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Biography

Ficre Ghebreyesus populated his works with intricate, highly personal experiences as a citizen of the world. Born in Eritrea during their War of Independence (1961–1991), he left as a teenaged refugee to Sudan, Italy, and Germany, before finally settling in the United States where he received an MFA from the Yale School of Art, and was awarded the Carol Schlossberg Prize for Excellence in Painting at graduation. Ghebreyesus continued his lifelong activism for Eritrean independence alongside studying painting, printmaking, several languages, and working as the executive chef and co-owner of New Haven’s Caffé Adulis. Operating fluidly between abstraction and figuration, Ghebreyesus’s matte acrylic and oil paintings suggest the non-linear form of dreams, memories, and storytelling. Momentarily recognizable figures dissolve into colorful patterns: a school of fish becomes human bodies in transit or a boat emerges from brightly hued woven shapes echoing Eritrean textiles. His rebuke of borders and divisions seems to be distilled from his own optimistic embrace of an identity and home perpetually in flux.

While Ghebreyesus turned down most opportunities to show during his short lifetime, recent solo institutional exhibitions of his work include Ficre Ghebreyesus: City with a River Running Through at the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, California and POLYCHROMASIA: 

Selected Paintings by Ficre Ghebreyesus at Artspace, New Haven, Connecticut. Galerie Lelong began representing the Estate in 2019 and held the solo exhibition Ficre Ghebreyesus: Gate to the Blue in 2020. Ghebreyesus’s work will be included in Recent Acquisitions at the Yale University of Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut (February 25-June 26, 2022) and has previously been shown in museum collection exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland and Rollins Museum of Art, Winter Park, Florida. His work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Illinois and California African American Museum, Los Angeles, California. In addition to the above museum collections, works by Ghebreyesus are found in the collections of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York, and the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Writer and poet Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir, The Light of the World (2015), chronicles her husband Ghebreyesus’s life and work. In 2022, Ghebreyesus’s work will be showcased in the 59th Venice Biennale, The Milk of Dreams.

Ficre Ghebreyesus was born in Asmara, Eritrea, in 1962, and died in New Haven, Connecticut, in 2012.

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