Ever imagined an art sanctuary that embraces nature while rejiggering contemporary art as we know it? Imagine no more. Ethiopia’s Zoma Contemporary Art Center (ZCAC) is an initiative that prides itself in having transformed the lives of dozens of artists, giving them an international platform while taking care of the environment. The New York Times listed it as one of the top places to visit in 2014.
The center is named after Zoma Shifferaw, a budding Ethiopian artist who passed away from cancer in 1979. It was first presented to the public in 2012 during the Giziawi #1, one of the premier public art festivals in the country.
Elias Same, the brain behind the organization, has taken the time to position it as the ultimate center for contemporary art. Himself an artist, and having featured at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in a solo exhibition in 2009 dubbed Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart, Elias took his time—about seven years—to build ZCAC. His relentless efforts are now showing significant results.
Together with Meskerem Assegued, they have built what The New York Times described as a ‘voluptuous dream, a swirl of ancient technique and ecstatic imagination.”
The center is situated in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and Harla, a small village in southeastern Ethiopia. The Addis center is uniquely designed, with mud, straw and stone, communicating the message of embracing environmental sustainability through art with most of the projects undertaken by the center being nature conscious that contribute to finding solutions to the current environmental problems. In Harla, the Center involves the local community in its operations and is modeled like a family. Priority for art projects and teaching is given to the locals. Currently, street children are involved in mural painting projects meant for HIV positive children.
The center’s residency programs operate around various themes, including design, art, architecture, education, and documentary filmmaking and allowing participants to explore and try new and artistic forms of expressions. The institution also brings international artists to meet and exchange ideas with their Ethiopian counterparts and hold international events. Such events have brought globally acclaimed artists including David Hammons, an award winning artist from New York whose works have been showcased in dozens of museums and art galleries across America. Hammons is the author of the famed African American Flag, which is part of the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Ernesto Novelo, a celebrated artist from Mexico upon attending a ZCAC residency program in Addis Ababa in 2007, was so inspired by the concept that he decided to replicate it in Mexico. Today ZCAC Yucatan in Mexico is a thriving art venture.
As the center reaches out to more upcoming artists, it continues to show the world what Africa can produce. It intends to remain a living piece of art even as it embraces the rediscovering of new eco-friendly art concepts, a brush stroke at a time. ■
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