Addis Foto Fest : Uniting Africa And The World Through Photography

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Addis Foto Fest, is credited the first and only international photography festival in East Africa.

Desta For Africa (DFA) Creative Consulting is a Private Limited Company (PLC) founded by award-winning cultural entrepreneur and photographer, Aida Muluneh. Desta, the Amharic word for happiness, is also in this case an acronym for “Developing and Educating Society Through Art”, the core mission of DFA.

Addis Foto Fest (AFF), an internationally acclaimed festival, is a natural extension of DFA’s mission. Established in 2010, this biennially occurring festival has featured exhibitions, portfolio reviews, conferences, projections and film screenings in renowned venues. A complete understanding of our festival requires us to go back in time to the Bamako Biennale—this is the story of AFF’s conception.

“AFF is our own movement to restore depth to and repair the image of Ethiopia and Africa.” Aida explained, “This world is not perfect and neither are we, but why is it always our imperfection that is in the lead as opposed to the balanced story of who we are?”

And this compelling question led in part to the establishment of AFF. How do we change this unbalanced image projected onto us as Africans, and as people of color? The general consensus of this conversation that Aida was beginning to have with her fellow artists and mentors from the continent was that if they were to challenge this gaze, then it was up to them to produce and promote their own stories—to recreate their own image. “Africans have to continue to create and fiercely promote our own image. It’s up to us to reclaim the authority and the power to define how our own identities are perceived (visually) by the rest of the world by creating platforms for the exhibition, critique, and dissemination of our own art.”
A clear way to address the issue of misrepresentation is to develop the photography industry in Ethiopia and foster the creation of high quality locally produced, balanced images of today’s Ethiopia. And this has been Aida’s ambition. To develop local talent and garner interest in this art, Ethiopians needed to see that photography goes beyond basic portraits and wedding shots. The local audience needed examples of how the concept of the image was being developed in other parts of the world. Thus, AFF was born.

One of the main purposes of AFF is to serve as an antidote to the destructive and one-sided images of Ethiopia and Africa that exist in the media by promoting Ethiopian and African photographers, curators, and collectors in creating a platform for networking, exhibition, cultural exchange, discussion and inspiration. Along the way, AFF educates the local audience about worldwide photography while promoting a new image of Ethiopia to the world; the festival is evidence that Addis Abeba is perfectly capable of staging a large-scale festival as momentous as this despite the challenges of operating in a developing country.

The exhibitions and portfolio reviews especially help facilitate the growth and education of participants that are in the beginning stages of their careers. Since most of the photographers whose work is exhibited are present as participants in the festival, AFF organically creates the space for emerging photographers to meet and engage with those whose work they admire increasing the likelihood of mentorships, collaboration, and other unforeseen future opportunities.

Since 2010 the festival has grown to include an increasing number of countries with each edition. The fourth edition features the works of more than 120 photographers from 40 different countries.

The next edition of AFF 2016 will take place in Addis Ababa from December 15-20th 2016. A special feature of the fourth edition is the incorporation of the first AFF Photography Awards. An international jury of renowned curators, industry experts, photo editors, educators, and photographers will judge contestants from the main exhibition who are selected to participate in the portfolio review. The fourth edition will also include the official launch of the Photography in Ethiopia (PIE) collection.

PIE will be an annual event promoting and supporting photographers in Ethiopia in the form of a yearly exhibition hosted at the Sheraton Addis. The PIE collection will be the first annual exhibition providing photography enthusiasts an opportunity to purchase and collect images from photographers in Ethiopia.

PIE will help engender a culture of appreciating photography on the continent, just like any other well-established art form. This will encourage and significantly support the development of the photography industry and the establishment of an institution for photographic education in Addis Ababa. Ten percent of the sales proceeds will go towards establishing the DFA School of Photography and New Media. Each year, the collection will tour to various festivals in Africa and beyond in order to promote an authentic and balanced perspective of Ethiopia to the international audience.

To read the whole review: vogue by Ainslee Alem Robson

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