Watch this phenomenal film about the hottest place on Earth

A special film from Nowness features photographer Aïda Muluneh and brings attention to the water crisis in Ethiopia

Ethiopian photographer Aïda Muluneh’s work pops with arresting colours and monochromes; symbolic figures and everyday totems set in otherworldly landscapes. Strong female characters take centre stage, often staring down the lens, draped in lush fabrics and covered in paint washes. 

Bringing her signature eye to a series of photographs for NGO WaterAid, Water Life, Muluneh shot in the Afar region of Ethiopia, in the Danakil Depression – the hottest place on Earth. This exceptional landscape allowed her to visually represent issues around access to water, and how it affects women in particular. 

“Not having direct access to water has a big impact on society across Ethiopia, and the whole of Africa,” Muluneh says. “If a woman spends three hours a day trying to get water for cooking or feeding or bathing, that’s time taken from, say, a young girl getting an education. If there isn’t water in the schools, then when girls are menstruating they’re not able to attend because they can’t wash. This has a deeper impact on the development of our nation and our countries.”

As part of the ‘Water Life’ exhibition that has just launched at Somerset House in London, video platform Nowness has created a special episode of its hit series, Photographers in Focus, featuring Muluneh at her studio in Addis Ababa, and at work in the Danakil Depression. The film will show online as well as part of the exhibition. 

“It is a breathtaking place,” says London-based director Adeyemi Michael, who captured Muluneh for the film. “I understood right away why Aïda chose to shoot in Afar. It brings power and resonance to the conversation she is having with the collection.”

“Working with Aïda I was instantly in awe of her bold way of not pulling any punches, but being direct, clear and always intentional,” Michael continues. “What I hope people take from the film is that there are many ways African women globally are realising they have a distinct power. It is in their hands – they are the ones that can change things. This is not just about women in the Danakil.”

Working in photojournalism as well as in art photography, Muluneh says it was important to her to approach the subject of water access and women’s rights in a novel way. “I felt those photojournalist images had already been done,” she says. “I wanted to bring a new interpretation and attract a different audience that may not be aware of the issues the series is addressing – to try to educate people through art.”  

“As artists, one of our key roles is to be a messenger to the public,” she continues. “Art as a form of advocacy for me is quite important, there is a specific message that I would like to transmit – not just my ideas but issues that exist in contemporary Africa.” 

Water Life is on during the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, and continues until 20 October at Somerset House