary Ethiopian artist Amare Selfu.
Well-known for its Ethio-jazz and azmari evenings (an azmari is a musician and singer playing traditional Ethiopian music), Fendika is also a prime location for contemporary art, and has become one of Ethiopia’s major cultural institutions. After many exhibition spaces in the city closed down over the last few years, due to the Covid pandemic, artists and art-lovers have now begun to flock to Fendika to satisfy a craving for visual arts. So, grab some tej and catch a live music or dance performance, but make sure you visit the gallery as well!
A must-visit for anyone eager to see what new and emerging artists in Addis are up to, Makush houses hundreds of contemporary paintings, and the space has become a favourite among art students and young graduates looking to enter the market. From portraits to landscapes and urban collages, the paintings here are a fascinating window into how the city’s current art scene is being shaped. Makush’s Italian restaurant is a major bonus for visitors, feeding the senses in more ways than one.
First established during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, this beautiful space was converted into a museum in the 1980s, highlighting Addis Ababa’s history through the 20th century. The permanent exhibition features paintings, artefacts and photographs of significant historical figures and events. Neighbouring the main building is a second part of the museum focusing on contemporary art from well-established and emerging artists, both from Ethiopia and internationally.
The newest cultural hotspot in the city, Atmosphere is housed in a three-storey building, and all three of those floors are put to good use. The top floor is dedicated to exhibitions (such as an Atlanta Art Events x Addis Group Art show, or Amanuel Sileshi’s photographs of the Covid pandemic and his reporting on conflicts in various parts of Ethiopia), while the other two floors house a restaurant and bar, with an outdoor space serving as a chill spot on weekends, when live music and parties both take place.
This venue exhibits the works of famed Ethiopian painter Gebre Kristos Desta, as well as showcasing contemporary artwork. Run by Addis Ababa University’s Ale School of Fine Arts and Design, the museum is a great spot for well-curated and provocative works, and has exhibited artists like Behailu Bezabih, Julie Mehretu and Olafur Eliasson.