Four years of International Development Studies at the University of Toronto taught me several things, the most influential being, that the key to successful international development is community based development. And so, by day I have dedicated my career to supporting amazing nonprofits in program development, event production and communications. And by night, I save the world. Okay, I don’t exactly save the world, I just create work that evoke empathy, love, humour and compassion. You know what, I take that back, I DO save the world!
In 2011, my first series, Mental Health: a mother's burden, was exhibited at The Gladstone Hotel. The series depicted an Habesha family unaware that their wife/mother is depressed. Viewers stood in tears staring at the photo essay and it opened a discussion on mental health and depression in the Ethiopian-Eritrean diaspora. A response to the need of my community, and myself, I am thankful that the Ontario Arts Council has funded the expansion of this series (currently in progress).
In a past life, I was a Commercial Photographer and Creative Director and worked with start-ups and government to develop brand strategies and marketing materials that tell the story of their work. To see these works, check out my portfolio.
In 2016, my pitch for a new television show about four virgins gallivanting through the dating scene as millennials and women of colour, lead me to receive an artist residency in Palomino, Colombia. There, I woke up to the sounds of the ocean, ate empanadas and platanos and wrote what would become "virgins!". In 2017, I was accepted into the Regent Park Film Festival's screenwriting incubator and in 2018, with a cast and crew of 33, we filmed the beginnings of "virgins!". Currently, the series is being shopped to several producers and networks for development. As one fan at our launch party put it, "A show about four women of colour chilling and talking over food, it's the Sex and the City I've always wanted." Wish us luck!
After exhibiting Mental Health: a mother’s burden, many Ethiopian, Eritrean and young people from culturally adjacent communities began reaching out to me for mental health counsel and support. They were desperate for mental health education, counselling and support that was not white psychiatrists antidepressants and prescribing yoga. In 2018, years after exhibiting Mental Health: a mother’s burden, and plenty of hours of providing community support, I co-founded Art + Health, a mental health initiative for cultural communities of colour.
We work with local community health organizations and cultural associations to deliver our culturally aware mental health and wellness program entitled Kitchen Table Talks. An integral part of our program is the feast. We have guided discussions while eating at the “kitchen table” and in sharing a meal with one another folks begin opening up to share more about themselves including their mental health. Our workshops were funded by generous partnerships, volunteerism and community outreach. In 2019, Art + Health has received major 3-year funding in support of culturally aware mental health programming and education for the Habesha community in Ontario.
I am a natural and intentional storyteller whose culturally-specific work, speaks volumes to the communities I create for. Whether it be creating conceptual photo essays advocating for mental health promotion, directing film commercials for government campaigns, managing the brand and communications of a not-for-profit organization, or screenwriting an original series, I pursue art as a means not an end, and always have a greater vision for where storytelling can take my community.
Pssst! I am available for local and international projects as well as a chat over coffee.
Portraits of Aden Abebe by Natalia Dolan Photography