- Elsa Gebreyesus (b.1969)
is an activist who works for philanthropic
organizations in the Washington, D.C. area, and paints in every spare moment. Her captivating abstracts seem simply pleasing to the eye from a distance, but when you get closer you become aware of the powerful messages they convey.
States of Me is a personal history with many layers and compartments. Elsa explains that she is layered with cultural and social influences from many different parts of the world, calling herself “a native stranger”. The movement of her brush strokes invokes the migratory aspect of her life in exile.
Silenced is a mixed media piece that speaks of the closing of all the independent newspapers in Eritrea, resulting in the imprisonment of eight editors since 2001. Text from the newspapers in the upper left and bottom right corners of the canvas offers a glimpse of free speech in Eritrea. The repetition of patterns in this work represents
historical cycles and the repetition of political patterns in post-conflict countries. About
V, Elsa has said, “This painting is a celebration of the feminine energy, sexuality, sensuality and creativity. The female vagina is a gateway to life, birth, ecstasy, and holds the mysteries of creation. It is in honor of that feminine energy, of the goddess within every woman, that I painted this piece.” In the mixed media piece
Article XIV Elsa focuses on the Constitution of Eritrea, ratified in 1997 but never implemented. Instead, there have been arbitrary arrests, disappearances and terrible human rights abuses in that country. Elsa highlights Article 14 & 17, civil rights clauses that relate to arrests and detention.
Article 17 is inverted in the bottom half of the painting, along with brush strokes evoking a ripped feeling. Elsa prays that one day soon the government will abide by the Constitution.
Malaika ( Kiswahili for Angel) is a poignant ode to all the young women and girls who have had to endure the tragic act of female genital mutilation. Elsa’s poem of the same name is written on the canvas, along with thrashing
and cutting gashes of the brush. Standing in front of this artwork, one feels the pain the
artist intended to convey.