East Africa

Celebrating African Culture through the Lens of Aida Muluneh

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Aida Muluneh is an Ethiopian artist and photographer whose work explores themes of identity, culture, and heritage. “This is Where I Am”, is a series of striking photographs that challenge conventional notions of beauty and identity. They also celebrate the diversity and resilience of African cultures.

“This is Where I Am exhibition” runs from Mar 1, 2023 – May 21, 2023, at the JCDecaux bus shelters. The shelters are on display in New York City, Chicago, Boston, United States, and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Aida Muluneh’s artworks draw inspiration from a variety of art genres and cultures. She combines elements of Surrealism, Renaissance painting, West African studio portrait photography, Ethiopian church wall painting, and African body ornamentation.

The focus of her photographs is on stoic African women posed in regal compositions that are inspired by Christian iconographies. The imagery also alludes to the social structures and political formations of Ethiopia. Muluneh’s artwork is rich in symbolism, incorporating motifs such as keys, chairs, and stars, as well as traditional Ethiopian coffee pots called jebena. One of the recurring symbols in her work is the eye, representing people’s responses to, rejection of, or witness to history. Through the exhibition, Muluneh pays tribute to Ethiopia while inspiring hope and encouraging open conversation.

To speak in silence – Aidah Mulneh, 2022, Corte de voir
Image courtesy of Public Art Fund:

Muluneh challenges conventional notions of beauty; the Western standards of beauty imposed on African cultures for centuries. She celebrates the diversity of African cultures, while also highlighting the marginalization of Africa in the broader cultural landscape.

For Muluneh, the act of taking a photograph is not just about capturing a moment in time, but about capturing the essence of a person’s identity and culture. Her work deeply challenges the dominant narratives and stereotypes about African cultures and people, making it highly political.

Muluneh’s work also reflects her own personal journey as an Ethiopian artist and photographer. Born in Ethiopia, she spent much of her childhood in Yemen and England before returning to Ethiopia in her teens. Her experiences of living in different cultures and navigating different identities have informed her work, which is both deeply personal and universally relatable

‘If they come for me in the morning’ , Aidah Munleh, 2022
Image courtesy of Public Artt Fund:’

Muluneh’s work conveys a sense of resilience and hope, even in the face of adversity. Many of her photographs depict individuals who have faced significant challenges or hardships. She expresses their identity and culture through their clothing, jewellery, and other forms of adornment to show resilience.

“This is Where I Am” is a powerful and inspiring exhibition that celebrates the diversity and resilience of African cultures, while challenging conventional notions of beauty and identity. Muluneh’s work is a testament to the power of art to create social and political change, and to the importance of celebrating and preserving the richness and diversity of cultural heritage.

Author

Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art News Africa.

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