Odéon Cinema – Asmara


Senait Tesfai, Makda Embaie

Our goal has always been to complicate the idea of the nation state through artistic expressions and practices. A city with architecture that has not been inhabited for some time leaves a lot of room to imagine. So, returning from Asmara we imagined quite vividly. Knowing that we missed a contemporary art scene and getting it further confirmed by young artists in Asmara our plans became more concrete. We wanted to create a context where our own practices and knowledge could be of use.

Through several meetings with governmental institutions, the opportunity to inhabit these empty colonial buildings became a real possibility. We wanted to use them as a space for young people to broaden the idea of what artistic expression can be. We ourselves definitely do not have all the answers, but we want to invoke a space where different art forms and their intersections can be explored. This demands deeply integrated and thorough research, so that we can create long lasting relationships.

The format of this space would be establishing a residency for art, design, architecture and other creative fields. The residency would host creatives from around the country, the diaspora, as well as international guests. This broad spectra of knowledge holders is what the space would be about, to create a platform where exchanging, practicing and learning is what re-inhabits these spaces.

As mentioned, the existing cultural sector is something we need to be more familiar with. This would include learning about the nature of contemporary forms, cultural expressions and traditional forms practiced by young people in Asmara and understanding how our experiences can be of use in this context.

To start building something we need to understand the mutual and individual challenges within the creative field; policy gaps, development needs, networking support required and supportive policy initiatives, and to identify opportunities that hold real potential for long-term impact and sustainability. This is where we stand now.

Why do we want to do that?

Eritrea’s history consists of oppression dating back 400 years. The latest legacy is the war for independence and prior to that it was the Italian/English/Egyptian/Ottoman colonialism. Although we are not interested in finding a proof of what the Eritrean heritage consists of, it cannot be avoided that the various historical depictions are used for the nation state’s narratives. Therefore, stories are needed that can continue to formulate an identity that is fluid and carried by multiple stories. A residency program does not control the narratives or what is being produced by its guests, but rather facilitates the formulations of narratives.

How are we going to do that?

In the short term, we will try to learn if there is an interest in artistic expression. While we were in Asmara we looked at different spaces that can work to make temporary exhibitions, workshops and platforms for exchanges. In the long term, a residency program would be established where residents, space for studio and access to archives would be available. It must be financed through cultural support.

Who do we want to work with?

We want to work with artists with local relationships to the place, including the diaspora. It would involve both established artists and exploring young creators. In order to gain access to premises, we need to work close to the various authorities such as Commission for Sports and Culture, Research and Documentation, and Asmara Heritage Project whom we already are in contact with.