Superstar contemporary artist Julie Mehretu will be honored at Amref Health Africa’s annual ArtBall event held February 25, 2023 at 26 Bridge in Brooklyn, NY. Amref Health Africa, the largest African-based NGO in the world, reaches over 20 million people per year across 35 countries in Africa with healthcare programs.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Julie Mehretu is known worldwide for her multi-layered paintings of abstracted landscapes on an enormous scale. Informed by politics, literature, and music, Mehretu’s works engage audiences in a dynamic visual articulation of contemporary experience, a depiction of social behavior and the psychogeography of space.
Amref ArtBall features an art auction consisting of around 30 pieces of Contemporary African, Pan-African and Black Art from emerging and established artists. The ArtBall auction will run via Artsy: Feb 13-27, 2023. Past auction artists have included Wangechi Mutu, Amoako Boako, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe and Awol Erizku. Included for this year will be works by Adjei Tawiah, Nola Ayoola, Emily Manwaring and Justice Mukheli.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit Kefeta, an unprecedented partnership between Amref and the US Agency for International Development. Launching in 2022 across 18 major cities in Ethiopia, Kefeta aims to empower Ethiopian youths to advance their economic, civic and social opportunities. In Ethiopia, 67% of the urban population is under 29-years-old. The potential of these young people must be harnessed to achieve the country’s ambitions to lift its citizens out of poverty and become a lower-middle-income country by 2025. Currently, Ethiopia has an unemployment rate of 27%.
Kefeta, which means “to elevate” in Ethiopia’s Amharic language, is creating a nationwide network of services to reach two million young people aged 15-29 by 2026. Services include establishing and remodeling youth hubs, establishing career development centers, access to gender-sensitive and youth-friendly health services, basic functional adult literacy sessions for out of school youth, employability and digital skills trainings, business incubation support for youth entrepreneurs, and the first-ever youth owned and lead Savings and Credit Cooperatives.
Kefeta is giving young people the skills, tools and support to shape a better future for themselves and their country. It is doing so in a way that combats one of the biggest misconceptions Americans have about Africa: “that Africa is a place only people outside of it can help,” in the words of Emily Correale, Director, Development and Communications, Amref Health Africa in the USA.
Being Ethiopian herself and examining in her artwork how lived experiences impact our futures, in alignment with Kefeta, Mehretu was perfect choice for Amref’s Rees Visionary Award.
“The award is named after (Amref’s) late founder, Dr. Thomas Rees, who was a pioneering reconstructive surgeon, pilot, musician and artist,” Correale explains. “The Rees Visionary Award is given to artists we feel are creating exceptional work that educates, inspires and emboldens the viewer through these challenging times.”
Mehretu resides on any short list of the most celebrated contemporary artists in the world. A mid-career survey of her work – a rarity for a female artist – was co-organized in 2019 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. It further travelled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Her monumental, site-specific diptych greeting visitors to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art astonishes. She will be painting a mural on the largest blank wall in Cleveland for a massive public art project this year.
Amref ArtBall and the adjoining art auction, beyond raising money, seeks to create a connection between African culture and philanthropy, celebrating and highlighting the talent of the African continent. Bringing together dynamic and influential business leaders, entertainers and artists with shared interests related to the African diaspora for a chic soiree fosters introductions, connections and awareness that might not otherwise be achieved.
“Every door that has opened through this process has led to another. It has gotten us new supporters and new partners,” Correale said. “Beyond that, Amref Health Africa is for Africans, by Africans. Many of our staff across the continent are young, creative, innovative and passionate. They reflect many of the audiences we reach through ArtBall and the process of planning ArtBall.”
Amref ArtBall hosts and guests through the years have included Solange, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys, Chris Rock, Antwaun Sargent, Kimberly Drew, Hank Willis Thomas, Isolde Brielmaier, Shantell Martin, Nina Chanel Abney, Jack Shainman and Young Paris. Beyond networking and art, the evening features entertainment, food and beverages from award-winning Black-owned vendors, and an award ceremony. Nearly 800 attendees are expected at this year’s celebration.