Arada | Street Smart

Arada is the old city centre of Addis Ababa. Yet, Arada is not just the name of a place. In the slang of the streets of the Ethiopian capital, being Arada, or Aradanet in Amharic, means being smart and cool.

Since the 1960s, sex workers, intellectuals and street hustlers have engaged with ideas of “being Arada” to describe themselves and make sense of the lives in the city. For generations, being Arada has been the capacity to both benefit from and navigate the heterogeneity of the urban, whether to find ways of getting by or simply find enjoyment.

In March 2024, Arada was razed to the ground to create space for new infrastructural and real estate developments. These demolitions have not only destroyed a place. They have demolished a repertoire of stories, relations and journeys that generations of Arada have built over decades of inhabitation. This exhibition is an attempt to preserve some of the narratives and memories lost with the recent demolitions.

The exhibition will display a selection of portraits of Arada and Aradas. On the background, “A Day in Arada”, a short documentary that combines still-image cinematography and participatory storytelling, will give space to the voices and narrations of Aradas themselves.

Arada // Street Smart is a result of over fifteen years of ethnographic research carried out by Marco Di Nunzio, an urban ethnographer, currently an Associate Professor in Urban Anthropology at the University of Birmingham. Marco is the author of The Act of Living (Cornell University Press 2019) and founding editor of OtherwiseMag, a lit magazine of ethnographic storytelling. Combining activism and research, his work has examined the possibility of urban justice during construction booms in Addis Ababa and Birmingham.

The photography is by Adelaide Di Nunzio, a photographer and visual artist. Her photography has explored the aesthetics of superfluity, subjectivities, the sacred, the urban and the criminal. Her work has been exhibited at the P.A.N. museum in Naples, the Venice Biennale, and art galleries across Italy, Germany and Turkey. Adelaide teaches multimedia art and she is currently carrying photographic research on the architecture of post-environmental disasters in collaboration with the universities of RWTH Aachen and L’Aquila. She is the author of Criminal Architectures (Crowdbooks, 2020).

On May 7 at 6pm photographer Vanley Burke and development studies scholar Biruk Terrefe will be joining Marco and Adelaide for a discussion about photography, ethnography and what is to document inner cities during times of radical changes and unjust developments. The event will be moderated by Anita Shervington.
The exhibition is funded by the University of Birmingham and has been organised in collaboration with the PRISM Photography Network.