East Africa

Tsegaye Provides A Glimpse of Life in Contemporary Ethiopia

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Michael Tsegaye was born in 1975 in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. He is an artist and photographer who started his journey when he transferred to Addis Ababa University’s School of Fine Arts and Design from the Economics Department where he had initially enrolled. There, he received his diploma in painting in 2002, but soon gave up painting after he developed a severe allergy to oil paint. He subsequently found his passion in photography.

Much of his work presents a glimpse of life in contemporary Ethiopia, although an extended catalogue of his images come from his travels abroad. As an African and Ethiopian photographer Tsegaye is greatly concerned with escaping being pigeonholed therefore he places himself among photographers and painters across the world. He is careful of his work focusing on suffering alone because there are various sights to document. Instead Tsegaye is intentional about understanding his life and standpoint in the 21st century and expressing these through art.

Michael Tsegaye
Image courtesy of kalamu.com

The last twenty years have brought exponential change to almost every facet of life in Addis Ababa. Fueled by unprecedented economic growth, the city is home to some of the fastest-growing urbanisation in the world; with this, however, has come large-scale displacement and the loss of some of the city’s most established communities. Tsegaye’s series titled Future Memories documents contemporary Addis Ababa through topographic cityscapes, emotive images of its people, and images of the historic villages that once defined the city.

Image courtesy of The Walther Collection 2009 Digital print on Canson Platin Fibre 120 x 120 cm

Tsegaye uses black-and-white film to create a timeline of the city’s rapid architectural development. Although distinctly Ethiopian, Future Memories illustrates a universal story of transformation and gentrification in the name of modernisation and economic prosperity. In modern Ethiopia, the city’s centerpieces are pricey residences and massive business buildings, and the disregard for its lost communities is a plight recognisable everywhere.

Image courtesy of The Walther Collection 2011 Digital print on Canson Platin Fibre 40 x 40 cm

Tsegaye has worked for international publications such as Der SpiegelJeune Afrique, as well as the press agencies Bloomberg and Reuters. He has exhibited at the Face2Face BOZAR/European Union Summit at Lela Gallery in Addis Abeba. He has also done the African Journey exhibition at Galerie Sanaa in Utrecht, the Netherlands; the Selam Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada; and the Arte invisible/ARCO exhibition in Madrid, Spain. His work can be found in a number of international magazines and various catalogues including Snap Judgments: New Directions in African Photography, edited by Okwui Enwezor, and published by the International Centre for Photography in New York City.


Lelethu Sobekwa was born in Gqeberha, South Africa. She holds a BA Honours in English and has recently finished her MA in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. Lelethu currently writes for Art News Africa.

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