Notes on Addis: A Look Back

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This week, I was thrilled to see Addis Ababa listed at #13 on the New York Times’ Top 52 places in the world to visit. Why? According to the headline: “An ambitious art scene heads toward the international stage.” Anyone who has been there knows this to be true. This time last year, I got to see Addis for myself. PThe Times highlights Asni Gallery, which stood only doors away from my hotel. I had a chance to meet the gracious gallery owner, Konjit Seyoum. If you’re in Addis Ababa, go to Asni. FYI: They have a small, but delicious lunch and dinner menu.

Teaching African Art at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design
Teaching African Art at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design

I was initially hesitant to leave my family for three weeks (The Grind: Going to Ethiopia (Or Can Parents Really Have it All?), but I joined my Wellesley College colleagues multi-media artist David Teng Olsen and Ethiopian native and filmmaker Salem Mekuria. Salem, really was the one responsible for bringing us both to Addis. She arranged an invitation from the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design to teach the History of the Arts of Africa.  What a joy to speak to an engaged audience of students and faculty over a series of days. It was humbling, really. I had the renown artist, Bekele Mekonnen, listening. Also, in the seats sat the young artist and Director of the Netsa Art Village, Mihret Kebebe. She was one of many fine hosts that extended her friendship during my time there and even today (thanks to Twitter and email). I’m grateful for all the memories that came swirling back this week. The food. The people. The ART. 

Upon my return, I had an opportunity to thank the Friends of the Wellesley College Library directly for the funding to donate books to the Alle School’s library in the Spring 2013 newsletter.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 11.37.45 PMFor my posts from Ethiopia, see the following:

Notes on Addis: Arrival

Notes on Addis: Art in the Making 

Notes on Addis: Netsa Art Village

Notes on Addis: Departure

Belonging in Cuba

Occasionally, reality exceeds your wildest dreams. Two days ago, I returned from a fantastic–dare I say, fantastical–trip to Havana, Cuba. I felt at home in a way I that I have never felt in Europe. The knowing glances from a dark-skinned cubana to even the catcalls as if I were just another guapa from Vedado. The people of Havana offered a mirror of myself reflected visually in skin tone, coarse hair, and swaying hips. The generous spirit and determined resilience of their characters also provided familiar comfort. The question arose quite frequently, “¿Eres cubana no?” My reply, “No, pero gracias!” I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the recognition that I somehow belonged there. I’ve experienced part of the African diaspora in a language that I could speak linguistically, and more importantly, spiritually.

Salem Mekuria and I at the studio of Esterio Segura in Havana. Photo: Nikki A. Greene

The 11th Havana Biennial was, of course, tremendously exhilirating. I’ll offer my thoughts on some of the artwork, and I will recount many stories in the days and weeks to come of exhibitions, artist studio visits, and performances. For now, I just want to begin to offer my thanks.

I am deeply indebted to Maria Magdelena Campos-Pons for her initial invitation and for the unprecedented access that we had to artists and venues that would have been simply unreachable without her. I want to also thank Salem Mekuria for the final nudge to go to Cuba and our burgeoning sisterhood. I loved every moment spent with Salem and our other companions Lena and Liz. We have memories for a lifetime.

Finally, gracias a la Habana por tenerme.

Hasta la próxima vez…

For more on Esterio Segura at the 11th Havana Biennial.

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