Legends, Curating, Material – Abena Otema Danquah, BArch 23′
I got the opportunity to meet with THE Wiz Kudowor. I don’t even have the words to capture the greatness and impact of his artistry, but he’s one of the legendary Contemporary Artists to come out of Ghana, West Africa and beyond. Wiz and I met on a Wednesday afternoon in his studio and spent almost 3 hours going over his work, his journey as a contemporary artist, Pan-Africanism and identity through our work/ vice versa. I was literally all smiles through the meeting, so excited to be in the same room as this pioneer in the industry who had so much wisdom to share. We bonded over our shared love for painting as he showed me his various works, our thoughts on some of the newer artists and the amazing work they were doing and how much the Ghanaian art world keeps evolving. Particularly in West Africa, it was interesting to hear how when he was starting off in his career, most of his work was either exhibited in the US, Asia and within the African continent, Nigeria. Focusing on Nigeria in particular, we acknowledged how impressive the Nigerian art culture and appreciation was and still is, to the point where Ghanaian artists were so valued in Nigeria during the earlier days in his career because the Ghanaian art market itself was still growing. Interestingly, to this day Nigerian art markets and culture still continues to evolve so beautifully, and we conversed about how good it is to be seeing some of that energy reflected in the growing Ghanaian art world also.
I think something that really stood out to me during our conversation was how important it was to have representation from curators, dealers, gallerists and even admirers coming from the region (Ghana and West Africa). Conversations about exploitation of local artists and artisans are not had enough. Even with more and more local curators starting shop and setting up their galleries and offices in Accra and other parts of Ghana, there are still some notable Gallerists and galleries that are taking advantage of the “African Art” (a tag we both expressed funny thoughts about haha) excitement in the art world and making more profit than the artists who are underexposed and super excited to share their work. I mean business is business in the industry, but there is also an element of care and hopefulness that comes from curators and dealers of the same culture as the artists wanting to share the works for the passion, sweat, relatability and connection of and to the work. Regardless, I personally am glad to see more galleries like Artists Alliance by Professor Ablade Glover, The Noldor Residency and the woman run ADA Gallery sharing the works of the artists they have in residence while also uplifting their lifestyles and potential! I think this was important to document in my journey because a huge aspect of this project is not only to give a few artisans the opportunity to have access to larger markets through the diaspora and locals. It’s also to highlight how important and beautiful it is to support their work, engage willingly and purely with their talent and stories and to share and love the work because it is a representation and documentation of our collective pasts, presents and future through their talent.
ABURI – JOSHUA OHENE
I also took a trip outside town to the mountains in Aburi because I’d heard a number of artisans usually set up their work stations along the roads. I met one especially cool man, Mr Joshua Ohene, who shared had a variety of works from large scale drums to stools, all carved by him. He is Akuapem, a tribe from the Eastern Region and a lot of his work captures tales and narratives passed on generationally. He actually learnt how to carve from his father! I was intrigued by the process that goes into his carving, from having to get a permit to go into the forest to chop the wood, the process of preparing the wood before its carved to how they now go about deciding what narratives to tell in their work. ‘Struggle Woman’ was one of the works he described to me, where he was capturing the life of many women he saw around him in his community. Carrying her child on her hip and a basket on her head to sell in the market (not with the intention to glamorize her struggle I think, but rather to acknowledge the sacrifice and hard work of a lot of the women in the community, being care takers and bread winners also ). Most of our conversation was in Twi so the direct translations can be interpreted a little differently. I was very drawn to his narratives and work generally, and being one of the first artisans I had to communicate throughout in Twi, it almost felt like I was really just learning from an elder or grandparent about our art culture – more specific to the Akuapem region of course – but it was really cool seeing how narratives that you’d typically hear in our oral histories are being inscribed and detailed into these pieces.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how while I’m learning so much from some of the people and artisans I’m meeting along this journey, it would be interesting to see how their work could be brought together in a space or an event to promote not just their market bases, but the lessons, educating and just warmth and knowledge that comes from encountering these creators and their works. Also, I think moving forward another direction I’d like to take is perhaps meeting with people already doing curatorial work and learning how they not only gather information form their experiences (related to this project), but also how to intentionally create impact through their curating, be it from the artists to spectators/ consumers or just in the work gathered (still figuring out my thoughts on this but basically, some guidance from people already in this line of work or doing similar projects might be really cool in shaping the experience)!
Initially I had wanted to add a study on local architecture in this experience (largely for personal reasons relating to my architecture experience + general growing interest in local architecture). I decided to focus on the artisans and artists this summer, however I still got the opportunity to visit a few sites in the Dodowa area where a lot of building techniques and old buildings have been preserved for some time. I’m glad I got to explore these sites as I got to see how people in the area were. still practicing what i would describe as rammed earth methods of building coupled with the now typical cement support to almost achieve some sort of balance either in starting off to build or in terms of building maintenance. Super cool! Especially seeing how these methods transcended between building home like structures to even cooking ovens and shelters for gardening. I’d love to explore more of that in the future I think.