Mahader Tesfai, an artist, moved to New York City two years ago. He came to visit and just ended up staying. He grew up in the Bay area of Northern California, living in Oakland before making the move to the city. He developed as an artist and made most of his art there, in California. Originally, Mahader is from Eritrea, a country in West Africa that borders Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Red Sea. He came to the United States as a young boy, and grew up speaking Arabic and Tigrinya, making English his third language.
He didn’t always know he wanted to be an artist. Growing up, Mahader always had an interest in becoming more knowledgeable on black art movements and African art, but actually creating art didn’t begin until after college. In college he studied Black studies, and graduated with a degree from UCSB (Santa Barbara). It was during his time in University that his interest in the connections between art and politics, and art and history developed. After college he picked art up as a hobby and it quickly became an all consuming passion—painting, illustration work, and connecting art with the community he is a part of, moved him to continue on his artistic journey. Mahader hadn’t taken art classes or developed any practice until these post college years when his artistic tradition really came into fruition.
Mahader’s art is symbolic, emphasizing monochromatic, line heavy, geometric patters centering on found objects and political statements. While his style and inspirations vary project to project, his work is filled with abstract portraits and activism. Over the last three years his new style and the projects he has been focusing on emphasize his more homochromous style, in addition to exemplifying his newer focus on engravings and symbolism. Tesfai started off in illustrations and paintings, but his current work centers mostly on the detailed engravings mentioned earlier. That being said, he is still open and looking to explore different mediums. Currently, he works out of Flatbush in Brooklyn where he lacks the space necessary to experiment with more sculpture and metal work—mediums he is hoping to explore in the near future. But as Mahader says, there is so much that inspires him that he has to focus on depicting what is inspiring at the moment he sits down to create.
Tesfai wades through a world of constant creativeness, inspired by artists in different mediums, his peers, in the moment inspirations after shows, and his African heritage (specifically, the language systems in Africa and the writing system Ge’ez, ancient hieroglyphics of Egypt, and other art forms and systems that have been around for thousands of years on the African continent). When it comes to harnessing these ideas, Mahader says, “I believe in the process of habitual art making.” Sitting down to create is a big part of his daily practice. Since he has a busy job working in education as a college counselor for high school and college students, waking up early or staying up late is sometimes necessary to stay devoted to his artwork. “Working in the nonprofit sector as an artist, your time is pulled in a lot of ways,” Mahader describes. But he focuses, “Just making sure that I am taking some time every day working on my projects.” His process, once he sits down each day, is fluid. Mahader has more projects and ideas than time, so he uses his dedicated structure to chip away on the things that he is able to each day.
Most recently, his work can be seen in collaboration with Zion’s Ambry, a lifestyle brand. Mahader and Odellia (Zion’s Ambry founder), worked together to create a fashion line. Mahader’s signature geometric style can be seen in the silk screen, gold lined, prints of the fashion forward yet modest clothing found at zionsambry.life.
“My goals are pretty simply I guess,” Tesfai begins while introspecting on the future, “I want to and am interested in developing my craft more; sharing with people, specifically the art work that I am doing right now, to really use it to adjust to the things that I think are important. I want to have art work about identification as an African and a black person and the beauty of black and African culture, and addressing these stories and narratives that are not in the spotlight.” He plans to continue to collaborate with other artists, non-profit organizations, etc. to engage with the world politically and socially and bring people into the fold in order to have much larger dialogues. Mahader wants to use his artistic prowess to create pieces on Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and other prevalent issues impacting the black community within the United States.
“I want my art to be relevant and speak to the social context that I live in,” Mahader declares.
Mahader is currently working on a new project—a solo show that is more in the vein of the work you can find at Zion’s Ambry.
Instagram account/Social Media - @mahadertesfai mahader.com