To come to terms with the reality of Ethiopia is always the step one of creative process. There is a lot our imagination will not allow to explore as the ropes of our tradition and learning has been to ignore impulses that question.
Zellan Creative and Cultural Centre is meant to break that cycle. What ever you can imagine to work on or question, we believe the world is ready to hear you.
There have been painters who have openly shared that presenting works that are too contemporary gave them a bad reputation. It resulted in being shunned from the community unable to showcase produced work.
While these are not corroborated facts, the fear of being outcasted even in the community of creatives exists. We are bound by something much heavier than the need to explore: the need to belong. And in our conservative society this is not always an option.
Yet, history has shown us that it is the maverick, with the courage to conquer oneself who will change the world. In any creative movements it is in building a community that change can come forth. The lone wolf is not the victor as some might think, it is through forming ties, banding together for a common cause.
Each generation of talents have their safe space. “The Spaniard Inn” opened in 1585 in Hampstead, North London. Stevenson, Byron, Constable, Mary Shelley, William Blake, William Hogarth and Sir Joshua Reynolds: it was a pub where artists, painters, writers and poets use to brainstorm together to lead the way of what would be their country’s future. The place is even featured in “Dracula” novel from Bram Stoker and the “Ode to a nightingale” by the poet John Keats is said to have been written there.
“The Spaniard Inn” is an example amongst many. All seeds of societies that are still standing as the strongest today sprouted from the fertile grounds of safe spaces where creatives and artists were to fulfill their purpose of being the voice of change for their generation.
“Le Procope”, the oldest still operating café in Paris, is yet another example in seventeenth century France where La Fontaine, Racine and Regnard used to hang out. Diderot and d’Alembert were later on to create there the first encyclopedia in the 18th century. The same space where Beaumarchais and Voltaire wrote their must famous plays. Until today it is a place of creation where you can cross path with the most renowned french minds of our time: Amélie Nothomb, Marc Dugain, Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt or Bernard Werber.
In contemporary Addis, Fendika Cultural Centre holds to be a place of refuge for various types of artists from old school to the contemporary. A space created by dancer Melaku Belay which continues to expand and transform. Artists from the renowned Police Orchestra, Fantu Mandoye, and the renowned jazz artists of Negarit Band continue to command the stage.
Keeping these spaces and ideologies which stand with contemporary ideas proves difficult. In the arts especially, there are parts of the Ethiopian identity that most would rather leave unexplored with heavy backlash extended for those who do so.
In the 19th century impressionist painters could not afford to wait for France to accept their work, so they established their own exhibition, where they were given the name impressionist by a critic that did not think their work would amount to anything. But they created their own community and found a voice as they rejected rules of academic painting which they had been taught.
Today, we must continue to learn from history and unite in our need to explore, deconstruct and disrupt the norms. We are in a time when finding our tribe has been easier than before, if our voice or imagination is hindered we should question ourselves why, not anyone else. We must overcome.