Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 2018
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"The Exchange" is a project developed during a residency with South South Media Lab conducted by Ice Bauhauss in Berlin. It explores the significance of coffee in Ethiopia and its cultural impact, as well as challenges commonly faced by global south countries like Ethiopia and Indonesia in shaping their image and overcoming negative stereotypes perpetuated by media.
Coffee holds immense importance worldwide, and Ethiopia is known as its birthplace. In Ethiopia, coffee is celebrated through a traditional ceremony that emphasizes sharing, listening, and reflection. Coffee has the power to bring people together, as seen in the Indonesian term "ngopi," which has evolved to signify hanging out and chatting, even when coffee is not involved. Similarly, Sweden has its own coffee culture with "fika time," an important moment for people to sit down, talk, and connect.
Before embarking on the project, I conducted research by asking people on social media and using a Google form about their associations with the word "Ethiopia." The results were intriguing, with the highest responses being hunger and poverty, followed by references to a song by Indonesian singer Iwan Fals titled "Ethiopia" that addresses world hunger, perceptions of Ethiopia as dry and hot, and, lastly, coffee-related associations, mainly from coffee lovers. This highlighted that many Indonesians still hold outdated perceptions of Ethiopia, shaped by information and images from the 1980s. I recognized how media can shape a country's image, leading to local and international policies influenced by certain interests, rather than factual information. This issue is not limited to Ethiopia but extends to other global south countries, including Indonesia, which are often branded as dangerous, economically weak, and environmentally polluted according to Western standards.
To gain a deeper understanding of Ethiopia, I focused on the coffee culture in Addis Ababa, the rapidly growing capital city of Africa. Addis Ababa faces pressure to lead in various aspects such as economy, development, and technology due to its status as the capital of African countries. The city is constantly under construction, with numerous cranes and sites built by Chinese companies. Amidst these changes, I questioned whether the coffee ceremony remains significant in Addis Ababa today, considering the increasing busyness of people's lives, which has led to a shift from street coffee sellers to coffee machines for quicker service. I also wondered if traditional values were adapting to fit the new Addis Ababa.
This curiosity led me on a journey around Addis Ababa, guided by a local named Mole, whom they met in front of the National Gallery. Mole, proficient in English, Italian, German, and local Ethiopian languages, accompanied the artist to experience the coffee ceremony in various places such as Merkato (the largest market in Africa), Shiromeda, Stadium, and Bole. During the project, the artist developed an artwork called "The Exchange." I captured instant camera photos of strangers on the streets of Addis Ababa and gave them the pictures as mementos of their encounter. Instant photos became a form of new currency for trading. However, due to past media coverage in the 1990s, Ethiopians became wary of cameras brought by foreigners (faranji), often requesting money for a photo. Despite this challenge, I managed to build trust and took 300 photos, capturing many stories from different parts of Addis Ababa. I creating a video interview and plan to compile the photos into a book.
Reflecting on the initial question about the importance of the coffee ceremony in modern Addis Ababa, I observed that the cost of modernity can be high, and it is challenging to escape its influence. However, it is crucial to remember and preserve the values and experiences associated with traditional practices, allowing them to be passed.