WaterAid and Somerset House put women centre-stage through Ethiopian artist Aida Muluneh’s Afrofuturist photography series

Posted by
Anna France Williams
on
28 August 2019
In
Ethiopia, Girls and women, Gender, Water, Inequality
WaterAid/Aida Muluneh

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Internationally acclaimed Ethiopian artist Aida Muluneh is showcasing her extraordinary ‘Water Life’ series at Somerset House, London, from 24 September, inspired by the impact of dirty water on women’s lives and futures.

The new display, which runs until 20 October, features 12 striking pieces commissioned by WaterAid with support from the H&M Foundation, and was shot in the extreme landscape of one of the hottest and driest places on earth, Dallol, Afar, in Northern Ethiopia. 

The powerful Afrofuturist artwork responds to the urgent issue of a lack of access to clean water, which has a particularly devastating impact on the lives of women and girls.

Globally, one in ten people have no clean water close to home. In Ethiopia, the figures are stark, with almost four in ten people being denied access to clean water, despite the significant progress the country has made over the past 20 years. A child dies every hour from the resulting diseases.

Aida herself, whilst living in Ethiopia, has encountered streams of women travelling on foot and carrying heavy burdens of water. Her images express these harsh daily realities, which affect not only women’s progress but also the futures of their communities.

Taking inspiration from traditional ornamentation and body paint from across the African continent, the Ethiopian-born artist has explored not just issues of water scarcity and ecological emergency but also the vital role of art in advocacy and how Africa is represented in global media.

Aida Muluneh said:

“My main goal in building this collection is to address the issues caused by a lack of access to clean water, and the impact that has not only on a society as a whole, but on women, particularly in rural regions. We cannot refute that it is mainly women who bear responsibility for collecting water, a burden that has great consequences for our future and the development of our nation. My focus in this project was to address these topics without the cliché that we see in mainstream media. In a sense, to advocate through art.”

Diana Amini, Global Manager at the H&M Foundation said: 
 
“The H&M Foundation are delighted to have supported the commissioning of this beautiful body of work. Aida Muluneh’s collection of photographs illustrate the stories of so many women and girls around the world who are urgently in need of access to clean water. Without this basic resource, women cannot meet their potential and are deprived of the opportunities to flourish that they deeply deserve.”

Neil Wissink, Photography Manager at WaterAid, said:

“We’re so excited to be collaborating with artist Aida Muluneh and Somerset House on ‘Water Life’. Aida’s unique and compelling vision, expressed through this collection, not only brings women’s experiences centre-stage but also helps catalyse real change. We’re proud, as an NGO, to have been able to work with an artist of Aida’s calibre, bringing our issues to light in a wholly new and exciting way. 

“Around the world 785 million people live without clean water close to home, denying them the chance for education and good health. It’s our hope that this exhibition will highlight why water can’t just be a luxury for the privileged few, but must be normal for everyone everywhere.”

‘Water Life’ is a free display at Somerset House in the Great Arch Hall, South Wing from 24 September to 20 October 2019. It forms part of Somerset House’s ongoing strand of environmental themed programming and runs across 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, the leading art fair dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora from 3 to 6 October.

To find out more: www.wateraid.org/uk/waterlife

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For more information please contact:

Anna France-Williams, Senior Media Officer, [email protected], +44 (0) 207 793 5048 or Laura Crowley on [email protected] or +44 (0) 207 793 4965.

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected].

Notes to editors

Aida Muluneh
Aida Muluneh was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1974 where she currently lives. Aida left the country at a young age and spent an itinerant childhood between Yemen and England. After several years in a boarding school in Cyprus, she finally settled in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1985. In 2000, she graduated with a degree from the Communication Department with a major in Film from Howard University in Washington D.C. After graduation she worked as a photojournalist at the Washington Post.

Muluneh has been a jury member on several prominent photography competitions most notably the Sony World Photography Awards 2017 and the World Press Photo Contest 2017. In 2018 she exhibited “Being: New Photography 2018” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

She is the Founder and Director of the Addis Foto Fest (AFF), the first international photography festival in East Africa hosted since 2010 in the city of Addis Ababa. She continues to educate, curate and develop cultural projects with local and international institutions through her company DESTA (Developing and Educating Society Through Art) for Africa Creative Consulting PLC (DFA) in Addis Ababa.

H&M Foundation
H&M Foundation is a non-profit global foundation, privately funded by the Stefan Persson family, founders and main owners of H&M group. Its mission is to drive long lasting, positive change and improve living conditions by investing in people, communities and innovative ideas. Through partnerships with organisations around the globe, the H&M Foundation aims to accelerate the progress needed to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. 

WaterAid and H&M Foundation are working together to bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to communities around the world, globally and locally.

Somerset House 
Somerset House is London’s working arts centre and home to the UK’s largest creative community. Built on historic foundations, we are situated in the very heart of the capital.

Dedicated to backing progress, championing openness, nurturing creativity and empowering ideas, our cultural programme is ambitious in scope. We insist on relevance, but aren’t afraid of irreverence, and are as keen on entertainment as enrichment. We embrace the biggest issues of our times and are committed to oxygenating new work by emerging artists. Where else can you spend an hour ice-skating while listening to a specially commissioned sound piece by a cutting-edge artist? 

It is this creative tension – the way we harness our heritage, put the too-often overlooked on our central stage and use our neo-classical backdrop to showcase ground-breaking contemporary culture – that inspires our programme. Old and new, history and disruption, art and entertainment, high-tech and homemade, combined with the fact that we are home to a constantly shape-shifting working creative community: this is our point of difference. It is what we are proud of. And it is what makes the experience of visiting or working in Somerset House inspiring and energising, urgent and exciting.

WaterAid

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]
  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database www.WASHwatch.org 
         

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] washwatch.org

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org