Bringing cultures together

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There are a number of cultural institutes in Addis Ababa that are working to introduce the culture of their respective countries to those of us living in Ethiopia. These institutes hold various artistic events such as photography, painting or sculpture exhibitions, concerts, workshops and lectures that revolve around the arts and science. The Italian Cultural Institute in Addis Ababa is an official body of the Italian government that aims to promote the Italian language and culture in Ethiopia through cultural events fostering the diffusion of ideas in the arts and sciences.
The institute collaborates with local art and museum institutions, and the European Union cultural organizations such as the British Council, the Goethe Institute and the Alliance Éthio-Française.
This week, the institute was one of the venues used for hosting the 7th Addis International Film Festival. The institute has been one of the main supporters of the film festival since its establishment. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle sat down with Alessandro Ruggera (Dr.), Director of the Italian Cultural Institute and Cultural Attaché of the Italian Embassy, to discuss the accomplishments of the institute as well as the Addis International Film Festival.

Capital: Please tell us what you do, and how long you have been working here?
Alessandro Ruggera:
I am the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute. I have been working here since August 2011, so it will soon be two years since I have started. I am also the Head of the cultural section of the Italian Embassy. We organize all the cultural activities and cultural cooperation between Italy and Ethiopia. We conduct various activities here, such as language classes and cooperation with universities.
Capital: I understand the main aim of the Institute is bringing Italian culture to Ethiopia. Why is that important?
Ruggera:
Well, you know, I think the main task is to establish cultural cooperation between the two countries. Italy has 89 cultural institutes around the world. It operates in different situations and different ways. Every institute in each countries functions in different situations and it is very important to set up a good relationship and cooperation with the local cultural scene and local academic institutions in order to set up a dialogue. So, for me it is very important, not only to introduce Italian culture here, but it is more important to find points that can connect the two countries and then be able to set up a cultural dialogue.
It is true that we work to bring Italian culture here, but we also work on trying to support the dialogue, as I said, and  somehow help Ethiopian culture find exposure in Europe and elsewhere too. That is why we work with Ethiopian artists. Capital: Would you say the institute has or is achieving what it has set out to do?
Ruggera:
I don’t want to judge the work myself; I think the public has to judge itself if the work is done the right way or not. We have people who come from Italy and cooperate with people here. In general, I would say I am happy with the way things are going.
A couple of days ago, we had a concert here prepared in collaboration with the prominent Ethiopian pianist Girma Yifrashewa and his orchestra, and it was a big success. For me, it was very important although it did not involve Italian culture; it was the support we could give to this prominent pianist. They were here for almost 10 months rehearsing and then had the final concert this week, which was a huge success. I am very happy that we had the opportunity to host it.
We also had an Italian artist Gea Casolaro who had a month long workshop at the School of Fine Arts and Design, which then led to an exhibition at the school and also here at the institute. The title of the exhibition is “Sharing gazes”, which was very nice, because it was about sharing gazes between Italian and Ethiopian arts. What I am trying to say is that, it is much more than just bringing an Italian artist to Ethiopia and showing their work, it is so much more.
We also had an exhibition that involved five Italian and six Ethiopian artists. The exhibition was held at the Gallery of the National Museum and it was received very well. Such events can be taken as examples of the cultural dialogue I was talking about earlier.
Capital: Besides creating dialogue as you said, what other important contributions have the Institute made so far?
Ruggera:
When we work with and support Ethiopian artists, we don’t just say, “Here is the venue, you can show your work here”; we also try to set up connections and foster relations for them. We want to support them in a sustainable manner. Besides that, we also offer scholarships for PhD students. We also hope to start a conversation with some art schools in Italy so Ethiopian artists can get the opportunity to go there and learn. There are some projects along that line in the works right now.
Capital: Can you tell me about the Addis International Film Festival that is being held this week?
Ruggera:
This is an initiative that the Italian Cultural Institute has been supporting from the very beginning. We have been screening many films here, as well at the Alliance Éthio-Française and the British Council. It is a very important initiative and we support them all we can.
Capital: Why is this initiative so important?
Ruggera:
It is important, because first of all, documentary films are one of the most useful ways you express your views and share your concern about the many different and important issues in the world and present them in an emotional way. It is something that can allow you to bring awareness on important issues such as human rights, minority rights and so on. It awakens people because it mostly touches social issues and it will bring improvement in a society. This is why I think it is important.
Capital: Anything else you want to add?
Ruggera:
Well I would like to see more and more people come to the Institute; our doors are always open. We want to hear comments and suggestions from a variety of people. As I said, for me it is very important to have a dialogue with the public to know what the need is and what the expectations are. Keeping our eyes and ears open is very important in maintaining good relations.