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Teklit Zecarias Debrezion: dreams meet determination

Chris Pepple | 

There’s a small home on an isolated hillside in Eritrea that will one day be recognized as the birthplace of Teklit Zecarias Debrezion, a junior at Lipscomb University. He seems destined to be one of the great artists of his generation. His homeland of Eritrea already honored him with a national postage stamp depicting one of his paintings. When his work graces the walls of galleries around the world, people will marvel at the strength of his dreams and the power of his determination as he pursued his artistic goals from a war-torn nation and followed his dreams to Lipscomb University.

Debrezion was born in the ancient nation of Eritrea, located along the Red Sea in East Africa. At the age of one, his family moved from their rural home to Asmara, the capital city, which reflected the nation’s cultural diversity. Eritrea was first an Italian colony, then ruled as a British protectorate after World War II. Following a United Nations resolution, Eritrea became part of a federation with Ethiopia in 1952. Eritreans rebelled, however, and a thirty-year war began in 1961. Eritrea gained international recognition for its independence on May 24, 1993, though Eritrea considers their date of independence to be May 24, 1991. In 2001, Debrezion won an art competition which placed his winning painting on an Eritrean postage stamp celebrating ten years of independence from Ethiopia.

“I was ten years old when we gained independence,” Debrezion said. “I realized that many talented people died on the battlefield. When the fighting stopped, artists and musicians who had survived as soldiers returned to our cities. They taught again and exhibited their works for us. It made me appreciate what talents people had to offer.”

Debrezion knew he wanted to be an artist even before the war ended, however. “I started drawing when I was young,” he said. “I used one side of my school book for schoolwork and the other side for drawing. I was 15 when I went to my first art training. I got a certificate for attending a program that is like a summer program here in this country. It wasn’t part of my regular school year.”

That training compelled Debrezion to seek further art education. When he was accepted into an art school, he knew he was on his way to seeing his dreams fulfilled even though still surrounded by challenges in Eritrea.

“I studied with three Chinese professors who were asked by our government to come to our country to form an art school. Language was a barrier, but we learned from their actions, watching what they did. I was one of eighty chosen out of 500 entrants. This program became a wonderful fine arts school in my country.”

In 2002, the Debrezion family moved to Nashville. Lipscomb University opened doors for Teklit to continue his pursuit of his dream of becoming an artist. He accepted a position with the facilities department and enrolled as a student majoring in art.

"Teklit brought a lot of artistic knowledge with him from Eritrea and his work ethic has been a professor's dream. I truly believe his natural talent coupled with a strong desire will open many doors for Teklit's future as an artist," said Cliff Tierney, assistant professor of art at Lipscomb.

Since coming to Nashville, Debrezion’s paintings have been featured at exhibits on the Lipscomb University campus, at local galleries in Nashville and at the Green Hills branch library. His work can be purchased directly from Debrezion or through the International Art Gallery in Nashville.

“Teklit is an exceptional student who is a dedicated and talented worker. He has a deep passion for art which is evident in all of his pursuits. This passion and dedication help him to continually succeed,” said Laura Lake Smith, chair of the department of art at Lipscomb.