Medina Ibrahim

Dechase Originals is a series where we shine a light on friends of the brand and talents across the globe. For this edition, we had the pleasure of interviewing Medina Ibrahim - an Ethiopian American allround artist with a passion for event curation, film photography, wellness and so much more. Medina moved from Portland to Addis Abeba, where she continued her work as an event curator and started a leading-edge event series called Yemechesh, which centres the black femme experience.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your craft? 

I am Medina - I am predominantly an event curator, but I am also a photographer. I’ve been curating events for eight years now. I started in my hometown, Portland [Oregon] in the US. I started off co-hosting a hip-hop based open mic in the basement of my house with my homegirl. We expanded from there. It was called Deep Underground or DUG for short. We worked on that project for four years, as a collective with a few other people. Pretty much after that project ended, I moved to Ethiopia. And started living here, figuring out my footing. Additionally, I do film photography – mainly documenting my life. Most of that has been me shooting at parties, my friends, intimate moments.

What inspired you to pursue event curation?

It was the first time I moved out of my mum’s house – I moved into a room in this big house with a bunch of artists. It was kind of a situation where my friend needed to subsidize her rent and I needed a house. So, we paired up and started living together. We had been friends for years and just bounced ideas off constantly. That was how the idea for the open mic came up. She had spent a year in New York. She was studying dance there and she had a hip-hop teacher that was like: “y’all not going to be able to dance hip-hop if you don't understand the origins of hip-hop. You can’t feel it unless you know what’s up”. She was going over her notes of that year and it sparked the idea to create the open mic. That’s how the project started, and it took us to different places. We did the open mic in our house, but then we also did 1500 people warehouse shows. It just unfolded in so many ways. DUG [the project] brought me to all the places I needed to go. It opened a lot of doors for me – that allowed me to explore being an artist. 

From being born and raised in the US, what made you move to Ethiopia?

I had always wanted to come to Ethiopia. My dad is Ethiopian and my mum is American, so it has always been a conversation in my family. I actually came with my older brother in 2018. We had plans to go in the past, but nothing ever worked out. So, I just bought my ticket, he followed, and then we pulled up! Once I was here, I fell into the right community with the right people. All the experiences I was seeking out, they came to me. I figured out that this is a space where the magic is happening for me. That’s what made me want to move here and contribute to the things going on in this city.

How does your heritage influence your craft?

I didn't grow up with my [Ethiopian] dad in the household – my parents divorced when I was young. So even most things I knew about my Ethiopian identity and heritage growing up, was regurgitated information by my white [American] mum. Like, I knew I had the heritage - but not much was influenced by it until I came to Ethiopia.

When I came here, I was able to engage with the alternative communities that I had always imagined being here in Addis Abeba. I had some homegirls [in the US] that were Ethiopian and East-African who had different, more isolated, and family-oriented trips “back home”. But I had hope that the city could be experienced in a different way. All the things I had manifested, happened to me when I came here, and I think a lot of that had to do with the culture I was interested in cultivating.

Ethiopian culture influences my art and my practice with the events I have been curating, in this city specifically. It’s very much a call and response. When something is lacking, people are wishing for certain kind of events or a certain type of space – I want to contribute to making that happen, because I’m confident in my space making capabilities.

For example, we do a program called Yemechesh. It’s a party for black girls, more specifically, a party that centres local Ethiopian women. We have sliding scale prices to enter. It was a response to gender-based violence I had witnessed during nightlife here. My homegirls having to leave a space because of it. From the bouncers and the bartenders to our friends that are guys at the party – everyone maintaining the status quo. My vision was to create a space where my homegirls don’t have to bear violence every time they go out of their front door. That they can just go and know there is a space that is curated for them, where everybody there is listening to them, and it was made with them in mind. So, it’s beyond that; aspects of this culture influence my work, but that the people in this environment influence the work that I do.

With Yemechesh you are really giving the first push to a positive change in the local nightlife scene. Have you seen some changes in response to Yemechesh and other projects you have been organizing?

Yes, we definitely had people that are upset about what we are doing. The people that are not being centred are upset. So, men are upset that women are being centred. I think that is bringing up change, it’s creating conversation. It’s allowing people to analyse even the fact that some people don’t realize that they are being centred. Some people just go around their life and living their privilege. There is no introspection. I would say that the conversation is the first step to enact change. 

In the space that you are working in, how do you stay motivated? What is the definition of success in your day-to-day practice? 

When it comes to making images, it’s when I get my film back and it looks better than what I expected. That is something successful for me. Because with film you never know! You send it off and sometimes you don’t know If you’re ever getting it back. I send it over to friends to have it developed in Europe, Canada or the states.

As far as curating events, it's the feedback. My intention in every space I create is for people to show up and be themselves. For people to show up and just dance how they want or that it helps to embody themselves and their spirit. That’s what I’m trying to bring out of people. So, whenever people are able to show up to one of my parties, or something that I’m contributing to, and they give me positive feedback. Those are the things that give me motivation. 

About developing film, can you explain how that works? Do you send your films abroad to develop it?

I send all my films abroad to develop it. There is one person that I’m aware of that is still developing film here [in Mercato]. I never had film developed by them but a friend of mine has. If you have no other option, you can have it developed there but it is not the same quality that you can get from a lab that has more equipment. Whenever I have friends coming in and out of the country, I have been sending mine out abroad. I did hear of some people starting photo labs here or a dark room in their house. But it’s not accessible. You also can’t buy film here and people know that I shoot film. So, they’ll hit me up. Again, it’s a call and response. Maybe in the future I could start importing film. There is so much nostalgia in Ethiopia, so people really cherish film and the family photos that they have. Being able to carry this photo analogue legacy makes sense.

Does it also feel like you are preserving something and that it’s more than you liking film?

Yes, for all my photography. Even when I’m shooting models, most of the models are my friends. For me it’s the easiest to shoot somebody that I know, to give them directions. It’s easier for them to receive directions – they’re comfortable with me. What is created in front of my camera is very specific to the relationship. There is a lot more underneath it. I think I’m preserving people feeling like themselves, communities, and little time capsules of moments.

What does your typical workday look like?

I send all my films abroad to develop it. There is one person that I’m aware of that is still developing film here [in Mercato]. I never had film developed by them but a friend of mine has. If you have no other option, you can have it developed there but it is not the same quality that you can get from a lab that has more equipment. Whenever I have friends coming in and out of the country, I have been sending mine out abroad. I did hear of some people starting photo labs here or a dark room in their house. But it’s not accessible. You also can’t buy film here and people know that I shoot film. So, they’ll hit me up. Again, it’s a call and response. Maybe in the future I could start importing film. There is so much nostalgia in Ethiopia, so people really cherish film and the family photos that they have. Being able to carry this photo analogue legacy makes sense.

I had my son a year ago, so I haven’t really been working the past year. I have been super lowkey. Most of the things that I have been doing in Ethiopia, have followed after my son’s birth. The first Yemechesh event was two months after he was born. I also worked on a project called The Ones Who Keep Walking by Johnnie Walker with my friends Gebriel Balcha and Gouled Ahmed. That was 9 months after he was born. A workday is usually random, sometimes I have a baby strapped to my back, sometimes I’m ankle deep in water shooting a horse. It really depends on the assignment

In terms of the future, what would you like to do in a few years?

I hope this planet is still here! But I don't know. I have a lot of ideas. I don’t want to limit myself by saying am just an event curator and photographer. I cook, I bake, I do styling, I’m interested in natural medicine. I’m a doula; somebody who has supported women in birth and after with their children. I would love to make clothes. I want to build structures, like houses and furniture. There are a lot of things that I would like to do. I’m in a space right now figuring out what I need to streamline, because there are so many avenues. I’m super interested in food, in nourishing and natural food. I would like to start natural food processing in Ethiopia. So, I think that’s coming up for me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Haha, that’s hard! I think I would tell my younger self to keep being yourself. Be less critical but also think critically. 

What impact do you like to make? 

I’m passionate about overall health, integrated wellness; mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness. I just want all people to be healthy. With the events that I do, food that I make and the way that I capture people - I want them to feel seen, nourished and held. That whatever I try to communicate is felt and received.  

Medina Ibrahim is wearing the Konso Boots. Photography by Karlton “Kopeto” Seydi.

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