Ethiopian-born Aida Muluneh is one of Africa’s leading contemporary photographers, with a background in film and photojournalism, as well as fine art. A true cosmopolitan, Muluneh, who was born in 1974, spent her childhood in Yemen, Britain, and at a boarding school in Cyprus, before moving to Canada in 1985. She graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC, with a major in film in 2000, and worked for the Washington Post as a photojournalist; her photographs have also featured in myriad other publications.
Her work is by no means exclusively journalistic, however; Muluneh has garnered a great deal of acclaim as an exhibiting artist, and collections of her work can be found at Hood Museum in Hanover, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, and the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, Texas. Muluneh, regarded as one of Africa’s foremost photographic talents, has adjudicated photography competitions such as the Sony World Photography awards 2017, and participated in many panel discussions, including Art Basel, Tedx/Johannesburg, and the African Union cultural summit.
She is also the founder of Addis Foto Fest, an international photography festival that has been hosted in Addis Ababa since 2010. Muluneh has shown an ongoing commitment to fostering educational and cultural engagement, through the interventions of her company Desta (Developing and Educating Society Through Art); she is plainly somebody to watch — a star on the rise.
Muluneh elected to work with young, Ethiopian fashion designer Selam B Negash for her Wanted shoot. The two have a history that far predates their collaboration for Wanted: Negash, a graduate of Chicago’s International Academy of Design and Technology, was Muluneh’s first model, and encouraged her to pursue her idea of working with body paint, something which has become a signature of her subsequent artistic offerings.
“Selam’s clothing line — called Tiyaa — was a perfect fit for me, because she is also exploring the notion of taking traditional elements of our culture, and bringing it forward into a contemporary interpretation,” Muluneh says. “Her usage of traditional Ethiopian patterns is based on ancient figures and fonts, and was dedicated to and inspired by Habteselassie Tafese, who formed the tourism board during the emperor’s time; he was responsible for promoting our country during that time through photography. He was also a great photographer, and for most of us abroad, we grew up with his posters of Ethiopia hanging on the walls of our nomadic lives — it was a way to remember the homeland.”
For Muluneh, this shoot “has many layers and sentiments that go beyond a ‘fashion’ shoot; one that, symbolically, is not only looking at the history of our country, but also offering our appreciation to our legend, Tafese. The background and clothing patterns that you see are the Sabaean alphabet, which dates back to 1000BC, and is a written language that can be found on ancient stones in Axum and Ethiopia, and is also the foundation for our first language, Ge’ez.” Habteselassie Tafese, Ethiopia’s “father of tourism”, passed away in August, so this tribute to his legacy could not have come about at a more fitting time.
• Represented by David Krut Projects
• From the September edition of Wanted, 2017.