Film Screening + Talk: Spacial and Other Memories: Meskel Square’s Contribution

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM (UAE Time)

Square Stories Trilogy

Square Stories Trilogy presents, on three screens, a vivid representation of the ongoing contention for the soul of Maskal Square in the heart of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Over the last two decades Addis Ababa has been undergoing a massive and rapid modernization process. In addition to the endless high rises sprouting throughout the city and displacing millions from their traditional neighborhoods, a light rail transit system is another huge project that has become the hallmark of intrusion in the life of Maskal Square. The massive concrete structures supporting this elevated rail are challenging the Square’s history and its uses as a popular place of sports training and exercise, and for large gatherings, whether for protest against or official show of power by the rulers.

Maskal Square being the largest, and only, public square in the country, it has captured my imagination since the time the military regime expanded it into a prominent and iconic space for display of political and power performance. It is a dynamic and ever-evolving locus where past traditions and present mores collide. From monarchy through military dictatorship and most recently one-party democracy, it has witnessed Ethiopia’s rulers rise and fall. Using very simple and light equipment, designed not to attract attention, I have observed and captured scenes at Maskal Square since 2005. The three-channel format enables the multivalent sounds, sights, and histories of the Square, personal and collective, to meet, overlap, and intersect without ever being unified into a single narrative. The triptych also calls to mind the artistic reference to the Holy Trinity, an important aspect of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition in which I was raised.

The Square Stories Trilogy showcases the history and uses of the Square beginning with its earliest occupants at the turn of the twentieth century and ending with completion of the light rail system that took over the Square in the twenty first century. This space has refused to hide or erase the histories it has witnessed while at the same time serving as the locus for the ongoing modernization effort.

Square Stories Epilogue concludes the Trilogy. The light rail system has arrived and forever changed life in the Square. Vivid blue buses displace youth playing football; St. Estefanos’ church vanishes behind the elevated train’s platform; the iconic podium that was the symbol of Mengistu’s reign of terror disappears behind the trains tracks; the Red Terror Martyrs’ Museum is blanketed by romantic and action film posters; and bright orange balloon arches take over the runners’ steep gymnasium.

Square Stories Too (2014) opens with the sounds of Muslim prayer celebrating the birth of Mohammad as it rings over three-screen with early morning aerial shots of the cityscape. The timeless ritual is soon disrupted—overpowered by the sounds of construction, cars, and the 2012 funeral procession for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who had led Ethiopia since 1991. This interruption highlights the new transformation that the Square was undergoing at the time of filming. The insistent construction sounds heighten the overcrowded cacophony of the taxi stands, the crazy traffic patterns, and the towering concrete structures that dwarf the pedestrians who crisscross this space. It features street sweepers, mostly women, who battle all day long the dust, scorching sun, the pouring rain and the unruly traffic to keep the Square clean. The dissonance of the modernization effort is magnified by the images of the women who labor to keep this space clean using household brooms.

Square Stories (2010) initiates the discussion of Maskal Square as a place where everything big and small takes place. It features its multiple and fragmentary histories, exemplified by its name that changed as frequently as the ruling powers, and showed it as a site of official ceremonial events, as a place of protests and sports, and as a location for commemoration where two museums offer corporealized narratives of the city and the nation.

Director: Salem Mekuria
Format: triptych video installation
Year: 2010 – 2019
Duration: 75 mins
Country: Ethiopia
Language: Amharic with English subtitles

Ye Wonz Maibel: Deluge

Ye Wonz Maibel: Deluge is a personal visual meditation on history, conflict and the roads to reconciliation. It is a tale of love and betrayal, of idealism and the lure of power. It is a memorial to a brother who disappeared and a best friend, executed. It is a story of the Ethiopian students, their “Revolution” and its aftermath – a brutal military dictatorship.

Director: Salem Mekuria
Year: 1997
Duration: 61 mins
Country: Ethiopia
Language: Amharic with English subtitles

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