D.C. artist AnaYelsi Velasco Sanchez celebrated her first-ever solo exhibition at the Festival Center in Adams Morgan last month.
It was an honor, she said, until someone stole her artwork on Sept. 14.
“The two paintings that this person stole were on a wall behind the front desk,” she said. “He took one off the wall (and) slipped it into a bag. Then he took the other one and put it in the bag. And walked right out.”
Velasco Sanchez, whose art focuses on justice and liberation, said the theft occurred in less than three minutes. She has surveillance video of the thief but refuses to take it to detectives.
“I’m not scared to call them,” she said. “I’m not willing to call them. For me, the harm that comes out of engaging with police is much more violent than anything that has occurred.”
The artist was at a talk on policing and mass incarceration during the crime inside the Festival Center, she said. The center “serves as a hub for activists, artists and people of faith,” according to its website.
“I was really hurt,” she told WTOP. “But half of me (was) relieved that it wasn’t a member of my own community. It felt like a violation and not just of me and my art. But, of that space and what it represents.”
One of the pieces stolen was about police and state-sanctioned violence, she said. Her paintings are valued at $200 each. The thief’s motive for snatching her work is still a mystery.
“They might be an avid art-lover,” she told WTOP. “They might be someone who’s like, ‘Maybe I can hock this and get $20 bucks and get some food.’ Who knows what the motivation was?”
But Velasco Sanchez wants her work back, although she doesn’t believe the thief will return her art.
“I’m an abolitionist, but I’m also a realist,” she said. “I’m not laboring under some misconception that this person is going to suddenly be overwhelmed with guilt and want to have a restorative moment with me.”
The artist took to social media to post the video, asking fellow artists and neighbors to alert her if they spot the thief or her art. Some of her friends have also offered to get police involved. She has declined those suggestions.
“There is a strong misconception in our country and in D.C. that police keep us safe, solve crimes and recover stolen property,” she said. “None of those are true. I have more faith in my community rallying than I do in law enforcement doing anything.”