Ethiopia’s Zoma Contemporary Art Center

The Zoma Contemporary Art Center was founded in 1982 and took seven years to complete. Each of the center’s buildings has unique features inside and out. (Photo: Meskerem Assegued)

The New York Times

By GINANNE BROWNELL MITIC

Zoma Contemporary Art Center Links Local and Global

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — Outside the walls of the Zoma Contemporary Art Center, 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 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.

The center’s workshop programming has included internationally known artists like David Hammons from the United States and Ernesto Novelo, a Mexican who was so inspired after his residency at Zoma that he developed a similar program in his home country, calling it the ZCAC Yucatán.

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