Netsa Art Village celebrated its 10th year anniversary last week during the opening of The Tesfahun Kibru Collection, a painting and sculpture exhibition held at Yucca House. The exhibition was opened in the presence of many guests including founding Members of Netsa Art Village which is currently located inside the premises of Goma Kuteba in Sebeta. Capital spoke to Gossa G Oda, deputy general manager of Goma Kuteba, founding member of Netsa Art Village and long time supporter of the local arts sector about his own life experiences both professional and personal as well as his views on the local art sector.
Capital: Please give us an introduction to yourself.
Gossa G Oda: I was born and raised in Ethiopia. I left the country when I was 19 years old and then I came back when I was 39 years old. Now I’m close to 59 years old, I am married with three children. My wife runs a school called in Adu Suba in Sebeta, which is a very fulfilling part of my life. Now I work as a deputy general manager at Goma Kuteba this has been my job for the last 19 years. Prior to that, I was hired as a mathematician in the US for about 20 years.
Capital: Tell us more about your experiences in the US.
Gossa: Now that when I look back at it, I think it was a very nice part of my life. I worked as a mathematician, usually as a graduate assistant or researcher. I was always based on campus so I never had to drive a car. I met some of my most talented students in jail because for one year I used to teach in a medium security prison.
The students at the jail were very talented and that was very unique for me, I learned a lot from the situation there. While also in the US I met great people which I still remember and some of which have passed away like Sisai Ibssa my uncle, talented visionary thinker and writer Skunder Bogosian the artist, these two were a good influence on me.
There was also a Japanese mathematician called Gaisi Takeuti who was almost like a father to me and who I appreciated a lot and from those who are alive, my uncle Dr Aklilu Habte and my thesis advisor Kenneth Kuner and William Habush. Also Shankar Dutta and Professor Perkins that ad influenced my life.
Living in the US was great for me; I started painting and playing the flute there because I wanted a non algorithmic outcome for my life so that is why I also went into art.
Capital: What would you say is your most memorable experience while living in the US?
Gossa: I remember spending a lot of time with Skunder, driving around in Sisai Ibssa’s cab. I would visit from the mid-west to Washington DC and spent time with him, he was like an uncle to me. When it comes to my professional life, I enjoyed teaching a lot as well as researching. Some of my most treasured memories were about spending time with my cousins when I first arrived in DC.
Capital: How did you decide to move back to Ethiopia and what has been your experience after doing so?
Gossa: I was in DC in 1979 and I was telling people how I was going to move back to Ethiopia after 20 years and everyone was saying that by that time they would also move and I wouldn’t be the only one, but it turns out I was the only one who moved. By pure chance in 1998, my father asked me to come back and work with the family business in Goma Kuteba. So I moved back in 1999 and started working in the family business.
In Ethiopia I worked in different capacities, I have worked in Goma Kuteba and I have represented Goma Kuteba in different financial situations; I worked as board member of Oromia International Bank, now I am working as a board member of OIB Oda Real Estate. I love the country; it has its ups and downs but I love it, I have people I care about and I intend to stay here for the rest of my life. It is also my hope that the rules and laws will become more user friendly.
Capital: Ethiopia is a growing country with a population explosion, how do you see the growth and the country’s way of industrializing?
Gossa: In my background I was not really pro industrialization; I was among those who thought industrialization was not an option, but when you have huge population explosions like in Ethiopia with over 100 million people, how do you handle that situation?
So it is no more an option; it is something that needs to be done, and done the best way possible. Export oriented industrial parks as well as industrial communes will be necessary in my opinion. Remember, Engles was an industrialist and again from the 19th century, Charles Fourier and Saint-Simon come to mind.
Capital: Besides the sectors you mentioned previously, you are also involved in the arts. Tell us more about that.
Gossa: I am actually one of the founding members of Netsa Art Village, there are eleven of us and we all got together through Konjit Seyoum from Asni Gallery. We wanted a space for artists; artists sanctuary where people can do what they want to do; a free space.
This was excellent for me because I would deal with the business situation which is very formal and then I would go to the arts center and it is very informal and it was good for me, I would go there and play my flute there and it made me healthy. Now as time goes on, I even realize how important it is to have such space.
After we were told to leave the initial place of Netsa Art Village which was at Ferensay Park, we moved some sculptures inside the compound of Goma Kuteba plant located in Sebeta because there was a lot of work of arts by artist Tesfahun Kibru. The move turned out to be good because Tesfahun became part of the industry there; it was easier to find materials such as metal scraps and rubber. He was also able to use different industrial processes to create new works of art that are featured in his exhibition that is currently being displayed at Yucca House. The whole experiment was to change the production relation between artist and industry worker and manager, and as a consequence, we have new products in the currently on going art show.
Netsa helped me grow and enjoy my life. I think this whole notion of Netsa or free zone should not only be for commerce it should also be for non commercial establishments like the arts. Every kebele should have a free zone; that is what I want to see in my country. On a different note, I would also like to see the humane treatment of all prisoners; we should turn prisons into schools.
Capital: Do you think if such free spaces where established in different areas, the arts sector will grow more?
Gossa: Absolutely; people always want to express something to the world and art helps people find the message they have to give, even if they become professionals in other fields that artistic temperament will give them the opportunity to be free.
Having these spaces will help us learn how to live together and it would definitely help the medium grow. This is also an export oriented sector and it can generate foreign currency. The media and the arts could be a huge source of foreign currency.
Ernest and Young have done many studies about arts and culture and how much money it can generate so it is obviously an important sector for the economy as well.
Capital: What does art mean to you personally?
Gossa: Art for me is the path to freedom; it is a path for you to be free with yourself and be at peace with others. It is medicine for the soul.
Capital: What kind of progress would you like to see in the future?
Gossa: With regards to the arts sector, it’s like I mentioned before, I would like to see many art sanctuaries, so we can give the youth a chance to grow, so that they can work towards being citizens of the world and so they have to be equipped as such. We can set up free zones/ spaces in schools up to 10th grade for example. The students can learn about many things, for example technology through art. In other sectors, I would also like to see the penetration of technology in manufacturing; the growth of Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality in Ethiopia.
Capital: One of the challenges of the sector is that it hasn’t been taken seriously by stake holders and government in order for it to grow and become influential. Do you think that is changing?
Gossa: It should be changing. We are part of the agents of change and so we should change it. For example tax fee incentives or privileges should be given to the arts, science and technology and education sectors. It is a way to work on people’s minds and that is very important. I want the people in the art sector to work with each other; people have to collaborate; that is what I want to see.
The thing that I most wish for this country is that we control our destiny, decolonize our mind and art will play a big role in decolonizing the mind. I am a big fan of Muammar Gaddafi; he had a good vision for Africa, he wanted to get rid of our dollar dependency and so if I can see that in my lifetime I would be very happy.
I would also like to see this culture of ‘waiting in vain’; wasting owns and other people’s time. I would like to see the use of technologies implemented in sustainable waste management system across all the cities in Ethiopia.