Addis Fine Art: putting Ethiopia in the global spotlight
The founders of the innovative gallery discuss how they’re giving Ethiopian artists an international platform
Launched in 2016 by Rakeb Sile and Mesai Haileleul, Addis Fine Art (AFA) became “the first white-cube gallery space for modern and contemporary art in Ethiopia.” Later that year, a two-storey AFA gallery space was opened in London to further boost exposure for Ethiopian artists on an international level. Since then, AFA has established itself as one of the leading modern art brands in Africa, representing and showcasing work from a diverse range of Ethiopian artistic talent across generations and genres.
Here, Rakeb and Mesai answer our questions to give us some deeper insights on Addis Fine Art and its wider objectives.
What is AFA’s ethos?
AFA’s main aim is to create a link for Ethiopian artists to be part of the international art market and discourse.
What did launching Addis Fine Art mean for the country’s art scene?
It provided a space where artists can now work with a professional gallery, implementing international standards.
How did opening the London gallery change your work?
The expansion allowed AFA to showcase the works of Ethiopian artists in a permanent space, to a much more diverse and international audience.
Are you aiming to change how art from Africa is perceived by the rest of the world?
We hope so. Currently, African art is often put in a box and the overall expectation is that African art is ‘similar’, despite the diversity of artworks from different African countries. As far as artists are concerned, our wish is for African art to be perceived as any other art from anywhere in the world, and for artists not to be pigeonholed as being just African artists.
What have been some of your personal highlights since Addis Fine Art launched?
In terms of exhibitions, one of the highlights is Merikokeb Berhanu’s works being exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2022. Another highlight is seeing Tadesse Mesfin get recognition for his works which were long overdue, after teaching at the Alle School of Fine Art and Design for 34 years.
Alle Legends: Group Show (Installation view) in Addis Ababa / Image: courtesy of Addis Fine Art
Girmachew Getnet, In Between, (Install photography), September 2022 / Image: courtesy of the artist and Addis Fine Art
Are upcoming artists in Ethiopia more visible than previously? And what can be done to further highlight and support these artists?
Yes, Ethiopian artists are more visible. We have managed to place artists’ works in some important institutions, such as the Denver Art Museum. We need more gallery spaces in Ethiopia to represent and support more artists, and new government policies to address the high taxation issue on artworks and art materials.
Who are some of the many talented emerging Ethiopian artists that people should be looking out for?
Solome Muleta, Tizta Berhanu, Addis Gezahegn, Helina Metaferia, Dawit Adnew, Nirit Takele, Merikokeb Berhanu, Tesfaye Urgessa, Girmachew Getnet, Adiskidan Ambaye, Nigatu Tsehay and Tariku Shiferaw.
Is Ethiopian art becoming more recognised on a global scale?
Yes, and this is mainly due to the international art fairs that AFA is participating in, such as Frieze London, The Armory Show, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, and Latitude Miami, among others.
What projects do you currently have underway?
We are planning to set up a non-profit foundation dedicated to building local capacity and infrastructure, to support the development of strong arts ecosystems in Africa, starting with projects in Ethiopia.
What is your vision for Addis Fine Art over the coming years?
Our vision is to build a contemporary art museum in Ethiopia.
Find out more about the work of Addis Fine Art at addisfineart.com.