Addis Art Fair: An Opportunity for Up and Coming Artists

Every year, hundreds of graduates and self taught traditional artists join the creative business and struggle to survive. They are expected to find working places they can use as studios and market their art work. Only a few of them manage to do so. Many of them are forced to survive either by changing their profession or becoming stuck in the production market oriented, down-scale commercial art work; selling them at trifling prices.

Many galleries and cultural institutes in Addis Ababa have been hosting art fairs and exhibitions helping artists to connect with audiences and subsequently sell their work.  Art of Ethiopia, an art exhibition held annually at the Sheraton Addis since 2008 has also been displaying Ethiopian art work, providing a venue for new talent. The Art of Ethiopia exhibition which started with only eight artists has grown steadily. Artists’ number participating in the exhibition has reached 50 in 2013. None of these art fairs and exhibitions however can be compared with the Addis Art Fair, held at the Millennium Hall from March 15-18 2014, in terms of the number of artists participating in the exhibition. The Art Fair was especially organized to give access to those artists who don’t have the opportunity to display their different works of art. More than 100 artists presented over 480 paintings and diversified visual art work.   

These artists have the opportunity to put up their art work for sale, but most of all, they were able to show their work to the public for both foreigners and locals, in a hall that can accommodate several thousands of people at a time. The free space and the relaxing scenario of the exhibition were very convenient as people could stay as long as they wanted; enjoying a live soul refreshing classical music performance by young musicians. Some of the side shows like the sculpture of an old train made by worn-out metal kitchen utensils and a collection of soles which depict many footsteps designed to encourage passersby to write how they feel about the traffic flow of Addis Ababa were very fascinating and stole the admiration of many in the audience. 

The most important part of the art fair however was that, the art works of 100 artists have seen the light of being visited and bought by the lovers of the art and art collectors. Previously, the price of Ethiopian art that had an opportunity to be presented in an art fair or exhibition has always been expensive and art collectors and lovers complained about that. In this Art fair a price ceiling for the art work was set to be 8,000 birr hence making the prices of the art affordable for many. “This was a very big opportunity for middle class art fans that have been frustrated with the random and unreasonably high price taped on art work,” said Bekele Mekonnen, associate professor of fine arts at Alle School of Fine Arts, Addis Ababa University (AAU) who co-organized the art fair with Elizabeth W. Giorgis (PhD), art historian, curator and critic at Modern Art Museum, Gebre Kirstos Desta Center, AAU, and Balcha Entertainment. “A woman was heard saying ‘art work has finally shown its way to Condominiums’” he said excitedly because one of the objectives of the exhibition has been “accomplished”.  

The exhibition was breathtaking as many up and coming artists: painters, photographers, designers, and mosaic artists and people making sculpture were given a rare chance of displaying their works to the audience. The venue and organization of the fair was well done. As organizers of the event plan to further upscale the fair to a regional level, it will give young artists an international exposure. “We will invite young artists from all IGAD member states next year”, Abebe Balcha, general manager of Balcha Entertainment and lead facilitator of the fair told EBR.

In the three day exhibition, 9,680 visitors had a chance to visit the art fair. This number was high as visiting art shows is a recent phenomenon in the country said Abebe who seemed thrilled to announce that 127 paintings which roughly represent quarter of the works displayed were sold.


2nd Year . April 2014 . No.14


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