ETHIOPIA: MODERN NATION - ANCIENT ROOTS

OCTOBER 2019-MAY 2020

Africa Hall, Sharjah, UAE

October, 11, 2019 | 18.00
October, 12, 2019 | 21.30

Global Africa: The State of African Studies in the 21st Century

Aïda Muluneh, The Distant Gaze: Return of A Departure, 2017. Photograph. © Aïda Muluneh. Used with permission.


As part of its annual public programing, The Africa Institute plans to organize a season of scholarly, cultural and artistic activities in various media and genres that will focus on one country from the African continent, or one of the African diaspora communities worldwide (North and South America, Europe, The Middle East, Caribbean, Asia among others). The goal of this series of country focused activities is to highlight the complex history of the African world, its present, and its future predicament. Through such series, The AI aims to bring to the fore the complex history of the continent, its peoples, cultures and civilizations on a global scale.

For the academic year (2019- 2020), The AI will focus on Ethiopia as the first in this series of seasons. To accomplish such objective, The AI has commissioned three leading Ethiopian scholars, Elizabeth W. Giorgis (Addis Ababa University); Surafel Wondemu (Addis Ababa University); and Dagmawi Woubshet (University of Pennsylvania) to draft a detailed program for the season on Ethiopia. The proposed program includes the following activities: (1) a two-part interdisciplinary scholarly conference, titled Ethiopia: Modern Nation/Ancient Roots organized as a collaboration between The Africa Institute, Sharjah, UAE and the College of Performing and Visual Art and the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University that will be inaugurated in Sharjah, UAE in March 2020, with the second part taking place in Addis Ababa in May 2020; (2) a film festival; (3) a staged theatrical performance based on a play by late Ethiopian playwright Tsegaye Gebre Medhin; (4) a series of musical performances; and (5) an art exhibition by contemporary Ethiopian artist Aïda Muluneh. The Ethiopia season will start in October 2019 and run through May 2020. The season will be inaugurated in mid-October 2019, with a major lecture and press conference, followed by a musical concert of a major Ethiopian band.

The major goal of this Ethiopia-focused season is to shed a new light on Ethiopia’s history and contemporary condition, while also considering its contributions to current debates on modernity and the postcolonial condition. There is much in Ethiopia’s history that audiences in the Arab and Islamic world will find inspiring considering the early history of Islam and its unique relationship with Ethiopia where early converts to Islam sought refuge in the land of Abyssinia. The proposed conference Ethiopia: Modern Nation - Ancient Roots is hoped to investigate the history of Ethiopia, its racial diversity, rich cultural heritage and contribution to the project of modernity in Africa. It is also hoped to explore the concept of Ethiopianism and the ways in which Ethiopia’s image as a sovereign black nation influenced and came to dominate debates about Pan- Africanism and Afrocentrism. At a time when diaspora communities the world over are searching for answers to the paradigms of modernity, globalization and African unity, there is much that can be learned from the history of Ethiopia as ancient empire and a modern nation-state, especially when these lessons will be communicated through what is expected to be a two- part scholarly conference, series of lively musical, filmic and theatrical performances, in addition to an exhibition of contemporary Ethiopian art.

Conveners
Elizabeth W. Giorgis

Elizabeth W. Giorgis is Associate Professor of Art History, Criticism and Theory in the College of Performing and Visual Art and the Center for African and Asian Studies at Addis Ababa University. She is also the Diretcor of the Modern Art Museum: Gebre Kristos Desta Center at Addis Ababa University. She served as the Dean of the College of Performing and Visual Art and as Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University. She is the editor and author of several publications. She has curated several exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum: Gebre Kristos Desta Center, more recently the works of Ethiopian American artist Julie Mehretu’s first exhibition in Ethiopia and the works of Danish Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. She has also participated in several international conferences and public lectures, more recently at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States and the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna. In January 2019, she served as convener for the first African Humanities Initiative called Africa as Concept: Decolonization, Emancipation and Freedom that was organized by the Consortium of the Humanities, Centers and Institutes and funded by the Mellon Foundation. She is a recipient of several fellowships including a distinguished visiting scholar at Brown University, a visiting professor at the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna and a fellow at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center Academic Writing Resident Fellows Program. Her book, Modernist Art in Ethiopia, that is published by Ohio University Press was released in February 2019. It is the first comprehensive monographic study of Ethiopian visual modernism within a broader social and intellectual history.

Dagmawi Woubshet

Dagmawi Woubshet is the Ahuja Family Presidential Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, and works at the intersections of African-American, LGBTQ, and African studies. He is the author of The Calendar of Loss: Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of AIDS (2015), and co-editor of Ethiopia: Literature, Art, & Culture (2010), a special issue of Callaloo. His essays have appeared in several publications including Transition, The Atlantic, and NKA: A Journal of Contemporary African Art. In 2016, he curated Julie Mehretu: The Addis Show at the Modern Art Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is currently completing a book on James Baldwin’s late style.

Surafel Wondemu

Surafel Wondimu Abebe is a public-intellectual who uses academia, performance, and media as sites of cultural politics from which to interrogate representational practices. He has worked with the National Theatre in Addis Ababa and other cultural institutions in Ethiopia as an actor, playwright and director, and recently co-founded a new local television station called ASHAM. He obtained a degree in English Literature minoring in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University, and received his MA in Cultural Studies at the same university, where he served as a lecturer and Assistant Dean in Humanities. He completed his Ph.D. in Performance Historiography at The University of Minnesota, minoring in Comparative Literature. Abebe works as a researcher at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University, where he also serves as an Assistant Professor at the Centre for African Studies and College of Performing and Visual Arts. He is a board member of a multi-genre online journal, AGITATE, at the University of Minnesota and a research associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design (VIAD) at the University of Johannesburg. Questioning the inadequacy of Ethiopian exceptionalism, which valorizes the country’s ‘uncolonized’ position, Abebe engages with sedimented and embodied historiographies in order to understand what it means to be human in the here- and-now. His current book project considers how performing Ethiopian female bodies engage with spaces, and maneuver within progressive, imperial (local and colonial), socialist, and neoliberal temporalities of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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