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'Art' of Diplomacy on Display in Washington

  • Suzanne Presto

Art has a way of bringing people together, and that was on display at the fifth "Festival des Artistes" in the U.S. capital where members of the diplomatic community - representing more than 20 countries - showcased their talents.

Gisele Essongue was among the artists at the festival, hosted by THIS for Diplomats. The group helps envoys and their families adapt to life in the United States.

Essongue creates intricately beaded necklaces, bracelets and dangling earrings, but that's not her day job. She works at the Embassy of Gabon in Washington.

Nan Coughlin, the event's organizer, said art brings people together because it transcends language.

"I think when you move to a new country, like the diplomats are doing, you want to get a sense of community," she said. "This really brings them all together, and they get to show their talent as well."

Community and Commentary

The artists at this festival showed their paintings, jewelry, fashion, sculptures and ceramics at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington.

Valeria Caflisch was one. She has traveled extensively with her husband, who works at the Swiss Embassy. Her brightly colored paintings depict a cartoonish frog prince holding a heart that says "kiss me" and a wide-eyed pig holding a heart that says "hug me." It's a commentary on what Caflisch described as the "overwhelming emotion" on display in the United States.

"When you go to the supermarket, people ask you, 'Oh, how are you today?' and everybody wants to hug you, but nobody shakes hands, for example," she said. "So this exchange of saying hello is completely different here than what I experience somewhere else."

Caflisch said the artists in the diplomatic community frequently have to take time off from their work because they relocate every few years.

"That is what we have in common," she said.


Art can serve as a connection. Sohna N'Gum of Gambia works with textiles that remind her of her homeland.

"I grew up all over the world, and I always wanted to feel connected to the African continent," she said, "so I started getting things tailor-made in the Gambia using African fabrics, and people started getting interested in them."

She's a clothing designer now and crafts garments from fabrics that her father acquired during his travels.

"The great thing about an event like this is that it's international, and it helps people. Americans, get to know about cultures they might not necessarily get to experience," she said.


Jewelry-making is one of Etik Witjaksono's hobbies, but she didn't pick it up in her native Indonesia.

"I just learned when I was in South Africa for the first time when my husband was defense attaché in South Africa," she said. "I learned together with my friends."

Sharing culture, for these artists, is part of the art of diplomacy.