The Guramayne Art Centre and
the artists who work and live below it
are a centrifugal force in Ethiopia’s
creative economy

In a historic mansion tucked away in the hills of Addis Ababa’s famed Sebba Dereja, or 70 Stairs in the Piassa district, lays an art oasis that has remained a well-kept secret among Ethiopia’s fine art insiders for nearly 13 years. The dilapidated remains of a home built in the early 1900s for the warlord Tesera Retta was converted into a live-work space by a small group of modern-contemporary Ethiopian artists. It is currently occupied by Alebachew Kassa, Dawit Adnew, Tamrat Gezagne, Tesfahun Kibru and Leikun Nahusenay. Some of these talents are carry overs after the disbandment of the Netsa Art Village, an open-air artist sanctuary that thrived for several years before being reclaimed by the city administration, who felt there were better uses for the land. This location fills that gap, while providing a much-needed refuge in a country where creativity comes naturally but remains largely under appreciated. Here like-minded artists can commune together while experimenting with new ideas, concepts and techniques. 

The compound opens up to winding stone steps that spiral down into an overgrown courtyard. Art installations and discarded materials have been integrated into the composition of the structure. Almost every inch of the studio spaces are covered with artistic intentions - mementos, inspirations, sketches and caustic splatters of paint. Due to its dated architecture, the light is natural and moody and given to sudden bursts of rays at peak hours followed by an elusive brightness that fades too soon. 

Art is pushed out and taken back in like air. The creative energy that emanates from this space is palpable. It draws in fellow artists, collectors and curators alike. In 2014, curator Mifta Zeleke was looking for a gallery space to showcase emerging and established Ethiopian artists, and was also pulled into the collective’s orbit. He eventually transformed the upper level space into the Guramayne Art Centre, and completed the creative eco-system. The centre not only provides an outlet for the on-site artists but a hub for local and international arts practitioners. It’s clear that as Ethiopian art becomes more prevalent in the international art market, this hybrid arts space will be an integral source for both collectors and enthusiasts alike.

Words by Metasebia Yoseph, founder/director of Design Week Addis Ababa and author of A Culture of Coffee a book on the Ethiopian coffee ceremony and its global legacy. She is also the creative director for Gallery 26, a creative agency and design showroom based in Addis Ababa.  

Photography Rudi Geyser