AtWork | Something Strange Is Happening In Addis Abeba

by Johanne Affricot - Published on 02/06/2016
Liberté/Freedom (2014), art piece donated by Aida Muluneh for Lettera27's campaign #AddisAtWork

It just so happened that in early May, at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan (Italy), we attended the Afrocult conference. It just so happens that there exist many cultural initiatives, mainly focused on Africa (and beyond). It just so happens that among these cultural initiatives, the Lettera27 Foundation presented its project AtWork, developed with internationally acclaimed curator of contemporary art Simon Njami, one of the most prolific and influential contemporary intellectuals from the African Continent.

It just so happens that Lettera27, together with Simon Njami, is overturning the equation “Africa = foreign aid,” emptying it of most overused visual elements (wells, schools, poverty, malnutrition, apocalyptic diseases, violence), and substituting it with “Africa = Workshop”, “Africa = Art exhibition,” “Africa = Community”.

It just so happens that the local partners with whom Atwork collaborates are opening and engaging a new form of learning where students participate in 3-to-5-day long workshops that expose them to other forms of thinking, getting them out of their comfort zones so that they are free to partake in collective discussions and self-reflection on issues such as identity, culture, diversity, memory, freedom and community.

It just so happens that these guys produce a personalized notebook and at the end of the workshop they (along with a leader) co-curate an exhibition of works that embody the process of self-reflection they went thorough.

And it just so happens that a new, interconnected Pan-African network of cultural influencers and youths is born.

It just so happened that I talked about all these things with Lettera27’s Program Director Adama Sanneh (a born and bred Brianzan-Italian with Senegalese and Gambian roots): how this format stimulates critical thinking and debate among students and young creative talents from the African continent, empowering a new generation of thinkers that will lead change.

Something weird is happening. Or maybe not (?)


The Dining Room contradicts space and its influence on behavior. It interrogates what happens when the elements of social graces are juxtaposed with spaces reserved for private activities. How do the values of honesty and modesty transform when a learning environment changes from a four-walled classroom to a wild garden? The garden suits nakedness and connectedness with nature and ones inner self better than the classroom. Nakedness is the natural state of being, it levels social inequality and forces us to look at each other alike. Society teaches us how to and judge the world. When we challenge this knowledge by adopting new perspectives, our creativity is sparked.”

The Dining Room, by Violet Nantume, – AtWork 03 (Kampala) – Uganda: “Should I Take off My Shoes?“

A true based story of my high school dormitory. ‘Can I take off my shoes’ is a tragic theme that comes to me but perhaps, I can’t take off my shoes, the situation in my environment is tough in fact I must sleep; with my shoes. In the social cultural environment of my high school waking up for morning prep at 4am was mandatory, if not one was brutalized with severe beating and being chased out of school. Jeff was an amazing friend. To simplify his life in the terrific conditions he decided to sleep in shoes. This situation made him so dense and every one hated Jeff because he couldn’t take off his shoes.”

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Society and Culture, by Robert Muzoora– AtWork 03 (Kampala) -Uganda: “Should I Take off My Shoes?“

My concept is about communication, and how people understand it and receive it. Communication to me has always been difficult, it’s always misunderstood by others, but for me it’s crystal clear. I’ve chosen to depict my frustration by cutting and writing my MRI and EEG scans to form my own “language” letting my personal thoughts out there for everyone to see and hopefully understand.”

Untitled, by Monia Sakr, AtWork (04) Cairo – Egypt

It just so happens that AtWork is a project, a format that increases the circulation of ideas, travelling from country to country, ultimately leaving the African continent to start a dialogue with other countries.

As women, our very first day of menstruation is the day from which we find ourselves unequivocally exposed to time.
 It starts a precise, cadenced time cycle which, though, often becomes irregular: time is simultaneously layered and deconstructed. This notebook is the story of our first day of menstruation. Our, because it is a moment of both individual and collective awareness, of fear and shame of the brutality of our blood, but also of power and strenght. The morning I saw blood on my panties for the first time I decided to hide it until I came back home in the evening, started crying and called my mother asking for help: there, I unconsciously verified my role as a specific feminine body.”

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7.6.2002, by Alice Mazzarella – AtWork (05) Modena – Italy

It happens that you could invest in this project for €/$5 or more, to help implement chapter 06 of AtWork in Adis Abeba during the Addis Foto Fest in December 2016, a festival founded by Ethiopian artist and cultural activist Aida Muluneh.

It just so happens that there are only 23 days of the Kickstarter campaing (Art) At Work to go.

It just so happens that besides being rewarded with sincere gratitude for your involvement, you can also get a set of 4 limited-edition AtWork visual catalogues of the first 4 Atwork chapters; a cotton shoe bag designed by Kampala AtWorkers with the phrases that came out of the workshop (“Memory is a serious fiction”); a notebook by artist Maurice Pefura; and many more gifts.

We have already invested. The return is too high not to contribute. So, what are you waiting for?

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Johanne Affricot
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Visual and performing arts, culture and music, traveling: I could just live on this. Graduated in International Cooperation and Development, I am an indipendent Culture Curator and Producer, and Artistic Director of GRIOTmag and Spazio GRIOT.