DESSA is the pseudonym for artist and author Deborah Sharon Abeles, who was born in 1948 in Southern Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe). After high school, she lived in Israel from 1965 to 1976 where she studied Occupational Therapy. The following four years she spent in Paris, and in 1981, moved to Switzerland with her two children. Of a multi-cultural background, she became a Swiss citizen in 1983 and lives in Pully with her husband Hervé Petroz.

Since 1986, over fourty exhibitions and presentations of her work have been held in museums, galleries and concert halls in Europe. Her first exhibition in Berlin, at Galerie Bremer, took place in 1994. Since 2005 she has a second studio and home in Berlin.

Early life

Dessa was born into a Jewish family in Southern Rhodesia, the daughter of a Polish mother and a Hungarian father, who completed his medical training in Italy. Her father established the first private medical practice in Bulawayo for Black Africans. As a young child, Dessa had instruction in ballet and piano, the latter playing a central role in her art.

After matriculating she lived in Israel from 1965 to 1976, where she studied occupational therapy. In 1977 she moved to Paris and then to Switzerland in 1981, becoming a Swiss citizen in 1983.


Dessa grew up in a society determined by racial divisions. This experience is reflected in her art, which synthesizes associations and transcend borders. Her creative output reflects her cultural diversity, both in the choice of her subjects (through which she explores her identity), and the mediums and means of expression she utilizes. In her early period she explores the relationship between visual art and music.

Many works from this period arose from meditations on specific works, complemented by musicological research, resulting in paintings in which the music guides her artistic expression.

Composers whose music has inspired visual responses include Béla Bartók, Leonard Bernstein, Ernst Bloch, Benjamin Britten, Unsuk Chin, Detlev Glanert, Dominique Gesseney-Rappo, Erich Korngold, Gustav Mahler, Olivier Messiaen, René Oberson, and Nino Rota. The scope of her work has expanded since 2000, as her works take on a profound historical dimension, integrating copious research as well as rare archival materials.


Projects connected to Music

Gustav Mahler
Das Lied von der Erde

Olivier Messiaen

Ernest Bloch

Chinese music for Er-hu,
a two stringed violin (created in Hangzhou, China)

Nino Rota
Concerto per Archi

Leonard Bernstein
The Age of Anxiety

Bela Bartok
Concerto for Orchestra

Viktor Ullmann
2nd Symphony based on Piano Sonata No. 7 (I called this project “A Legacy from Theresienstadt”)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

René Oberson
La Porte Mystique

Music and paintbrushes
live performance with music of Dominique Gesseney-Rappo

Unsuk Chin & Detlev Glanert
ParaMetaString & Vergessenes Bild (I called this project “Composition”

Benjamin Britten
The Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from the opera Peter Grimes (I titled this project “Do we smile or do we weep?”)

live improvisation between painter and musician

With Ukraine – Part two: Hidden Secrets of the Desert.
Music by Olena Leonova

Projects on Remembrance, History, Hygiene, Nature

With Ukraine – Part one: Resistance

A Legacy from Theresienstadt

A Tribute to Kaufhaus N. Israel, Berlin

From Hygiene to Art (an exhibition in collaboration with the Museum of Pully)

Stolzesteine/Stones-of-Pride: Hommage an das Kaufhaus N. Israel

The Art of Remembrance: Alice Salomon

Land Escapes

Japanese paintings