From her people
Elsa Robinson is a Jamaican Canadian multimedia artist. She was born in Toronto, raised in Jamaica and currently resides in Edmonton, Alberta. Elsa’s art practice includes, acrylic painting, mixed media collage, sculpture, installation, textile art, performance, sound, and poetry. Her artwork expresses themes of family, identity and spirituality and is informed by personal experience and the history of her people.
Elsa’s informal and formal art education began when she was very young. At home, she loved drawing and painting with bright colours. She completed art courses at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Elsa officially started her art career in 1999. After some years of working as a self-taught artist, she returned to the University of Alberta and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Art and Design in 2013. In 2019 she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Elsa’s interest in creating mixed media work grew from seeing her mother using natural objects like dried plants to create beautiful art. The very first mixed media collage she made included fabric, dried leaves, and driftwood. Her mother taught her to sew, crochet, and knit. At school, she learned embroidery and screen and block printing. In her art practice, Elsa draws on all the knowledge and skills gained over the years to create her work.
Early in her art career, Elsa was most inspired by the works of Romare Bearden. During her master’s degree, inspiration came from a variety of writers, musicians, and artists. Through her research, she found a ‘home’ for her work in the theories and principles associated with Afro-Futurism, Afro-Surrealism and Black Feminism, all of which are movements for the liberation of all people from all forms of oppression.
Elsa believes her responsibility as an artist is to offer humanity uplifting imagery that can help people in their life journey. Her work is meant to convey messages of healing and speak to the strength of the human spirit. In her painting, How It Was, Elsa expresses her experience after she moved to Edmonton as a single mother with “two children in two different sized diapers”. Her painting depicts a woman holding a roof above her two ‘diamond’ children. On an altar sits a bowl of fruit representing her own prayers and the spiritual elements that sustained her during these times. The body of the woman contains metal which represents the strength it took to support her children. She wears black and white clothing. Black and white checkered patterns appear throughout Elsa’s art and represent uncertainty. In the painting My Story, Elsa and her two children sit on a sofa surrounded by various objects that reference the elements of nature and spirit that are helping and protecting her family. Here again, her choice of symbols is intentional. For example, a candle represents the presence of the Divine.
Elsa’s work has not gone unnoticed. She is the recipient of the Cultural Diversity in the Arts Inaugural Award; 2012 Fill Fraser Award for Outstanding Work in Visual Arts, as awarded by the National Black Coalition of Canada; First Prize in the 2015 Spruce Grove Senior’s Art Competition; two Cultural Diversity in the Arts Grants from the Edmonton Arts Council; and the Individual Artist Grants from The Edmonton Arts Council and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. IN 2022, Elsa was also shortlisted for the Eldon and Anne Foote Edmonton Visual Arts Prize.
Elsa’ art is important for society because it makes people imagine and strive for a better tomorrow for us all.
Interview by Isaac Beland
Women’s Art Museum of Canada DFD Project Coordinator June to August 2022