Zellan Patterns Left
Zellan Patterns Right

By Hanna Tadesse HAILE

Creativity in times of Corona

As COVID-19 swept through the world, we were all in some ways desensitized to watching disaster happening on our news channels and the coverage of the virus was no-different. In some corner of our minds, we never thought it would reach Ethiopia, and today it stands between us and our dream.

We had our heads buried, working on a center which we hoped would become a hub of creation and contemporary culture. After months of hard work, that dream was realized, for one day. We opened doors on March 14th, 2020, gathering artists from various corners of the Ethiopian creative force, taking time to connect, discuss and display works.

The following day, on March 15th we closed our doors to curb the spread of COVID-19 as the news of infections in Ethiopia hit the waves. The temporary closure has been the necessary decision on our end to encourage people to stay safely at home, yet we are also gripping at the immediate implications this has to the survival of our institution.

The socioeconomic burden this virus will have on the country will also have major implications on the creative and cultural industry. As no public funds have ever been available, the few spaces that have grown through labors of love, self financing and funding opportunities rely on building audiences. The centres in Ethiopia that are run by Ethiopians rely heavily on keeping their doors open to the public and with the new pandemic they suffer heavily.

This uncertainty is echoed all over the world, galleries in the past month have been showcasing their works through virtual tours keeping audiences engaged. Adaptation is the only way of survival, and Zellan is no different.

With a centre conceived to be a space to gather a crowd of creatives, artists and free thinkers, it is left with all doors closed. In the days to come we immediately hankered down to the basics of our mission which lays beyond the physical. Through experience we also recognize creativity flourishes the most when stimulated by difficulties and we became determined to be inspired.

In response, we launched a Zellan Gallery as a virtual 360 tour on our website. The gallery hosting the works of Kirubel Mellke, Dariwos Hailemicheal, Tedros Bekele and Zelalem Marga and their poignant social observations on today’s Ethiopia becoming available at a safe social distance.

We also published the book of poetry by Alexander Hizikias, “The Journal of a Non-reader”. A downloadable e-book, about the universal tale of an individual's emancipation on a spiritual quest looking from the outside in and becoming a man with the privilege of self-ownership in a contemporary Ethiopia struggling with its identity.

We acknowledge these have been trying times for everyone including to the creative industry which heavily relies on audiences. And as many in the creative industry are freelancers, they are hit harshly as events cancel, spaces close with commissioned works retracted.

While those like Addis Fine Arts are showcasing their works online, performers like Ethiopian Records do live sets, and so on, what was already a fragile ecosystem is now shivering. But many are reinventing the means to reach their audiences, in hopes that audiences will meet them half way.