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Elsa Robinson: (Un) Masking Spirit – curious arts

Elsa Robinson.

Award-winning Edmonton visual artist leads collective mask-making workshop at Robertson-Wesley United Church

Visual artist Elsa Robinson (’13 BA, Art & Design) typically creates paintings and sculptures using acrylic, mixed media collage and plaster to explore the themes of identity, history, family and spirituality. But recently, she’s mining that same combination of art supplies and themes to support a spiritual arts collective with constructing three-dimensional masks.

The collective is a group of seven people from all walks of life, representing a diverse range of professions, and each holding on to different beliefs and spiritual practices. They have been gathering weekly on Tuesday evenings since January 12 at the Robertson-Wesley United Church, with Elsa guiding participants through a 12-week process of selecting symbols and structures to express to their own spiritual identity through the creation of a mask.

“Each person is designing their own mask,” says Elsa. “I had a one-on-one meeting with each participant to understand what it was they wanted to do and for me to help them look at the logistics on how to get that done. Each mask is unique because each person is doing what their heart wants to do.”

Elsa came to Edmonton from Jamaica in 1984 and she worked as a self-taught artist before completing a Bachelor of Arts in Art & Design at the University of Alberta. She says masks work as a metaphor for the various aspects of our personality and can be an integral part of ritual and expression of spiritual beliefs in cultures around the world.

“Coming from an African heritage, I’ve always been intrigued by masks. They are a part of who I am, culturally. I’ve always been a really intuitive artist. I work from the inside of my belly. I may do a preliminary sketch, but that doesn’t mean that’s what I am going to end up doing,” she says, laughing.

Elsa takes a hands-on approach when it comes to showing collective members techniques and how they can extend their ideas into their art. “I really focus on not making decisions for them. I ask questions to help them clarify for themselves what they want to do with their mask. Don’t ask me if I like it. It isn’t my project. I can’t tell you what’s right. I’m not trying to teach you how to make art like I would make art. I am trying to facilitate your art making.”

As for her own artistic practice, Elsa’s works reflecting on how people transition from different emotional, spiritual or physical places were recognized by the Edmonton Arts Council with a 2015 Cultural Diversity in the Arts project grant. Fellow U of A alumni Emmanuel Osahor, Ben Gorodetsky and Malcolm Azania were also Cultural Diversity Award recipients, as well as U of A PhD student and sufi-singer Shumaila Hemani

Elsa’s large scale collages are currently on display at the Nina Haggerty Gallery (9225 118 Ave.) as part of the Collaborations In: Public Identities and Private Selves Exhibit at the SkirtsAfire herArts Festival until March 13.

Photos supplied by Brooke Leifso, Arts Coordinator at Robertson-Wesley United Church.

Follow Elsa Robinson on Twitter

To see more of Elsa Robinson’s art, visit her website: http://elsarobinson.com/

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