Nigisti Gebre-Meskel born in 1962 in Dekemhare, is one of the women that lives with handicraft… her whole life is based on the invention and creation of countless types of handiworks, and that’s what makes her an artist.
-How and when did you start working on handicrafts?
I can’t tell a specific time or moment. It’s part of the Eritrean culture and tradition, all of nine ethnic groups have that in common. Think about it, it’s quite impossible to see a family in which a grandmother, a mother or sister that are not involved in making handicrafts. So, in general, all I can say is that maybe I got it from my mother, just like she did from hers.
-But one has to love the activity in order to do it. Does that mean you liked it ever since you were young?
That’s true. In my case though, I can definitely dare to say that I had extra interest in the beauty of handiworks. In addition my family supported my tendencies in this aspect of art, so I remember how my older brother bought me my very first needle and he thought me so many thing that I still relay on till this very moment.
-Do you remember your first work?
Yeah, I do. I made some decoration for the traditional coffee setting. I remember how I used old sweaters but it turned out to be so beautiful!!! My mom loved it and she was proud of me, she totally saw a very gifted and brilliant artist in me. That is why I was encouraged to work harder in improving my talents.
-You later on joined the armed struggle for Eritrean liberation, didn’t you?
Yes I did. When I was very little actually… but I guess it was normal back then. I remember how in 1978 there were a lot of and countless affectionate young people with the passion and love for our country that were flocking to join the liberation army. The movement in Amara and the main cities of Eritrea were so strong that everybody was cooperating in so many ways. Especially when Dekemhare was liberated all we could talk and think about was the EPLF army. They were young, fighting with their hearts and putting their lives on line with pleasure… this gave me a very “romantic” idea of the “tegadelti”, so I joined.
-What happened after you joined the mythical army?
(Laugh) You have no idea how passionate I was about the tegadelti… just like every youth out there. Any ways, I was too young so they sent me to “Betimirti Sewura” (the revolution school), the school in which next to the tutorial learning I learned many moral values and I expanded my artistic knowledge. After completion my education there I started working as a teacher in the same school in which I was nourished with a lot of knowledge.
-Then in 1992 the war was over… what happened afterwards?
Till 2002 I was accordingly busy with the governmental work I had so I slightly slowed down my artistic activities. But after I got discharged I was back to business and I started off with the making of traditional clothing. Then bit by bit I introduced to my collection some ornaments, all made by hand and then I started working with house decorations, bedside lamps, frames and so many things.
-Have you achieved all of your dreams yet?
Definitely not. Art is an amazingly wide science, I personally think that one can never say that he or she owns all the knowledge that an artist should acquire, what I have accomplished so far is quite a lot nut, is not all of it, so I think I have an even longer way to go. It’s in the nature of Art.
-Your works are very famous among the folk, how did you achieve such approval?
I organize a lot of exhibitions and I am always working hard on coming up with something new that still keeps the traditional vibe. People really like to keep our traditional ambiances in their styles.
-What is “handicraft” to you?
My everything. The air that breath. That the only thing I’ve known throughout all of my life, I wouldn’t know how to put it in words… am sorry.
-Ok, one last question… do you have any encouraging words to the new artists?
I’ve seen many talented ones… am truly happy for them. Not everyone gets to appreciate the beauty of arts. I know they’re good.
-Thanks for your time!