By Adefoyeke Ajao
On the surface, Nebila Abdulmelik’s images portray the impressive cityscapes, people and cultures of African civilizations. However, within each frame lies a complex story of the disruptive consequences that urbanization has on history, humanity and identity.
Abdulmelik is an Ethiopian photographer and wordsmith who is interested in exploring narratives about African city life. Although she was born and bred in Addis Ababa, she travelled abroad to earn degrees in African Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. A pan-Africanist and a feminist, she is the co-founder of Afro Trotter Diaries, a collective that encourages African women to travel the world and document their memories and experiences of its many wonders, especially through photography.
Abdulmelik is no stranger to changing landscapes and she realises that mental images and nostalgia are momentary archives while photographs give more permanence to memories. In ‘Urbamorphosis’, a series of images she took alongside John Kaninda, a Congolese photographer, Abdulmelik unburdens her longing for the Addis Ababa she used to know while trying to work out her identity and position in the present and future versions of the city. The images depict the evolution of Addis Ababa from a once homely and familiar terrain (for her) into a megacity teeming with imposing structures and transportation systems.
While she explores the familiar but changing terrains of Addis in ‘Urbamorphosis’, Abdulmelik’s ‘Khartoum – Through the lens of a neighbour’ incorporates a visitor’s perspective into discovering and appreciating the people, culture and history of the historic Sudanese capital.
Abdulmelik’s work urges viewers to pay more attention to the changes in their surroundings and also to appreciate the cultures and people therein because they might, someday, find themselves renegotiating their existence within an unfamiliar territory.
To see more of Nebila Abdulmelik’s work, visit her Art635 page or her website aliben86.com
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