Wanda’s Arts Awards 2019: Tesfa (2nd place winner)

Growing up in Jamaica, Tesfa remembers painting on the walls in their home. Worried about what the landlord would say, his mother handed him soapy water and rags, and he would scrub the walls clean again only to paint them over again a few days later.

“I couldn’t bear to see the walls too clean so I would do artwork on them.”

Tesfa came to Toronto in 2009 and after years of living in a bad housing situation, he went to Homes First’s St. Clair Shelter in 2015. There, he reconnected with his art through a weekly workshop led by another shelter resident. Together, they created posters and t-shirts for the annual Homes First Earth Day Cleanup, an event he still remembers fondly.

Tesfa was at St. Clair for a year before staff helped him secure housing at Homes First’s Huron property. Since moving in three years ago, he’s set up a small art station to enjoy a quiet and peaceful place to work; his place is lined wall-to-wall with completed canvases. This year he participated in Big on Bloor selling his art, and is a staple in the Homes First wall at the Riverside Arts Market. He also shares his pieces on his social media, and gets supportive comments from friends and colleagues.

For Tesfa, his art depicts good and evil, and is a way of expression to speak his opinion spiritually, religiously and politically. A recent shoulder injury has made painting more difficult for Tesfa, but he hopes that his nomination, and possible win, inspires others and help him invest in himself to do more art, and start selling to galleries and art shops.

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