Four years ago, award-winning artist Aida Muluneh spearheaded efforts to create East Africa’s first international photography festival, Addis Foto Fest. Of course, she couldn’t have done it without her team at Desta for Africa Creative Consulting (DFA), a Private Limited Company founded by Aida Muluneh herself. Desta works to spread education through art, and so a festival like Addis Foto Fest was an almost obvious step for their efforts.
Aida Muluneh was born in Ethiopia but has spent most of her life in other countries. However, she had always fantasized about returning to her home land, and in 2007 she got the opportunity to do so while working on a documentary. She saw the allurement of Ethiopia and decided to leave her life in Canada to stay in Addis Ababa, where she worked as an advocate for the culture and beauty of her native country. It was this idea that became the fundamental philosophy and goal behind Desta, which is an acronym for “Developing and Educating Society Through Art.”
Addis Foto Fest was established only a few years after Desta was created, and was the result of Muluneh’s attendance to the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie in Bamanko, where she was to receive the European Union Prize. There she became aware of a strong global misrepresentation and belittling of Africa, both in photography and in the film. Muluneh stated that “This world is not perfect and neither are we, but why is it always our imperfections that are in the lead as opposed to the balanced story of who we are?”. Addis Foto Fest was thus created to rethink what defines Africa, and to show images that truly represent all aspects of the different African cultures.
This festival is all about communicating with artists and educating not only those who are in involved with the festival but the whole world in this progression towards re-branding the African continent. In a recent article in Vogue Italia —a sponsor of the festival—, Muluneh described Addis Foto Fest as “an educational tool; it is a form of cultural exchange that fosters mutual understanding and simultaneously furthers the bigger conversation—that the creative sector is part and parcel to development”.
Addis Foto Fest has been a huge success since its beginnings and is now recognized as one of the leading photography festivals in the whole of Africa. The show is set up every two years —in 2016 it was held between the 15th and the 20th of December. There were amazing events taking place every day, including portfolio reviews by international professionals, lectures, and dance performances. A total of 126 artists from more than 40 countries around the world exhibited their work, shaping an outstanding display where many different contemporary approaches to photography were represented.