The Distant Gaze by Aida Muluneh in 2017. Image courtesy of Muluneh’s website.

Photographers have a way of storytelling, and use their works to dive deeper. Photography, like other forms of art, can contribute to discussions surrounding stereotyping and ignorance. In conjunction with social media and technological advances, this has allowed for different types of storytelling such as local level storytelling from accounts like Humans of New York (HONY).

Aida Muluneh is one such photographer who depicts a unique form of storytelling. Born and now based in Ethiopia, Muluneh moved around the world a lot growing up. A chance encounter in high school exposed Muluneh to the world of photography. After graduating with a degree from Howard University and entering into the world of journalism and photography, t Muluneh noticed the way that there was a certain perception of black Americans, as well as the continent of Africa in media.

Muluneh’s photograph is called Editions by Aida Muluneh. Image courtesy of Muluneh’s website.

Muluneh brings attention towards United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on Reduced Inequalities, Gender Inequalities and Clean Water and Sanitation by dismantling previous stereotypes of Ethiopian and African cultures, as well as addressing issues of inequality by using bold colours and challenging cliches on society's stereotypes. By providing deeper context into her photography, Muluneh highlights through photographs the issues surrounding the portrayal of African cultures as well as everyday issues that affect the growth of women empowerment.

One of the common issues Muluneh found through working as a photojournalist is how Ethiopians, and how many other African nations are portrayed amongst the lens in the Western world. “Many images of Africa in Western media focus on war, famine or other crises that trouble the continent, ” she said in an interview with NPR.

While Muluneh notes that there are issues regarding these crises which she also addresses in some art pieces - Muluneh also adds that Ethiopian and African society is much more “complex” than that and the media often does not show that side. The complexities can be seen through the major cities, the various ethnicities and the deep rooted cultures that are often ignored and wrongfully depicted by the Western media. Muleneh mentions  “I can come to New York and photograph a lot of homeless people on the street and say, ‘These are the alleys of New York,’ but that's not the full perspective, ” she said in the interview.

In order to present the complexities and richness in Ethiopia and Africa, Muluneh uses distinct and bold colours in her work. Her photos such as Editions, Fragment and The Distant Gaze, which can be seen in this article show the use of bold colours and patterns, which in contrast with the black and white stand out even more.  While she states that she is drawn to these primary colours, there is a deeper meaning behind using such colours as well. t “It's also about pulling in elements from Ethiopia. Church wall paintings here use primary color. I want to show a different way of looking at my country.”

Fragment by Aida Muluneh. Image courtesy of NPR.

Mulunehs photography also addresses the inequalities and issues that are seen in Ethiopia and Africa, one of those being the lack of access to clean and accessible water. Through Muluneh’s work for one of her exhibition’s Muluneh addresses not only the issue of water itself but also the issues many women have to face when it comes to water. Muleneh mentions that “women spend a great deal of time fetching water for the household, which has an adverse effect on the progress of women in our society.” She notes that this is also a task that is often handed to the women to take, while having to take on the many other responsibilities women take, especially women who also have children to take care of.

In The Shackles of Limitations, as pictured below, Muluneh highlights all these issues. The woman is seen dragging the several jugs of water, which as the title implies are the shackles. The implication of the several water jugs also implies how much time is taken out of the day to do so, as it is impossible to carry all those water jugs at once. Muluneh also uses this photo to address the other issues of inaccessible clean water, as the woman is seen standing in murky waters. The stark colours used in the picture stand out against a barren background, which can also imply the neverending cycles and limitations, as seen in the title.

The Shackles of Limitations by Aida Muluneh in 2018. Image courtesy of Muluneh’s website.

Aida Muluneh uses photography to showcase Ethiopia and Africa through the lens of someone who is from there, and to show the complexities within society. Mulunehs reflection and discourse on Western media highlights the issues of how the Western world views different cultures. Muluneh also uses her photography to highlight the issues many people and women face surrounding water issues and accessibility.

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