Generating possibilities

with Lucrezia Cippitelli and Berhanu Deribew

On way to remarkable changes Ethiopia faces a new challenge in the field of art education. In collaboration with Addis Ababa University School of Art, to rethink the traditional understandings and involve Contemporary Art practices more intensively in the educational process, local art organizations started developing of newborn postgraduate program – Addis Contemporary. “… from a local Ethiopian perspective the program aims to support the growth of the future generation of artists and thinkers, which will guide the coming cultural development of the country.”
CAM is pleased to present Phd Lucrezia Cippitelli – scholar, art historian and the curator of the Time Frame project and Berhanu Ashargie Deribew – Artist and the head of Alle School of Fine Arts and Design.

Lucrezia Cippitelli: We are not at the debating point in Ethiopia, whether academy should be independent or part of the University system. Just to formulate the topic shortly – our goal is to connect the existing art context to the international one. What we really need now, is to improve the mobility of students, scholars, practitioners.

CaucasusArtMag: For instance to improve the structures of art education and practice, which are not very developed at the moment?

L. C.: Yes, and how to arrange it as a tool for providing or expanding the education for the new generation. Country’s rapid development makes necessary and increasing number of higher educated people.  Knowledge is a central factor for Ethiopia’s future transformations and right now is very important for local people to get qualified knowledge, from abroad and also from the West. So our idea is to create a space where local students could get a proper education according to Western standards but also – and this is very important matter – focusing on a Global South perspective and questioning the idea of Modernism and Contemporary Art as a pure Western phenomenon. Let’s take the history of the Twentieth century art for instance… You can find all sorts of new manuals published in Europe or the United States where Africa or Latin America are not even mentioned (without mentioning the absence of media or technology art). The very well-known and relatively new manual published in NY at the beginning of the 2000’s Art since 1900 (curated by the “October” radical writers Rosalind Krauss, Benjamin Buchloch, Hal Foster and Yves Alain Bois) is an example of this omission. Thus we prefer to invite someone educated in Argentina for instance to read the history of art, who’ll have wider perspective and will bring something different. Or if you’d like to talk about what conceptualism is, why should we touch only North America scene? The historical wave of conceptualism of Latin America (as very well explained in Luis Camnitzer Latin American Conceptualism, Didactics of Liberation) had much more common with politics and renovation of the structure of society…

CAM: What about the experimental spaces beside the Addis Contemporary, beside the educational purposes?

Berhanu Deribew: The problem is not only the exhibition space in general, but the need of some capable professionals who will facilitate and support the realization activities of creative projects and outcomes. In this case, beside the role of artists, there should be other related creative professionals and practitioners in order to maintain the goal; like curators, critics, writers… There is an amazing academy gallery in the school which was deliberately built for exhibition purposes, but there is no much professional activity and support, in which open-ended possibilities could possibly be generated to make more sense of such spaces. So that through this form of involvement, it is also our expectation to train open-minded professionals who will play an important role on introducing new platforms for collaborations and experimentations outside the institutional environment.

L. C.: As a matter of fact, Addis Contemporary started now. We are working on the program and all its implications (education of local professionals, construction of a local network of projects already active in the field, partnership with international entities) already since two years. We have an academic curriculum and the activities will be based on the improvement of critical and theoretical skill and on the practice of contemporary art. For instance, most of the professors invited to teach (artists, curators, activists, writers and so on) will work to the setup of projects, produced in collaboration with their students. This is because right now, you can meet in the art school amazing students which are incredibly good in producing, very skilled in painting or sculpting for instance. I mean, when I went there for the first time, I saw them doing sculptures and I thought that my students in Italy might be not so good in producing even the basement of their sculptures. But what they haven’t developed from the Ba until now is that critically informed education, ability to think critically and the idea that you can do art using any mean necessary, without the need to be skilled in crafts. So what we really do need there as a basement of the Ma program is researching, understanding and focusing on the theory. And after it will be interesting to see what the outcome will be. The problem is not in space but in lack of people who are keen to run it, or have the visionary perspective to make something different with it: a space for research, a space open to the city, a space where practitioners develop projects collectively, where artists meet biologists, photographers work with architects, focusing on the reality and not only in producing artworks and showing them. This is very important. Our main goal is to build a network of people able to think critically, to write and produce art… This is something which doesn’t happen in reality in Addis Ababa art academy. I’m really happy we met for speaking and discussing it, it’s already a challenge. I can share a lot what I have learnt with my studies, or traveling and meeting and collaborating with amazing people met through several networks. But a crucial point for me is to construct together a group of people able to continue independently, to take over and expand such a platform.

B. D.: That’s right; it’s a most expected thing from this multidisciplinary MA program… to generate more relevant possibilities for training well informed and responsible creative professionals, beside the very direct sense of creative involvement. Since recent times, we have been highly engaged with the activities of creating various platforms for international exposures in the school, but there has still been a huge gap on using the most advantages of the involvement and interaction with various professionals from different part of the world. As a result of this less level participation, art school students have continuously been discovering themselves in a position to face various forms of difficulties right after graduation. In this context and existed experience, to create and make more sense of creative, educational and professional opportunities with Addis Contemporary…, I think is the big, but attainable challenge.