Discovering Contemporary Art in Addis Ababa
The best places in Ethiopia's capital to view modern art from the past and present centuries
Ethiopia has a centuries-long tradition of fine art expression. Modern art is a more recent phenomenon, but Addis Ababa has had a contemporary art scene for over half a century. Today, there are numerous places around the capital city to view creative modern art expressions from both emerging and established artists. From mid-20th century expressionism to digitally-manipulated photography, Addis Ababa’s art scene has much to offer curious art lovers from around the world.
Addis Fine Art
Described as one of the most important young galleries in the world by Artsy, Addis Fine Art is the capital’s leading contemporary gallery that focuses on the art of Ethiopia and its diaspora. Founded by Rakeb Sile and Mesai Haileleul, the gallery was conceived in 2013. Three years later, in January 2016, they opened the gallery’s main space in the heart of Addis Ababa with an innovative program of exhibitions, talks and events, featuring a diverse set of contemporary artists. The gallery quickly became the go-to place for Ethiopean art and, in October 2016, they opened a sister space in London to connect the artists with collectors in European markets.
Participating in many international art fairs, from New York to Cape Town, Addis Fine Art continues to hit great heights for its championing of Africa’s under-represented, yet rich contemporary fine art scene. Future plans are to expand the gallery. This includes moving their international platform to London’s Cromwell Place in South Kensington, to focus on artists in the diaspora, and bring the local and diaspora narratives together.
Open Tuesday - Saturday, 10AM – 1PM, 2PM- 6PM. +251 980 635 696
National Museum of Ethiopia
Ranked as one of the most important museums in sub-Saharan Africa, the National Museum of Ethiopia houses Ethiopia’s most fascinating treasures, giving a rich overview of the country’s history. The ground floor focuses on the ancient and medieval periods including such artefacts as an elaborate pre-1st-century-AD bronze oil lamp showing a dog chasing an ibex.
There is also a collection of royal memorabilia, including Emperor Haile Selassie’s enormous carved wooden throne. While the museum is most known for its paleoanthropological section, home of the world-famous Lucy skeleton, the museum also contains an important collection of art. The artwork on display ranges from centuries-old parchments to 20th-century works.
The contemporary collection include abstract paintings by the late Afewerk Tekle, one of Ethiopian’s most distinguished artists.
Monday-Sunday, 9AM-5.30PM. +251 11 111 7150
Shaded by trees in a green-painted villa, LeLa features work by contemporary visual artists with a focus on experimentation and innovation. The gallery was founded in 2006 by Lilly Sahle – who still shows visitors around personally. A diaspora member and former sound engineer from the States, Lilly was drawn back to Ethiopia in 2000, where
she has been promoting Ethiopian and East African artists continuously for the last 19 years. At Lela, Lilly works to foster collaborations across disciplines, to promote the exchange of art with artists abroad, and to assist artists in working towards the realization of a project, from concept stage to final product. Between shows, the gallery features work from a variety of artists that the gallery represents.
Most are graduates from Addis School of Fine Art, but there are also artists from elsewhere in East Africa including Abdalla Bashir from Sudan. Many of the artists have exhibited internationally, including Ephrem Solomon whose work was showcased at London’s Saatchi Gallery.
Up-and-coming artists are also given opportunities, with Lilly ensuring that she has at least one show a year from someone new.
Open Wednesday- Sunday, 10AM-6PM;+251 11 653 5506.
Laphto Art Gallery
Established in 2012, Laphto Art Gallery is one of the more unusually situated galleries, occupying a large and airy space on the top floor of Laphto Mall. Taking an innovative and modern approach to art, the space provides a platform for new
and emerging artists to experiment and hone their craft. With a focus on experimentation and education, an exciting variety of artwork can be found here, from sculpture and installations to photography series and paintings. One of the main things that this gallery specializes in is providing
a platform for women in the arts. This includes hosting an annual exhibition dedicated to work by female artists. In addition to the exhibits, Laphto Art Gallery offers panel discussions among both local and international artists.
With an aim to push the boundaries of art both geographically and culturally, the purpose of these panels is to bring art into the mainstream by bridging the gap between those who create and those who may not realize the positive impact art can have on their lives.
Monday-Saturday, 9AM-7PM;+251 111478787
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Created by one of Ethiopia’s most original and active artists, Elias Sime, Zoma Museum seeks to promote multidisciplinary contemporary art, facilitate international exchange between artists, and foster a culture of environmentally conscious art projects in Ethiopia.
Listed by The New York Times as one of the top places to visit in Addis, Zoma is located in an extraordinary house made from mud, straw, and stone. Designed and sculpted by Elias himself, the design represents the museum’s philosophy of driving environmental sustainability through art. In addition to the ecological message, ZOMA is also committed to community, running artist-in-residence and education programs, alongside a second location in Harla, a small historic village near Dire Dawa.
Regular exhibitions are held in the center’s showroom, showcasing cutting-edge ecological art centered around the gallery’s core message of environmental sustainability. There is also an open studio for visiting artists with creatives and collaborators coming to ZOMA from across the globe to connect with each other and learn how their work can influence both their culture and the world at large.
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10AM – 8PM;+251 942169189
Gebre Kristos Desta Center
One of Ethiopia’s leading artists, Gebre Kristos Desta helped bring Ethiopian art to the international stage. The story of Gebre Kristos is an interesting one. He spent the early part
of his career, studying and working in Cologne, Germany. The artist then returned to Ethiopia to serve on the faculty of the School of Fine Arts and Design in Addis Ababa. For the last few years of his life, he went back to Germany, where 30 pieces of his work remained.
Gebre Kristos died in 1981. With most of his work still in Germany, there was a concerted effort by the School of Fine Arts and Design to bring back the remaining 30 pieces to Ethiopia, which eventually succeeded. Part of the Addis Ababa University campus was redeveloped to accommodate the center and, in 2008, the gallery opened. The iconic artwork of Gebre Kristos has been on display in Addis Ababa’s Sidist Kilo neighborhood ever since.
The center also serves as an educational space where emerging artists learn how the past and future can come together to create fresh and unique influences. Just as Gebre Kristos Desta pushed boundaries and merged styles, new artists are encouraged to do the same.
Tuesday-Sunday, 9AM-5PM;+251 11 122 1695
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Makush Art Gallery
A combination of an Italian restaurant and an art space in the center of Addis Ababa, Makush Art Gallery is a clever balance of culinary craftsmanship and contemporary artwork. The gallery features about 70 young and emerging artists and houses 650 pieces at any given time.
The result is a varied and exciting selection, reflecting Ethiopia’s burgeoning art scene. Furthermore, the space is not only for local Ethiopians but expats and members of the Ethiopian diaspora are welcome to showcase their work, too.
Such inclusion is not surprising given that Makush’s owner and founder, Tesfaye Hiwet, is a returnee from the US who opened this unique space in 2002 with a mission to promote Ethiopian art and culture throughout the country and abroad. To this end, Makush Art Gallery has participated in various international art expos and exhibitions across the world. In addition to the gallery, Makush also supports humanitarian causes, working in collaboration with embassies and NGOs.
Monday-Sunday. 8AM-10PM; +251 91 189 0637