Water Life by Aïda Muluneh
24 Sep – 20 Oct 2019
Water Life by Aïda Muluneh is a small photographic exhibition at Somerset House that speaks volumes about the lives of women in Ethiopia, and in particular, their exhausting journeys to acquire one of the most vital elements for human life: water. Muluneh boldly addresses the environmental crisis of water scarcity in one of the world’s driest places, Dollol, which is in the Afar district of Ethiopia. The artist’s futuristic images depict the brave women that carry out these long journeys on foot, in order to bring heavy containers of water back to their communities.
Some photographs portray strong women wearing bright, colourful gowns, which contrast with the backdrop of a startling white salt lake. Others depict close-up portraits of these women: these feature icons of water that one would recognise in any urban space, but would fail to find in these rural areas. This juxtaposition raises the issue of privilege, which the artist also addresses through the accompanying captions. One that stood out to me the most, and that highlights the particular issue of privilege, read:
'The sorrows we bear
A woman’s work
The shackles of limitations
Mirage of privilege'
Finding myself startled by these words, I thought of how we take having a constant source of water for granted, while these women go through the physical toil of these eternal walks, just to acquire something that we sometimes let run to waste while we brush our teeth.
Contrasted against a bright yellow backdrop, reminiscent of the intensity of a bright hot sun, Water Life makes one reflect upon the water scarcity crisis, and reminds us that water isn’t easily available to everyone, so we shouldn’t take it for granted.
The exhibition is quite small, so if you can spare 15 to 20 minutes between classes, wander into Somerset House, and then the Great Arch Hall, and have a look at these captivating photographs.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor