She paints her soul into her artwork, but never loses sight of who she really is. She films the world, but only through her eyes. She even makes jewelry, but painting is where her heart lies.
She is Gabrielle Tesfaye.
“I am my living artwork.”
Gauges, face piercings and home-made clothing; Gabrielle embodies the meaning of art. She started wearing gauges at the age of 14 during her freshman year of high school. She wasn’t for sure why she wanted them, but, just like everything else in her life, the truth revealed itself.
Gauges originated in Ethiopia and it symbolizes a second ear, a spiritual ear.
From a dark past to a bright future, Gabrielle’s art informs and heals all. Her art is a mixture of her life and other women’s lives she’s encountered.
“My art is like music, it heals.”
A people person in the art world, but a secluded person when it comes to her personal life. She doesn’t trust many, but she knows her art will always have her back.
“My art is my therapy.”
Ethiopian. Jamaican. American.
She is a multitude of races, but she was never quite sure which one was the true her. Gabrielle was the first in her family to be born in the United States. With her mother being from Jamaica and her father being from Ethiopia, it was hard to mix all three cultures. But she did it.
“I’m multicultural, but in America your black.”
Gabrielle learned the true meaning of self-invent and self-culture.
From assaults to losing a life, she stands strong with her artwork surrounding her. Gabrielle’s passion for art has always been there. While everyone else was worried about being the coolest sophomore in high school, Gabrielle was hosting her first art show. At the age of 15, she was the youngest to be making such major moves in the art industry. Everywhere she went people saw the confidence she had—it could even be seen through her artwork.
“Being the youngest person around you learn how to speak, present yourself and practice.”
Moving forward, four years later, Gabrielle decided to move to New York.
“I wanted to experience art and life, but it wasn’t easy.”
New York changed the meaning of Gabrielle’s artwork. She used to make art for the oppressors, but her art now speaks to the oppressed.
Although New York changed her life, Gabrielle saw Milwaukee’s art world advancing and she wanted to be a part of it. She came back during the Milwaukee Riots in Aug. of 2016. With sadness and frustration in her heart, she decided to make a film about the riots—art is the only way Gabrielle can fully express herself.
Gabrielle is now 21-years-old and is ready to take on the rest of the world. Eventually she wants to become a teacher to show kids the underlying messages of art. Gabrielle will teach them about self-love and eating healthy, but that’s a distant dream. She sees herself traveling. Maybe painting murals in France because that type of art belongs to the neighborhoods and the streets. She even sees herself being a mother during this time. But no matter where she ends up, she’ll be financially secure.
The older Gabrielle gets the more she connects with the spiritual world. She says thank you before each meal, meditates and says thank you every morning and night.
Her ancestors mean a lot to her. When she was trying to find herself, she became interested in her ancestral past.
“I honor them,” she said. “I see them as spirits who help the living.”
Along with the spiritual world, Gabrielle finds comfort in symbols. The markings and piercings on her face are all symbols to her. They remind Gabrielle of who she is and that she shouldn’t be ashamed to be herself.
Gabrielle was raised in a Christian family. Free born in a tub at home, it’s no surprise she embraces spirits.
Aside from her artwork and films, Gabrielle makes her own clothing. She gets materials from vintage shops and is gifted clothes.
Clothes aren’t the only thing she receives for free. Gabrielle is lucky enough to be given free art supplies from friends and those who know her.
Those who do know her would know she’s always self-teaching. She’s currently teaching herself the national language of Ethiopia, and is also teaching herself how to play African drums.
Through her artwork, Gabrielle wants to tell her people their history and how they will succeed.
“I’m here to heal my people.”
Gabrielle’s artwork has been doing so well, she’s able to pay her rent with it. Her highest paid artwork sold for $700. To her, it’s not about the money, but it is great to have. She is a homebody when it comes to making her art. Gabrielle feels at peace and in the best mindset to make art when she's at home. She’s able to drink tea, smoke hookah, burn incense and have food. She has done live art shows, but those environments never feel right to her. With all of those eyes on her, she feels fake, which is why she prefers her apartment.
Her home, is her. You can tell which apartment is Gabrielle’s by looking through her living room window. Every inch of her walls is filled with her artwork.
“I can’t live with blank walls. If I was a house this is what I would look like.”
Gabrielle puts herself into every piece of art she makes. All of her art contains a poem she made especially for that specific piece. When she sells her art, it’s like she’s selling a piece of herself.
One thing you can always remember about Gabrielle and her artwork is that it’s huge!
“My art has to be all consuming.”