Aïda Muluneh: This is where I am

Born in Ethiopia and currently based in Côte d’Ivoire, Aïda Muluneh creates vibrant photographs that highlight her national, political, and cultural identity. Through the use of metaphor, she creates vignettes that poetically portray facets of her experiences as an Ethiopian woman and immigrant. Muluneh left Ethiopia at a young age and grew up between Yemen and England, later spending time in Cyprus and Canada before attending college in the United States. Her work reflects her investment in sharing complex, distinctly African perspectives, as well as her own journeys across the globe. This is where I am is an exhibition of 12 new artworks by Muluneh (b. 1974, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) presented over 330 JCDecaux bus shelters across New York, Boston, and Chicago in the United States, and Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire.

For this new series, Muluneh drew inspiration from Ethiopian poet Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin’s “This is where I am.” Written in 1974–the year that marked both Muluneh’s birth and the start of the Ethiopian Revolution–the poem and the resulting body of photographs are markedly personal. Set against meticulously crafted hand-painted backdrops, her works allegorically illustrate stories of overcoming challenges, searching for truth, and the resilience of a nation.

The artworks reference art historical genres and cultural influences, including Surrealism, Renaissance painting, West African studio portrait photography, Ethiopian church wall painting, as well as African body ornamentation. Central to her photographs are stoic African women regally posed in compositions inspired by Christian iconographies, alongside motifs and visual cues alluding to the social structures and political formations of her home country. Rich in symbolism, Muluneh’s artwork employs motifs such as keys, chairs and stars, as well as props that serve as cultural references such as jebena, traditional Ethiopian coffee pots. Muluneh embeds the motif of the eye throughout her work to reference ways people respond to, turn away from, or bear witness to history. At once imbuing a sense of hope and inviting open discourse, This is where I am is Muluneh’s homage to Ethiopia.

Aïda Muluneh: This is where I am is curated by Public Art Fund Adjunct Curator Katerina Stathopoulou.

Explore the exhibition in French and Spanish by toggling the language options on the left menu.

Artist Statement

The loud silence of war and death always echoes within my mind. For many, we are spectators of history collapsing in distant lands, removed from a reality that we are helpless observers—our words are shields to our righteousness, but our actions are empty gestures of cowards. In this time we live in, those without our fortune of comfort walk between the crossroads of death and destruction, because history is the witness and there are no winners in war, just paths for the powerful paved with the blood of others. As artists, we cannot avoid reflecting these moments of history because it is difficult to bury one’s sadness into the ground of logic or belief. There are no sides to me, and I must state I have no delusion to understand the predicament of mourners, nor do I have the comprehension to understand the motivations of power. I know that in the faint whispers of a weeping mother, all that is left behind is those who gaze at the horizon of uncertainty. Regardless of our place on this planet, the conflict of a nation bleeds forward with hate and anger. The history of humanity has been plagued with never-ending conflict, mostly in the name of preserving supremacy. Yet, it is difficult to elude that all was necessary, that all brought forward a victory. We position ourselves, in the cloak of melancholy, in wonder at the plight of those less fortunate, those that have been dealt the card of shedding their innocence and living with the remembrances of a hopeful future.

Hence, I have no words to encompass the sadness that looms within me or the reserve of my weakness for what is in front of me. For in my comfort, I am weakened by a sense of helplessness to those who suffer from a plight of misfortune. For those who linger in search of safety that is infected with the injustice of time and an unforgiving circumstance. So, I can only be the mirror to the voiceless, a mirror that questions the loss of our collective humanity, a humanity that remains in the misty fog of privilege and comfort, while those less fortunate endure the uncertainty of another day. There are no champions in conflict, for the line is blurry to me, I no longer know where everyone is but all that I know—this is where I am.

Aïda Muluneh

About the Artist

Aïda Muluneh (b. 1974, Ethiopia) lives and works in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire, and has exhibited in numerous countries, including South Africa, Mali, Senegal, Egypt, Canada, United States of America, France, Germany, England, Norway, and China. Her work can be found in the permanent collection at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Hood Museum, The RISD Museum of Art and the Museum of Biblical Art in the United States. She is the 2007 recipient of the European Union Prize in the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie, in Bamako, Mali, the 2010 winner of the CRAF International Award of Photography in Spilimbergo, Italy, Winner of 2020 The Royal Photographic Society Curatorship award, a 2018 CatchLight Fellow in San Francisco, USA. In 2019, she also became the first black woman to co-curate the Nobel Peace Prize exhibition while serving as a Canon Europe Ambassador. Muluneh graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C. with a major in Film. She is the founder of the Addis Foto Fest, one of the largest photography festivals in Africa.

Muluneh is the founder of Africa Foto Fair 2022, open December 8, 2022–March 26, 2023 in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire. Her solo show, Aïda Muluneh: The Art of Advocacy opened January 12–February 24, 2023 at Efie Gallery in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Installation Images


Behind the Scenes

New York City Locations

Chicago Locations

Boston Locations

Abidjan Locations