I have not had many opportunities (yet) to get out and see Ethiopia as I would like. One of the places that I have been introduced to is Salem’s (pronounced Sah-lem, not like the capital of Oregon or where the witch trials were held) in the Bole area of Addis Ababa. A friend of mine brought me for my first visit and I took home a set of woven napkins and a perfect little bread basket. I mostly eyed all the beautiful items making a mental check list of what I wanted to commission for my home. During my second trip to Salem’s I met the co-owner and designer Salem. She is a wonderfully talented and personable woman. I ordered a custom tablecloth and large woven basket during this trip. On my third trip, Salem gracefully accepted my request to photograph her beautiful shop. The colors and textures from my visits had been swirling around in my head and I knew I needed to capture the beauty on camera. Salem’s is truly a magnificent oasis for creativity in Addis Ababa.
Salem’s is a design shop that features artists of all types of media from around Ethiopia. Everything from traditional beadwork to hand spun cotton. The shop is situated on a compound with spaces devoted to weaving looms for scarves, rugs, cloths etc., a sewing room for turning the beautiful woven textiles into pillow cases and such, a jewelers area for the bead and metal work, as well as a space for the basket weavers to spend their days turning brightly dyed fronds into works of art.
I was initially drawn to the show room with the rustic textures and bright colors of the woven cotton scarves and traditionally painted Ethiopian carvings. The more delicate patterns of the table linens and the intricate silverwork of the jewelry continued to lure me in. Everything displayed is beautiful and meticulously created by true artisans; but to my surprise, I found an even greater source of allure and beauty in the artistic creation at Salem’s.
The true beauty is in the large airy room with the seemingly chaotic web of cotton thread; both hanging from the ceiling and stretched in long horizontal rows composing the rustic handmade weaving looms. It’s the men sitting at the looms gliding the little boats of thread through the loom creating traditional patterns from spools of colorful thread. It’s the peaceful monotony of sound and movement when the looms shake the cotton webs that is truly beautiful.
It’s the solitude of the woman in the sewing room with the bright stacks of fabrics waiting to be trasformed. It’s the jewelers workspace, framed by strings of colorful beads and covered in tools, lined with women hunched over tiny wires and clasps.
It’s the powerful sense of unity among the women in the basket weaving room. Their varied shapes all sitting around the edges of the room looks like a painted canvas in motion. The long tails of the fronds rustling the air as the women’s hands moved in a blur of motion, their low voices a lullaby in Amharic. All together calm and diligent, the weaver’s work was humbling, orchestrated and spectacularly beautiful.
The finished products from these creative pocesses are intricate and wonderfully Ethiopian. Coming to Salem’s to acquire art for your home or for yourself is an experience in textiles, patterns and color. Coming to Salem’s to experience the artists working in their element is a lesson in the true beauty of Ethiopian art.
To learn more or contact Salem’s in Ethiopia please visit their website for directions and design shop hours.