Wednesday, February 03, 2016


When I was last in Addis, I set out looking for non-touristy art spots, i.e. avoiding the Mankushes and Asnis, etc. Turns out, that's a bit tricky.

Some habeshoch deflected me with, "ayee ... yihen'ma ferenj meTeyeq new". Ere!?

Finally somebody called somebody who recommended Habesha Art Studio, which turned out to be pretty close to Asni Gallery. TripAdvisor tells me that neighborhood is called Kebena (lekas Qebena iza new?!) I was obviously told directions as "Ras Amba Hotel aTegeb", which worked like a charm.

So I went to see Habesha Art Studio with a friend. You've to go down this tiny road, and down a korekonch. My friend opted to park his car while we were still in the paved section. We walked a some few meters off the paved street and knocked and knocked, at a gate labeled the gallery. Finally somebody opened the gate into what seemed like a regular residential compound, albeit a bit rustic.

To our left were a circle of people who all either stared us down (we did knock incessantly), or were bored by whatever discussion had ensued prior to our arrival, and reveled in the distraction we generously offered. I suspect the former.

We pressed on. I was thinking the whole thing had a bohemian feel to it. Past the circular assembly, we were guided into a dark room (how do they paint in there?) filled and lined with paintings in no particular order. It clearly wasn't meant for display. The kicker though was this ferenj lady discussing 'artistic expressions' and what not at the far corner with a guy who appeared to be one of the artists. All that digging and I find yet another tourist spot? Fail, Tobian, fail!

In any case, I should confess, I'm not a very artistically refined person. Consequently, the greatness of the artworks escaped me. This (bottom left)  was the painting (or something very similar) the artist had in front of him that day.

We were baffled.  We were told some of the artworks in there weren't for sale, as they were about to go on tour (oh wow?) The rest of the stuff wasn't priced, so when they offered to call another artist to help us we told them not to waste his time on our account, and departed. Weeks later, while on board my ET flight back, I was to browse through my Selamta and have my eyes pop when I came across a painting in style of those artworks destined for tour. The artist, I found out, is called Dawit Abebe (top right...his 'fro itself is a work of art iko). Among other tours, he's scheduled to show his work in Cape Town in 2016. Mad props, good man! Sorry I wasn't able to appreciate your work, but wish you success.

After the Habesha Art Studio stop, I caved and went to Mankush. I didn't like most of the art there either but I totally fell in love with the work of a person who signs 'Dimetros'. S/he paints typical Ethiopian town scenes with vaguely defined shapes of people who I imagine to be draped in neTelas. In one painting, I was convinced the scene was from Harar, even though I've never been there. The collection at the gallery were either warm (red/brown hue) or cold (blue, like the ones below), but somehow gave the impression they were all morning scenes. So I looked up Dimetros, and below are some paintings I was able to find from Ethiopian Artisans.

Alas, I was buying art for somebody else (their pick!) and didn't end up buying Dimetros' art either. But when I next plan to buy art for myself, I will sure be on the hunt!

p.s. Price range I was quoted for Dawit Abebe's work was ~25,000 Birr, and Dimetros for ~7,000 Birr. Min? I'm sure we all have worse ways of spending money.

Monday, February 01, 2016

No Man's Land

Circa 2007/8 I stopped keeping track of Ethiopian current affairs/politics. I noticed that modern Ethiopian affairs went in cycles. The cycle involved some variations of strong, top-down government policies, protests, bad quality reporting, imprisonment, more protests, and release from imprisonment ... bla bla bla... 

Observation 1

Leaving reasons for/from all sides of the isles aside, personally I had two concerns with this cycle 1) I was spending valuable time to keep up with news of a platform that wasn't necessarily maturing over time 2) the process reminded me of one of Eisenstein's layman friendly observations, that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. 

So then I withdrew, which freed my time for other things. Like reading up more on the American election, scouring rural PA to canvass voters for Hilary Clinton (yes, I started out as pro-Clinton till she fried herself and Obama took over) and being chased by angry Republicans. Some people were really scary, like the one guy who yelled at me, "Didn't I tell you to get off my porch yesterday?", as he opened his door. A potential retort could have been, "Umm, no ... unless you think all black people look alike!" Instead I blurted 'Uh ... I've never been in this town before today in my life ... ", turned tail and bolted. Second amendment and all, no need to mess around! I would have made one pathetic page 10 corner of the local newspaper, "Today, a non-American citizen was shot dead by an angry swing-voter while canvassing votes for Hilary Clinton". I don't think so, but I digress ...

Over the following years, I continued to stay off of detailed Ethiopian news. I did look at some business news, and never gave up athletics (though athletics gave up on me!). In March/April 2015, I happened to be in Addis when they government okayed a rally to support(?) Ethiopians executed by ISIS (to date, I'm not sure what the purpose was) but I was amused to observe, the cycle was still going strong. I talked to our driver at the time why the rally ended on ugly terms and he said, "Federalochu hizbun CHefeChefut". I asked why. He said, "oh some kids threw rocks at them."


In the United States, assaulting a law enforcement officer can land one in jail for up to 25 years. As recent police brutality cases in the US show, curbing police brutality is actually a very difficult problem. I would think, the last thing one'd want to do in Ethiopia (or anywhere) is to f*ck with the police. And yet, there I was with our baffled driver who seemed surprised about how shit went down. Recall, "Insanity is doing the same thing ...."

Observation 2

I remember having a chat with a friend some time around 2009/10 where I  played the devil's advocate for ... everybody in the Ethiopian political spectrum. At some point he stopped me and told me I couldn't be for real, I must be hiding behind some fake image of "transcendent  fairness" I was trying to concoct/achieve. He promised me that one day, he was going to figure me out when I slipped or self-contradicted. Alas, I didn't get as many opportunities to talk to him post 2011,  so I don't know if my story stays glued ... I sure continue stay glued to my story.

The world makes a lot of sense if I take other people's positions and apply, to best of my judgement, some degrees of ignorance, fear( a lot of it!) and greed to their perspective. Then Rush Limbaugh, Mengistu, Haileselassie, our current government, the opposition ... all start making much better sense. I can begin to view the world in a space that doesn't contradict theirs too much and that, fortunately, allows me to be less and less upset by the state of affairs. Sure, I also have to wonder how these three forces are affecting my narrative, but that's a whole other topic. What I am left with is then arguments for all sides, and solutions for none. Upon first glance, this can seem apathetic ...

Recently, I listened to an NPR interview with Obama when he said, “Every once in a while, a pitch is going to come right over home plate that you can knock out for a home run. But you don’t swing at every pitch” And I thought, aha!

Aligning nitty gritty details, butting heads, cycles of futile engagements, misinformed discussions, etc ....  I don't see the point to them.  Ideals are great, until they distract from reality. The point for all concerned is not to swing endlessly, but to find those few knock out home-runs. This isn't just in politics, this is in everything.

I recently worked for a company where one of the most valued (and elusive) skills was "communicating for results."  Sometimes this meant that the right answer wasn't necessarily the best answer. The hardest part, I found, was detaching oneself from the right answer.

In the end, if we can't inspire results, what's the point of it all?

p.s. Coincidentally, the movie No Man's Land is a good illustration of the futility of polarization, fueled by fear and ignorance. Despite the grim topic it handled, I remember finding some of the dialogue ridiculous and laughing out loud in the theater (I think I was the only one laughing, I embarrassed my friend). Great movie!