Travelling from Ethiopia to the United States for the first time, Asteway Mellese and Eyerusalem Kassahun visited Wagner College for three days, April 17 to April 19, 2018. Asteway is a professor in the theater department and Public and International Relations Directorate at Wolkite University, and Eyerusalem is a professor in the School of Theater at Addis Ababa University as well as the successful producer and director of the feature movie Traffic Cop.
They enjoyed the Wagner Theater’s production of the musical Hair on its opening night. Before the performance, they also attended classes taught by theater and film faculty David McDonald, Rebecca Marlow, and Philip Cartelli and met with members of Wagner faculty and administration including Felicia Ruff, Theresa McCarthy, Phill Hickox, Sarah Scott, Lee Manchester, Nelson Kim, and Ruta Shah-Gordon to learn about Wagner’s theater and film programs, discuss international opportunities, and exchange knowledge.
On Wednesday, April 18, they enlightened the campus with presentations of their own research. Asteway’s presentation “Indigenous Performance in Constructing Guraghe Women’s Identity” focused on the Guraghe ethnic group in Ethiopia. He explained how certain Guraghe cultural traditions give women a voice in their community. He also noted how some of the younger generation were forgetting these traditions as the country gradually adopts western culture.
Eyerusalem’s presentation titled “Women’s Participation in Ethiopian Cinema” was based on a longer scholarly study that will be published by Michigan State University Press later this year as a chapter in the book Cine-Ethiopia: The History and Politics of Film in the Horn of Africa. That book will also include a chapter by Wagner English professor Steven Thomas co-authored with his colleague Teferi Nigussie Tafa on movies made by the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia. Eyerusalem demonstrated that women are leading the way in Ethiopia’s rapidly growing film industry.
In addition to their time at Wagner College, they were also able to meet with internationally famous film professors in New York, including Manthia Diawara and Yemane Demissie of New York University and Jonathan Haynes of Long Island University. Finally, they did some sightseeing in New York, including a walk by Spike Lee’s studio in Brooklyn and some time at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.