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David Krut Projects is showing Aida Muluneh’s work at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York (May 6-8, 2916).

 

WHEN “THE DIVINE COMEDY: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists” opened last year at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., for the first time in the Smithsonian museum’s nearly 50-year history, the exhibition was spread throughout the building. The show was presented in the galleries as well as the main pavilion and stairwells.

Featuring more than 40 contemporary artists from 19 African countries responding to Dante’s epic 14th century poem, the exhibition included internationally recognized artists, Kader Attia, Julie Mehretu, Wangechi Mutu, and Yinka Shonibare MBE, among others. But it was the work of Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh that visually branded and was most closely identified with the exhibition. Striking images of body painting from her The 99 Series (2013) were used to promote and advertise the group show (below, at right).

divine comedy exhibition at national museum of african artThe exposure served as a homecoming of sorts. Born in Ethiopia, Muluneh graduated from Howard University in 2000, and worked as a photographer at The Washington Post. In December 2007, she returned to Addis Ababa where she is currently based.

The decision to reconnect with a land that she says was foreign to her has been a creative boon.

In 2010, Muluneh founded the biannual Addis Photo Fest, the first international photography festival in Ethiopia. She also established Fana Wogi, an annual open call supporting contemporary artists. Her nonprofit, DESTA (Developing and Educating Society Through Art), curates exhibitions and pursues cultural projects with local and international institutions.

On a blog she started to introduce DESTA, she explains what sparked her interest in photography. “I remember when I was a teenager I was so ashamed to tell people that I was Ethiopian that I wished I was South African! Regardless, the stigma of the ‘starving Ethiopian’ made it impossible for me to have any kind of pride in being Ethiopian. But, it was at the end of high school that I realized how images could create or distort realities and so, at the age of sixteen I begun exploring photography.”

“It was at the end of high school that I realized how images could create or distort realities and so, at the age of sixteen I begun exploring photography.” — Aida Muluneh

“The World is 9,” an exhibition of new works was recently on view at David Krut Projects in New York. In the exhibition catalog, Muluneh says returning home after 28 years has been a lesson in humility. Since being back, she says, “an expression of my grandmother has stuck in my mind—she would say, ‘The world is 9, it is never complete and it’s never perfect.’” Hence the title of the exhibition.

 

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AIDA MULUNEH, “Tizita/Nostaligia,” 2016 (photograph printed on Sunset Hot Press Rag 310 GSM, edition of 7). | Courtesy David Krut Projects

 

THE 28 PHOTOGRAPHS CREATED for “The World is 9” probe questions of life, love, and history. Embracing the artistic possibilities of photography, Muluneh’s work “creates and distorts” reality. Her styled portraiture and theatrically staged scenes reference surrealism and her native history and culture. Bold color is a defining element.

“I am not seeking answers but asking provocative questions about the life that we live—as people, as nations, as beings,” she says in the catalog. “I have chosen to continue working on body painting, which is inspired by traditional body art from across Africa. Each work is a reflection of conscious and sub-conscious manifestations of time and space.”

“I have chosen to continue working on body painting, which is inspired by traditional body art from across Africa. Each work is a reflection of conscious and sub-conscious manifestations of time and space.”
— Aida Muluneh

Next month, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair returns to New York (May 6-8). Similar to “The Divine Comedy,” the event will bring together the work of a wide-range of contemporary artists, from various nations, working across various mediums. The David Krut Projects booth at the fair will feature Muluneh’s work, which the photographer hopes is understandable to a wide audience.

“I’m trying to make art digestible, no matter whether you’re a bourgeois blah blah or someone from any other spectrum of society,” Muluneh told ARTnews. “I also want to make Africa digestible in a different way. When people think about Africa right now, they often only think about animals, war, and famine. I’m trying to distort that impression to provoke questions in a different sense.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: AIDA MULUNEH, “Sai Mado / The Distant Gaze,” 2016 (photograph printed on Sunset Hot Press Rag 310 GSM, edition of 7). | Courtesy David Krut Projects

 

UPDATE (5/15/2016): Aida Muluneh is also participating in Dak’Art (May 3-June 2, 2016), Africa’s largest biennial.

 

BOOKSHELF
Browse the catalog for “The World is 9,” Aida Muluneh’s exhibition at David Krut Projects. Also consider the exhibition catalog “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.” To explore contemporary African art further, check out “Contemporary African Art Since 1980,” compiled by curator Okwui Enwezor and scholar Chika Okeke-Agulu, co-editors of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. The coffee table volume is described as “the first major survey of the work of contemporary African artists from diverse situations, locations, and generations who work either in or outside of Africa, but whose practices engage and occupy the social and cultural complexities of the continent since the past 30 years.”

 

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AIDA MULUNEH, “The more loving one (Part Two),” 2016 (photograph printed on Sunset Hot Press Rag 310 GSM, edition of 7). | Courtesy David Krut Projects

 

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AIDA MULUNEH, “Conversation,” 2016 (photograph printed on Sunset Hot Press Rag 310 GSM, edition of 7). | Courtesy David Krut Projects

 

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AIDA MULUNEH, “Things Fall Apart,” 2016 (photograph printed on Sunset Hot Press Rag 310 GSM, edition of 7). | Courtesy David Krut Projects