Around the world, 785 million people live without clean water close to home. In Ethiopia, almost four in ten individuals have no access. Internationally acclaimed artist Aida Muluneh (b. 1974) responds to this urgent issue in Water Life, a series of 12 Afrofuturist photographs on view at Somerset House, London. The works – commissioned by WaterAid with support from the H&M Foundation – engage with the experiences of women and girls, many of whom travel daily on foot carrying heavy burdens of water.
“My main goal in building this collection is to address the issues caused by a lack of access to clean water, and the impact that has not only on a society as a whole, but on women, particularly in rural regions.” The Ethiopian-born artist notes. “Each piece is addressing the impact of water access as it relates to women’s liberation, health, sanitation and education.”
Muluneh’s large-scale images illustrate these realities. Each work demonstrates how the problem affects those living in rural areas, showing how it influences the development of communities. The photographs are colourful, compelling and symbolic: they take inspiration from traditional ornamentation and body paint from across Africa. Shown above is Star Shine, Moon Glow, which reflects on the relationship between water scarcity and bathrooms in school. The piece explores its impact on education, with many girls unable to attend school whilst menstruating. The moon symbolises this; the grounded red wings are an assertion of hindered potential.
Shot in the extreme landscape of Dallol, Afar – one of the hottest and driest places on earth – the series investigates both water shortage and ecological crisis, alongside the vital role of art in advocacy and how Africa is represented in global media. “We cannot refute that it is mainly women who bear responsibility for collecting water, a burden that has great consequences for our future and the development of our nation.” The artist continues. “My focus in this project was to address these topics without the cliché that we see in mainstream media. In a sense, to advocate through art.”
Water Life was commissioned by WaterAid and supported by the H&M Foundation. The exhibition at Somerset House runs 24 September – 20 October.