Aida Muluneh: Reshaping our global image through photography

By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, December 18, 2008

New York (Tadias) – Desta, the Amharic word for happiness, is the name of a popular candy brand in Ethiopia. It’s also the acronym of choice for Photographer Aida Muluneh’s ambitious new project to reform the African continent’s long history with negative imagery.

Through photography, Muluneh has found a medium of transformation. Incorporating natural light from a crisp, dawn Ethiopian morning, or that of a sentimental sunny afternoon, Muluneh projects inspiration captured in moments of daily life – portraits of cab riders, priests, and street children in bustling Ethiopian cities and towns.

Her new organization, appropriately named DESTA for Africa, is a local NGO based in Addis Ababa. Muluneh (pictured above) hopes to encourage a new generation of African Photographers who are able to compete in the global media industry while reshaping the image of Africa reflecting their personal experiences.

“I have spent most of my artistic career promoting alternative images of Africa. DESTA For Africa was born out of my belief that we have to be accountable for how the world perceives us. Even though Africa is ever growing and rapidly changing, the images that we see in the mass media are not reflective of that, ” Muluneh says in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine.

“I feel that African artists have a responsibility to manage how the continent’s image is portrayed, and we can do that by actually providing the necessary education and resources to those who are interested in documenting their own realities.”

School is over for the day. These boys enjoy their time-off playing in their
neighborhood streets in Addis. (Photo by Aida Muluneh. Image featured on BBC)

BBC: A dignified Ethiopia – Aida Muluneh living in New York sent these images
depicting life in Ethiopia. She hopes these photos will show her country in a
different perspective.

Timkat (Epiphany) is the most colourful event in Ethiopia when churches parade
their Tabots (Replica of the. Ark of the Covenant) to a nearby body of water. Here
priests and deacons begin the religious procession from their individual churches and
walk, carrying flags, to Meskel Square where they all assemble.
(Photo by Aida Muluneh. This image was also featured on BBC).

The organization’s first batch of trainees is from Addis Ababa University, which lacks a permanent department of photography. ” We offer our workshop to undergraduates and graduates of the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts and Design, with the aim to provide them with viable and self-sustainable opportunities in the photography industry,” Muluneh explains.

Yet the giving is reciprocal. Muluneh is learning from her students as they receive training. “My students are an example of what can happen when countries invest in cultural production, and support efforts to reshape Africa’s image. And they also give me strength and inspiration to continue on this mission,” she says.

Muluneh’s biggest stumbling block is lack of basic teaching resources. “You won’t believe how much of a difference it makes to have one photography book or art book,” she says. “I have been teaching with three cameras shared among 13 students, yet the students have been with me since February 2008 with the same enthusiasm and passion as on their first day.”

And what can the Diaspora do to help?

“We are continuously looking for photography books, cameras, film…the list goes on, but the first thing I would like to stress to the Ethiopian American community is the importance of cultural preservation, and managing cultural production, she says. “Culture determines not only how we experience daily life, but how we transmit vital information about our history, health, and general economic and political development.”

For those who are interested, Muluneh will be hosting a fundraiser and introduction of DFA at Almaz Restaurant tonight in Washington D.C. (The event took place on Thursday, December 18th, 2008). “We will be showcasing the works of the students and also selling prints to help continue our work in Ethiopia, and beyond,” she says. “For those who are not able to attend, it is possible to make donations through our website at”

Here are few recent images from Muluneh’s students in Ethiopia.

Anyone interested in a partnership, or has information about corporate
sponsorships, should get in touch with DESTA Production
Manager, Selam Mulugeta (

5 Responses to “Aida Muluneh: Reshaping our global image through photography”

  1. 1 lwazi hlophe Dec 20th, 2008 at 12:52 am


    Your project is really a fresh take on Africa. For the longest time I have battled to crate images (that are not always about) the suffering of African people. There is so much happening in Africa that is good that is not shown in the media. I even went to ask a friend of mine who is a news reporter: “why do you have so much negative news? She replied “If it bleeds, it leads the news bulletin”.

    So I applaud you for the amazing work you do. Just to add to what you are doing, I am going to start a soccer project (here in South Africa); in this project, I hope to capture the passion we South Africans and Africans in general have for this game. I will find a way of putting it online, maybe in some small way will show that the world will be in good hands when they come to visit Africa (for the World Cup in 2010). It will be my first documentary project since I left the school of photography.

    Thanks again, you are a soldier.

    Best Regards

  2. 2 kidane Dec 22nd, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Good work

  3. 3 Martin Dixon Apr 7th, 2011 at 7:28 am

    I am trying to reach Ms. Aida Muluneh since I will be in Addis from May 3-12, 2011.

    Thank you, Martin Dixon NY based commercial photographer.

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