As the lights dim, visual artist Elsa Robinson sets up her easel and canvas, clicking paint brush handles together and twisting open jars of paint. Her daughter, spoken word artist Shima Robinson stands confidently in front of the crowd, notes in hand, preparing herself for the performance ahead. A large partially finished painting acts as a backdrop to the creativity about to unfold in front of the audience gathered at the Nina Haggerty Art Gallery, the venue providing an intimate setting with standing room only. The collaboration was a first for this mother daughter pair. “Shima presented three poems at the show. I read through the poems with her prior to the show and selected the words and or phrases that struck a chord with me,” says Robinson. “Those are what I used to create the painting.” As Shima performed her spoken word pieces, Elsa Robinson worked on her painting, brushing on symbols and colours that directly connected to words or themes her daughter was exploring in her poems. “We presented themes of strong family and mother daughter relationships, the sacredness of colour and the beauty of trust,” says Shima Robinson. “She used words that honoured me publicly and that was humbling and very special for the both of us. We shared a very personal relationship in public and that was a good feeling,” says Elsa Robinson.
Elsa Robinson was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. After taking a few art classes in high school and post secondary, she moved to Edmonton in 1984, the same year she welcomed her daughter Shima into the world. Robinson went on to earn her Bachelor of Education Degree at the University of Alberta in 1990. After nearly a decade of teaching, Robinson’s artistic curiosity caught up to her when she completed her first painting in 1999. Continuing to work and support her family, Robinson built up her collection of paintings eventually selling prints and t-shirts of her work at local markets. In 2008 she was nominated by a friend, for the City of Edmonton Cultural Diversity in the Arts Award. Robinson would go on to win the award, which came with enough financial support to allow her to focus more fully on her art. Wanting to gain a formal art education, she decided to go back to school earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Art and Design from the U of A in 2013. With such a long list of accomplishments, it’s not hard to imagine how Robinson’s daughter must look up to her. Shima Robinson beams as she describes how her mother has contributed to her own journey as an artist. “She definitely blazes the trail, and not just as an artist, but as a woman, a professional woman, a strong woman, a black woman,” says Robinson. “She models so many qualities that are necessary for getting through and being exceptional.” On the other side Elsa Robinson is just as eager to express pride for her daughters accomplishments. “It’s a beautiful thing,” says Robinson. “She’s using her poetry to heal and my intent with my art is to heal so we connect on that level.”
Shima Robinson first became interested in spoken word poetry as a Bachelor of Arts student at the U of A. She met a collective of artists focused on producing music, meaningful writing and engaging spoken word performances. From there she began to explore the poetry world, eventually hosting open mic nights at venues around Edmonton including the Naked Cyber Café on Jasper Avenue, the Naked Café on 104th Avenue and The Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse on Alberta Avenue. Like her mother, Robinson has a passion for bringing art to the people and currently teaches an ongoing poetry workshop for youth at Boyle Street Community Services Coop. “My goal is to be able to guide people, to act as a counsel of some kind to young people who feel like they have something to say that isn’t being said and where to go from there,” says Robinson.
Both Elsa and Shima Robinson say that coming together to perform was an extremely rewarding experience. “It was very powerful for me to work with my daughter and for us to share through our respective artistic voices which are both very strong,” says Elsa Robinson. “Over all I felt pleased and honoured to present a work of art with my mother,” says Shima. Both look forward to collaborating in the future. Their presentation was featured as part of the 2016 SkirtsAfire herArts Festival. The festival takes place in the heart of Alberta Avenue and features the work of women in theatre, music, dance, visual art, comedy and spoken word.