Ethiopian gallery Addis Fine Art opens space in London

Rakeb Sile and Mesai Haileleul
Courtesy of Bandele Zuberi

Against the apparent tendency of galleries to abandon their physical premises during the pandemic, the Ethiopian-born Addis Fine Art gallery opens its first permanent gallery in London in October.

The 2,000-square-foot two-level space on Eastcastle Street in the heart of Fitzrovia’s gallery district will open with an exhibition of works by Nirit Takele, an artist who was born in Ethiopia in 1985 but moved to Israel in 1991 as part of Operation Solomon which saw more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews evacuated.

“What I realized is that the best strategy for us is to have a place rooted in London where we can have eight or ten shows a year and continue to increase our digital sales because they have been a buoy. absolute rescue and have been where we discovered a lot of our new clients during that time, ”says Rakeb Sile, who co-founded Addis Fine Art in 2016 with Mesai Haileleul. The gallery was a member of London’s Cromwell Place, renting space for occasional exhibitions, but for ten exhibitions a year, it makes financial sense to take a permanent gallery, Sile says.

Since the start of the pandemic, Addis Fine Art has done “just about every online viewing room that was available to us, including Vortic, South South, Frieze New York, and Art Basel,” Sile said. These digital innovations “have allowed us to really expand our reach without all of this shifting… it’s much better from an environmental perspective and from a cost base”.

The Young Man Sitting in a Blue Chair by Nirit Takele (2021)
Courtesy of Addis Fine Art

But Sile says the gallery’s own Instagram account has proven to be the most effective sales platform: “It’s really where we meet young collectors and connect with new people who aren’t. really in the art world. Instagram has been a great tool. In fact, despite the pandemic, the past year has been a commercial success for the gallery: “We have doubled our sales and we have practically doubled in size in terms of reach. But we’ve doubled our sales every year since we started and now we have artists charging pretty high prices, so we’re getting more daring. “

The gallery will be exhibiting at Frieze London (October 13-17) in the Focus section, its first entry to the fair, with a presentation of paintings by Ethiopian artist Merikokeb Berhanu who, according to Sile, “gets a lot of traction with curators in this. moment “. Meanwhile, at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (September 14-17) at Somerset House, Addis will showcase works by its diaspora artists – Tariku Shiferaw, Helina Metaferia, Tsedaye Makonnen and Tesfaye Urgessa. The gallery has also just returned from an exhibition at the Armory Show in New York, where it exhibited the works of Tizta Berhanu, another Ethiopian artist.

Addis Fine Art is one of the few black-owned galleries in London and Sile is well aware that the market for what is loosely referred to as “African” contemporary art is growing. “Speed [of growth] concerns me because I think what is missing is scholarship, writing, critical points of view. And in fact, the representation is lacking – if you look at a range of galleries that represent African artists, even on the continent itself, I don’t think you will find more than a handful of Africans who actually own galleries.

She adds: “Moreover, Africa is not a place, Africa is huge and so diverse. So I think one of the things that we’re really proud of at the gallery and want to keep doing is only dealing with this little part of Africa. [Ethiopia]. And it’s actually not small, it’s huge: 110 million people!

Addis Fine Art will retain its original space in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which Sile describes as an “incubator” for young artists and a “gallery that allows artists to come home and share their works of art in Ethiopia ”. Logistics are tough in Ethiopia, Sile says, so “we can never really do 10 shows a year there – four or five shows a year, that’s about what we’re aiming for. It is above all a place where a local public can come to see art in a country where public institutions are scarce.

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