Abekyelesh Belay



Abekyelesh was born in 1986 in the village of Tzalga in the Samen district of Ethiopia. When she was 6, she witnessed her father knifing her mother to death, as she was holding her baby brother in her arms. Two years later, Abekyelesh and her eight brothers and sisters found their way to Israel. Abekyelesh wandered amongst several orphanages until she found her place in a special program for gifted children of Ethiopian descent at the Ramot Heffer Boarding School in Kibbutz Ma'abarot, where her unique talent for expressive painting was discovered. But that was not the end of her troubles.

She and her eight siblings immigrated to Israel in 1994 without parents, having lost her mother at a very young age. She was moved around to various boarding schools until she became part of a unique project for gifted Ethiopian adolescents at the Kibbutz Maabarot boarding school in Ramot Hefer.

Upon arriving in Israel, she was renamed Rebecca but has changed her name several times, returning to her original Amharic name, Abekyelesh Kidan Balay, which reflects the qualities of purity and clarity. Abekyelesh showed an interest in the arts from an early age from the time she was first exposed to the world of art, crafts and the theater. In Ramot Hefer, she began devoting herself to painting, drawing at first on large canvases using watercolors – aquarelle, a medium that has become dominant in much of her work. 

At 17, Abekyelesh was raped outside her boarding school and two years later, a fire that raged through the building destroyed all of her paintings. Abekyelesh was admitted to the prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design when the horrors of her life began haunting her. She suffered from depression and anxiety, had trouble sleeping, and was finally admitted to a psychiatric facility. The antidepressant medications she received caused her to lapse into hypomania, which led to another hospitalization. In the following decade, Abekyelesh was hospitalized seven times, three of which following suicide attempts that miraculously did not cost her life. All the while and despite all this, Abekyelesh kept on painting, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences and Humanities, and secured her place as a respected painter, whose works were featured in several exhibitions and garnered universal acclaim.

The creative drawings of Abekyelesh are expressive and unique, covering a vast range from figurative to abstract. Her work is spiritual and inspiring, depicting social, family and personal themes changing and expanding as she does, both as an artist and a woman.

Abekyelesh Kidan Balay is an exciting artist and an autodidact, exploring and discovering the world through reading, music and the cinema. She recently completed a B.A. degree in humanities and social sciences at the Open University.

Abekyelesh's expressive paintings forcefully convey that which is impossible to articulate in pictures and words. Her abstract Africanesque images are filled with grief, anguish, and desolation as well as fortitude, beauty, faith, and hope. And with the very meaning of Abekyelesh in Amharic, which is pure and immaculate.

Works in the collectionView all