Photo by Simbarashe Cha for Majestic Disorder Issue 7
Gabrielle Tesfaye is an interdisciplinary artist versed in painting, animation, film, puppetry and interactive installation. Tesfaye is raised in America as a first-generation, to an Ethiopian father and mixed-heritage Jamaican mother. Her extensive international travel and exposure to multiculturalism in her life, echoes itself in her mixed media approach to art making and cross-cultural content.
Her work carries a transcendent and other-worldly nature, weaving ancient spirituality and contemporary social revolutionary ideas. Her research is rooted in African diaspora, Afro-futurism, ancient puppetry practices and cultural storytelling. Tesfaye uses the body in the form of mobile puppets, as a vessel to personify ancestral, emotional, and celestial ideas, transforming ancient symbolism into contemporary languages and consciousness. Outside of puppetry installation work, her drawings strongly connect with women’s issues, and strength of humanitarian unity. Tesfaye puts herself into her work, often creating self portraits which navigate her own identity and place within the diaspora. In addition to gallery spaces, she uses these puppets in the animation studio, creating personal and cultural narrative films.
Her background in film started at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and continued at the Mahidol University International College in Bangkok, Thailand. Tesfaye plans to relocate back in Thailand after obtaining her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Peck School of the Arts, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in May 2018. Heavily involved in the exhibition installation process of her work, she masters the alchemy of turning the traditional art gallery space into an otherworldly experience for viewers to experience her work beyond the physical. Tesfaye has been internationally recognized in online and printed publications such as Majestic Disorder Magazine (UK) and Vogue (USA). Tesfaye has exhibited at The Crypt Gallery (London), Gallery X (Dublin), Thapae East Venue for Creative Arts (Thailand), Stony Island Arts Bank (Chicago), and Aaron Davis Hall City College (New York). She is the repicent of two Frederick R. Layton Scholarships, the Robert A. Nelson Film Scholarship, G.M.F Dorothy & Ruth Smith Fund Scholarship, and Clarice George Logan Travel Award Scholarship, which enabled her an artist in residency at the Tholpavakoothu Puppetry Theatre in Kerala, India. As an Artist-in-Residence with Artists Working in Education, and her teaching experience with highschool students in Milwaukee as, Tesfaye has explored the use of cultural storytelling and puppetry as community public art.
Tesfaye is currently expanding to travel with her art, and create an in depth puppetry practice in the realms of audience participatory installation, animation and social justice theatre.
Tesfaye says, "I have dedicated my art for years to the healing of woman and expression of their pain. Creating images that they see reflection in to support them in Voids. And also painting the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine in healthy Unison. I support my sisters to redefine themselves and change their lives."
Who is Gabrielle Tesfaye?
A multi-dimensional mural magician
who roots to no one place
because she’s photosynthesized the whole world’s light
Jamaica her mother’s land,
Ethiopia her father’s land,
Milwaukee where she came of age,
New York City is where she stays awake,
the Mirror of Selves Universal is where she sleeps
deeply dreaming back to the limitless awareness
our original divine truth:
there is a duality to everything we’ve suffered
and it is the joy of the life lived courageously,
the life lived curiously,
hovering above any personal or societal limitations.
What is the Art of Tesfaye?
by one paint stroke at a time,
an ever-changing psychospiritual tsunami
of vibrance and emotion,
that comes spontaneously to the hand,
Her work gives freely to the public
through the consciousness
of a resilient afro-feminine
archetype of abundance
sent to warm our psyches
in the symmetry of what the artist feels
and what the viewer knows
as one unveiled love
for all of earth.
-Interpreted by Anja Notanja Sieger, La Prosette.