Zoma Contemporary Art

Zoma Contemporary Art Center: African Art and the Environment

Bob Koigi

If you want to discover the art scene in Ethiopia, Zoma Contemporary is your best option. Named one of the top places to visit by The New York Times, the Center is an international platform for East African artists.

Ethiopia’s Zoma Contemporary Art Center (ZCAC) is an art sanctuary that embraces nature while rejiggering contemporary art as we know it. This initiative 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.

Zoma Contemporary Art Center
Zoma Contemporary Art Center in Addis Ababa.

The center is named after Zoma Shifferaw, a well known Ethiopian artist who passed away from cancer in 1979. It opened to the public in 2012 during the Giziawi #1, one of the premier public art festivals in the East African country.

Elias Same, the brain behind the organization, has taken the time to position it as the ultimate center for contemporary art in East Africa. Himself an artist, Same was featured at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in a solo exhibition in 2009 dubbed Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart. He then took his time—about seven years—to build ZCAC, and his relentless efforts are now showing significant results.

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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 has two venues: one in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and the second in Harla, a small village in southeastern Ethiopia. The Addis center is uniquely designed, with mud, straw, and stone to communicate the message of embracing environmental sustainability through art. Most of the projects undertaken by the center are nature-conscious and look for solutions to the current environmental problems.

Zoma Contemporary Art Center
Images of the gallery, interior and outside of the center.

In Harla, the Center involves the local community in its daily operations and is modeled like a family with the locals having priority for art projects funding and teaching positions. Currently, street kids 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 allow participants to explore new 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 painting, 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. Its goal is to remain relevant as it embraces and discovers new eco-friendly art concepts, a brush stroke at a time.  ■

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