Meskerem Assegued and Elias Sime founded Zoma Contemporary Art Center to bring together multidisciplinary artists from around the world and create innovative and environmental contemporary art

By Ginanne Brownell Mitic (The New York Times) |

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—Outside the walls of the Zoma Contemporary Art Center (ZCAC), the distinct chaotic clatter of Addis Ababa — goats bleating at a nearby market, cars kicking up dust on the dirt road — fills the air.

Yet inside the compound that houses the center is a haven of calm. Birds chirp in the trees that surround the courtyard, which is paved in flagstones decorated with images of turtles and lizards.

“It’s a space that hugs you,” Meskerem Assegued, the center’s co-founder and director, said in an interview in late January as she sat at an outdoor table having coffee, and pointing out some of the artworks created by her co-founder, the artist Elias Sime.

“The whole place is a sculpture,” Ms. Assegued said, describing the architectural space of the center and its programming. “It is not a place where one plus one equals two, but where one plus one equals three.”

Trying to add up what Zoma Contemporary Art Center does is indeed challenging, as the physical space is a work of stunning vernacular architecture and art, while the programming is grounded in Addis Ababa and focused on an international stage.

The noncommercial gallery at Zoma has become one of the most important art institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, funding projects through small grants and the selling of Mr. Sime’s work to collectors and museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Abel Tilahun, an artist who splits his time between Addis Ababa and Washington, said: “I stumbled onto shows that blew me away, different angles that I really responded to. Zoma is pushing the envelope, making art intellectual and saying, ‘We have to get away from the status quo that limits.”’

Continue reading this story on The New York Times
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