- Almaz, a Painter, reminds women to see past economic problems and paint to the desire of their hearts.
Born in 1991, Almaz Kelati is a young female artist expressing her thoughts through portraits that, as she explains, are enhanced materialization of what she sees and perceives in the world around her. Having painted for almost a decade, Almaz also maintains that monetizing art, paintings in particular, should not be the ultimate aim of painters. We try to discover her passion and thoughts and share them with you on today’s Q&A.
- -So, how long have you been in art for?
For as long as I can remember. I loved drawing since a young age. I especially was fond of drawing characters from children’s book. Upon noticing this, my parents started paying attention to my tendencies and encouraged me to hold onto my passion. My parents would give me a certain theme or image to draw. That, to me, felt like school homework and wasn’t fond of being told what to do, certainly not in arts. I liked drawing on my own, without having anyone to tell me what to do. However, now as a grownup, I am thankful to my parents because they spotted my inclination early on and for helping me nourish it even before I knew it.
- -Did you go to an art school?
I studied in Seghen Art School. There, we are provided with essential art components and only towards our graduation do we dive in to search for our own inclinations. Not far from graduation, students start the pursuit of working on their strong holds or passion. So, I was introduced to colors towards the end of my studies in Seghen Art School.
- -Working on a collection and then holding an exhibition certainly does take time. How many times, so far, have you put out your works to the public?
Twice and I am preparing for a solo exhibition very, very soon. My first exhibition was a collaboration with two other colleagues. They approached me during our graduation’s exhibition and asked me to join them in organizing an exhibition. However, at that moment I wasn’t as confident because I have learned to include colors to my sketches only recently; so I frankly told them about it. They still didn’t give up on me and suggested that they teach me and, on the way, work on a collection. Then, the three of us joined hands and started our venture in my small studio. Before we knew it, it was time for our exhibition and it was successful, especially to me, as it was my debut exhibition.
- -What about the second one?
The second one was a private exhibition.
- -And there is one exhibition on the way, so we might be able to see your work soon.
- -Why portrait?
I used to follow other techniques and styles as well. However, I stopped and decided to focus on portrait. For me, portrait is the best means of expression. There is so much that can be told with people’s portraits. Moreover, by investing my full might towards portrait I got the opportunity of specializing in it. When I look at people in different moments I like to paint them and through my paintings highlight the sentiments I get from looking at them. It is the ultimate way of self-expression. I like to think so.
- -While still painting portraits, is there anything you specifically focus on?
I like to give emphasis to women. And traditions would be the other thing that I focus on. That being said I love the colorfulness of the Eritrean ethnic group, Kunama. I just love the Kunama culture.
- -Almaz, as a young female painter yourself, what is your opinion of fellow painters around you?
Female artists, especially painters, are very talented. I am amazed by their endowments and their ability to express themselves through colors. Their number may be relatively small when compared to male painters. Nonetheless, they demonstrate wonderful abilities. As painting is not highly commercialized, though, they feel discouraged by the fact that painters don’t make a whole lot; at least not at the beginning. So, they give up on painting and shift to hand crafts. Most of the artisans who make beautiful ornaments and home decorations in the market are women and most of them are painters. A big majority stop painting in order to generate income from handcrafts. Locally, many people have a better understanding of handcrafts. Handcrafts are catchy, colorful, useable and easily acquired. Paintings are of a different level; they have powerful meaning and need to be felt.
- -Why do you think are people attracted more to handcrafts than to paintings?
I noticed this in my exhibitions and even in several other exhibitions I went to. Most Eritreans skip the paintings at exhibitions while westerns take their time to observe and enjoy them. Contrary to Eritreans outsiders tent to stand in front of a painting for long, observe it carefully and look at it by moving closer, a bit further, to the left, to the right… They analyze the light which gives them the ultimate pleasure, and finally gather all the visual information they need to feel the painting. Unless they are artists themselves, only few Eritreans do so. I think it is a matter of culture.
- -But it might be a contradiction that art, painting and handcrafts, are rich endowments of the rich and versatile Eritrean tradition.
You are right. I meant the culture of today. The absence of art institutions has led us to slightly lose artistic cultural heritages. Moreover, lack of quality art schools and institutions has hindered paintings from being appreciated as much as they should be. That is not the case in Europe or in several other parts of the world.
- -It is interesting that you bring to light the absence of art institutions. What other effects has this had on artists?
The knowledge of artists is limited and similar. What most of us painters know is very similar and that has led us to kind of produce comparable works. The ideas might differ but the techniques are most likely comparable.
- -Do you face any challenges as an artist?
Intellectual property laws need to be respected and enforced. Once again, this can be linked to what I just said – works being similar and ideas as well as techniques being redundant. That is a challenge we continuously face. It is important for our country to have institutions of art where people can attain knowledge of art and grow.
- -Please, do share with us a glimpse of your future plans before we end our interview.
I have been working on my latest collection and soon I will put them out for the savor of the public. Moreover, I have ample desire and I also have been decidedly vested in upgrading my skills and knowledge. I will look for ways through which I can get further education and make sure to exhibit, through my paintings, a better version.
- -Anything else you would like to say?
It is rather sad for me to see female painters shift to other occupations when they are so talented and gifted. I want to remind them to be resilient and never stop having faith in the sublime beauty of painting. I wish for them, and myself, to be strong in doing what we love to do most.
- -Thank you for your time.