“Arising African Perspectives” – LKB Gallery’s Debut Exhibition

A new art space, LKB gallery, opened in Hamburg-Germany over the weekend with an impressive group show themed ‘Arising African Perspectives’. Featuring three innovative artists from the South Africa and Ghana, the gallery has taken the stride to build a trajectory with contemporary art from the global south – Africa and Southern America. Arising African Perspectives shows the works of Io Makandal, Vusi Beauchamp and Gideon Appah. Art lovers and patrons in Hamburg and beyond have a rare opportunity to experience and engage with the works of the three young contemporary artists.

The practice of the three artists featuring in this show require attention, and indeed they are part of a new rising breed of daring Africans using their artworks to respond to the varying socio-political issues in South Africa and Ghana respectively. Io Makandal employs different mediums and approaches in engaging with space, nature and art. The element of freedom is one she seizes in her experiments with colour and material in ways that has no limitations or inhibitions in probing humane relations with the natural urban landscape.

From Left to Right: Works by Gideon Appah, Vusi Beauchamp and Io Makandal  

Vusi Beauchamp’s unique projects of using spray cans and silkscreens in depicting figures and the environments for social-political critique is enthralling while visually engaging. Gideon Appah likewise showcases his Scrawl Paintings inspired from palimpsest-like lottery boards in urban Ghana. He presents other installations particularly made for this exhibition. These artists share a sense of nationalist responsibility as they use their artworks to create conversations around issues of major concern to them. Beyond their works being captivating, their works hold vital issues from their various societies worth discourse. The Exhibition runs until 27th May at the all new LKB Gallery in Hamburg.

Mike Sarkodie for Trove54 – mike@trove54.org
Pictures Courtesy LKB/G Social Pages

‘Details Matter’ – Ibrahim Mahama Presents Fragments at the White Cube

For the second time, I am meeting with Ibrahim Mahama in London for his new project at the White Cube. This time Mahama is having his debut at the White Cube which is also his first solo exhibition in the UK.  The Ghanaian, in recent times, is among the most exciting and prominent artists non-arguably. Mahama has had a busy exhibition cycle in the past five years and recently became the youngest Ghanaian artist to exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 2015 where he covered two walls with 300-metre-long jute sack hangings.

In a conversation, I ask Mahama if he was going to be in London to oversee the installation of his works. A resounding yes, was his response. He indicated to me that “details matter and hence he had to be there to make sure all was done right.” Perhaps it is the norm for most artists to supervise their exhibition’s installation yet this is quite different with Ibrahim Mahama. It is fascinating to discover the enormous concern and attentiveness Mahama gives to each project from its inception through to its installation. Mahama seems gripped with his art and this was obvious in every conversation I had with him. The issues shrouding his work which include civic trade, exchanges, time and capitalism occupy a stronghold on his mind and possibly inseparable from his personal outlook on many other subjects.

In conversation with the artist, whilst overseeing his White Cube installation, he walks me through new materials, objects and archival documents – some found, others created. He discusses with me the continuous evolution within his jute sack works and newer projects he is working on. A new element to the jute sack works are residues of tarpaulin, which like the juke sacks travel through various exchanges being used to cover food cargo and trucks in Ghana and later used by mechanics and domestically for covering various things. Additionally, found objects from an abolished rail station like leather seats have been reused on some jute sack works by Mahama. He exposes the failures of global politics and how that has shaped human experience in the last century. 

In dating his works, Mahama explains to me how controversial it is to tag his tapestries with a particular year because the process the work and materials have travelled through goes beyond years. This is a key topic worth discourse. Arguably, most artists put less emphasis on the process and strong focus on the finale work. Mahama attempts to raise this issue of time as he presents photographs and video documentaries of the processes of his projects in this exhibition. This is distinctive and fascinating. Another captivating project Mahama presents in this White Cube show is an installation from ‘shoemakers/repairers boxes’; wooden carrier boxes for cobbler related tools distinctive within the Ghanaian society. Mahama tells me that he has been collecting these boxes for more than three years. A part of this collection has been shipped to the UK for this installation. Scale is essential for Mahama and like the jute sack works, these boxes have been installed in a huge confronting wall which utilises space in an exciting way. He calls this work Non-Oriental Nkansa, named after one of his collaborators.   

The artist explains that “the boxes represent the failure of a system, a failure we haven’t yet acknowledged. The structures of global capitalism shift things such as the cosmopolitan life of the city and the structures that are built around it. The potential of these structures when you look at them beyond the chaos and the crisis is also interesting.”  Furthermore, these boxes represent residues of lives that have been lived and transformed as the boxes reflect the continuous exchanges between its owners and sections of the Ghanaian society.

The focus on detail presented in diverse ways within this project is worth acknowledging with serious contemplation. The works presented in this exhibition represent a thrilling evolution of an artist who is self-conscious of his economic and social realities alongside the political nitty-gritty of art. Ibrahim Mahama’s exhibition Fragments opened on 1st March and stays until 13th April 2017 at the White Cube, Bermondsey, London.

by Mike Sarkodie
mike@trove54.org

FEATURED ARTIST: GIDEON APPAH

BIO:
GIDEON APPAH. *Ghanaian Born: 1989

Gideon Appah has been working with mixed media and salvaged objects for the past couple of years. His work is greatly influenced by imagery and marks of temporary structures and informal signage of the socio-cultural/economic landscape of Accra’s urban spaces. A regular element in his works is numbers and signage which he derives from the lottery palimpsest boards found on lottery kiosks in suburbs of Ghana. Gideon expresses his ideas onto canvasses by a method of scratching through painted surfaces to reveal these marks whilst making additions of mixed media materials. He calls them Scrawl Paintings.

Education/ Prizes /Awards / Residencies / Interviews / Workshops

2016   Live workshop, Barclays L’atelier Residency, Bag Factory Studios, Johannesburg, S.A
2016   Barclays L’atelier Residency, Bag Factory Artists Studio, Johannesburg, South Africa
2015   Barclays L’atelier Art Competition, Johannesburg, South Africa – Merit Award winner
2015   Kuenyehia Art Prize, Accra Ghana – Top Ten Finalists
2014   Live workshop, Clay Objects, Past and Present Aesthetics, Nubuke Foundation, Ghana
2013   Young Generation Show, TV Africa, Accra, Ghana
2013   Be Bold Show, ETV Ghana, Accra, Ghana
*2008 – 2012: Student at College of Art. KNUST. Ghana.

Group Exhibitions

2016 Origins and Lineages, DF Contemporary Gallery, Capetown, South Africa
2016 ‘Kindle ‘, Gallery2, Johannesburg, South Africa
2016 Johannesburg Art Fair, Kuenyehia Art Prize, Johannesburg, South Africa
2016 Turbine Art Fair, Gallery2, Johannesburg, South Africa
2015 Da Vinci Gallery, Capetown, South Africa
2015 Barclays L’atelier Finalists Show, Absa Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
2014 Artists in Focus, Nubuke Foundation, Accra, Ghana
2012 End of year Show, KNUST Museum, Kumasi, Ghana

Solo Exhibitions

2013 ‘Sensation’, Goethe Institute, Accra – Ghana

Collections

Absa Museum. Johannesburg, South Africa.
Private Collections.

                                                                                                                                                                (All Photos Courtesy Artist)

Scratching The Art World – The Art Of Gideon Appah

Ghanaian artist Gideon Appah entered the spotlight when he became the first foreign artist to win the First Merit Award by Barclays L’Atelier, 2015. Since then, galleries and collectors in South Africa, Ghana and Europe have been chasing Gideon for his stunning creativity. Certainly, his practice is developing greatly and is undoubtedly among the exceptional artists to watch. In a brief interview with the artist, he tells me “Things took off after winning the award, yet, I have a lot to learn and a lot to explore; I haven’t really started”. Travelling between Ghana and his now newly adopted city Johannesburg, Gideon’s keenness with his practice is thrilling. He falls among the new breed of contemporary artists trained in the College of Art, KNUST, Kumasi – Ghana. This is where prominent artists like El Anatsui, Atta Kwame and more have come from.

             
In his most current project, Gideon is harnessing the ingenuity of lettering/numbering associated with lottery kiosks in urban Ghana to assemble striking paintings. He calls these works ‘Scrawl Paintings’. Gideon tells me that he is inspired by the non-preset mark making on lottery display boards which are the display or communication medium of lottery results in various suburbs of Accra, Gideon’s home city in Ghana. Scrawl Painting reverberates the palimpsest nature of the boards upon which these lottery numbers are superimposed. Gideon seems fascinated by these boards which routinely promise and reveal patterns that could turn out to be wealth/fortunes for some persons and disappointments for others who do not win the lottery. “I am inspired to investigate and reflect in my work these superstitious or perhaps calculative structures of the lottery system and its complexities that reveal lettering or numerical patterns that bear either fortune or misfortune.” However negative or positive the lottery structure may be, Gideon is intrigued and inspired by the anxiety and hope these palimpsest boards hold for some individuals from Accra and other West African cities which similar lottery displays. “I am drawn to the craftiness of these writings onto the lotto kiosks/boards; I appropriate the character and essence of these images, icons and skills for my projects.”

Inset: Gideon Appah, Worn Out Family
[Winner – Merit Award by Barclays L’Atelier, 2015].

 

Gideon’s works bear varying evolutions and superimposition of ideas, yet arriving at a unified complex piece that draws strong reflections when gazed upon. Reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s working process, Gideon’s works go through intentional and accidental markings while scratching away and adding to the canvas to reveal his almost tapestry-like palimpsests. He tells me that the most integral part of his work is the process which begins with visiting different spaces; recording ideas leading up to the finished work. “I write or sketch almost everything interesting, even if they don’t make sense at the initial point. I have reference books for gathering lots of ideas for new works.” Gideon further explains his process to me, that before he moves onto canvas, he gathers all the materials he needs, like printouts of lottery numbers, carton box labels, billboard papers, printed words, photographs, coloured papers and others. “Depending on what am looking for, I work out and experiment with my materials, sometimes using local Ghanaian dyes and coloured wax to transform my ideas into my materials. In essence, I give the character and aura inspired by my urban space to my materials.” Gideon tells me that as he explores and experiments, he engages his mediums and materials without inhibition, fear nor conformity.

 

    
    Sample Lotto Kiosks in suburbs of Ghana.

 

“These and other emotions are things I find within the palimpsest lottery boards as they hold varying emotions for varying people. These boards communicate the stories of many people unknown and unidentifiable as they keep evolving.  There is a strong conversation the images, letters, words and marks on these lottery spaces are communicating. I reflect these conversations in my work with free flowing marks, splashes and drips of paint, distortions, torn images, discarded and salvaged objects, collages and texts.” I am curious to know from the artist when he decides to stop his making processes and call it a finished work. “The integrity of the process is essential and there are a hundred ways of manipulating the works, it can be continuous. But in the end, you have to be satisfied with one point and that becomes the final work.”                       

Discussing Gideon’s development, he tells me of key artists who have influenced his practice. He mentions Andy Warhol; “I like his transformative iconic paintings; Anselm Kiefer is another, whose detail to process and vision inspires me likewise; Gerhard Richter, for his accidental squeegee paintings; Kerry James Marshall and Kehinde Wiley for their different perspectives on post-blackness; finally and very vital is El Anatsui for his sense of scale, technique and consistency.”

   

           From left to right: Gideon Appah. Untitled 7, (2016): Nsono Asaase, (2016); Untitled (2016)Untitled, (Scrawl paintings) No. 3. (2016); Untitled, (Scrawl paintings) No. 7. (2016); Untitled (2016).

 

Gideon is often described as an urban artist and upon asking him about this label, he replied; “My work has an urban feel to it because it borrows visual-cultural elements mostly from slum settlements in some places in Ghana. I would however not necessarily label myself as an urban artist. When I started out as an artist, I made works which had very little to do with the ‘urban’ space. I am simply a Ghanaian contemporary artist. However, my current projects are conceptually born out of the influence of imagery and marks of temporary structures, informal signage and a general deterioration of parts of Accra’s urban landscape.”

Gideon looks ahead excitedly about his future. He is currently investing in a new personal studio in Johannesburg, South Africa aside his studio in Accra, Ghana. His demand for exhibitions and fairs in South Africa and Ghana is high and he is working towards new exhibition projects for Europe whilst connecting with new collectors as well. Gideon’s versatility is identifiable even in conversation as he tells me; “I have learnt to adjust to any given space in order to send my message across – I envision my work to transform new spaces instead of being restricted to any form.” 

 

– Mike Sarkodie
mike@trove54.org
[Photos Courtesy Gideon Appah].
  

 
                  

 

 

FEATURED ARTIST: PATRICK QUARM

BIO:
Patrick Quarm. *Ghanaian Born US based Artist.  B. 1987.

Born and raised in Ghana and currently living in the United States, Patrick has explored the confrontation upon his identity living in a new culture and environment. This inquiry has led him down the path of self-discovery through the interwoven history of his home country Ghana and the contemporary American society. This history includes the colonial past, post-colonial identity and the contemporary collision of cultures that exist in the present American space, its impact on him first and generally on many persons alike. Patrick regards this as a hybrid identity. Thus, one that merges histories and experiences and evolves a unique third personality or character.  

For Patrick, this experience creates an opportunity to merge cultures, acculturate ideas and create a cultural dialogue; a hybrid culture. Through creating this dialogue with his works, Patrick identifies the hybrid as a subtle identity that is usually unnoticed yet resonates as a cultural reformation that lends itself to transculturalism, universalism and cultural conflicts. Patrick employs a juxtaposition of the traditional Western style of painting with African print fabrics as a metaphor to engage the dialogue of cultural hybrid and to compose an imagery that references the merging point of both cultures.

Education/ Prizes /Awards / Professional Experience

2015/16            Teaching Assistant, Fine Art – Texas Tech University. USA
2015/16            Helen Devitt Jones Talent Based Scholarship. Texas Tech University Texas. USA.
2015 –              Graduate Student (Painting) at Texas Tech University. USA.
2012/13             Teaching Assistant. College of Art, KNUST. Ghana.
2008/12           Student at College of Art, KNUST. Ghana.
2010                  Illustrator and a storyboard artist – MMRS Ogilvy (Internship, Accra Ghana)
                           Rolls Communications (Accra, Ghana)

Group Exhibitions

2015/16           Landmark Gallery, Texas Teach. USA.

2012                 End of year Show, KNUST Museum, Kumasi, Ghana
2011                  Illumination, K.N.U.S.T Museum, Kumasi, Ghana

2009/2011/2013 Art, Trade and Technology Fair 

Collections

Private Collections.

 (All Photos Courtesy Artist)

Acculturation of Photographic Realism: Historical Discourse of Ghanaian Art

Postcolonial Ghanaian art has grown through various aesthetic ideals from which the current postmodernist practices have evolved. Art in Ghana was and is often still synonymous with the daily lifestyles of the people and utilitarianism is chiefly associated with art making. “European art educators, anthropologist, collectors and writers spoke approvingly about the lack of separation between ‘art’ and ‘life’ in Ghana.” (Kwami, 2013: p.38) Ranging from the pottery, Asante Akua’ba dolls, Sirigu wall paintings of the Northern Ghana, canoe paintings of coastal areas, goldsmithing and kente weaving among others have been closely joined to society’s wellbeing and development. Modern artistic practices in Ghana developed through various transformations particularly after the contact with Europe and the acculturation of various aesthetics practices. Notable among borrowed aesthetic ideals is naturalism which consequently has become the foundation for artistic ingenuity among the majority of the Ghanaian artists and audience. In this brief essay, I discuss the adoption of mimesis and the desire to attain realistic accuracy inspired European contact whilst considering issues like commercialism and authenticity.

Ghanaian art historian Atta Kwami’s in Kumasi Realism (2013) categorises the varying artists in Ghana under the workshop-trained, college-trained and the hybrid (both college and workshop trained). Artists belonging to the workshop-trained system are often identified with mimesis and naturalistic paintings. I do not address chronologically the historical trajectory of realistic practices in Ghanaian art though but simply discuss some of the influences that have led to favourability towards mimesis and photo realism. The dynamics of acculturation and cultural diffusion bears influences on creativity in the Ghanaian contemporary art space. Acculturation, as explained in Advanced English Dictionary, relates to the process of assimilating new ideas into an existing cognitive structure (AED, 2014). And structure, in this case, would be referring to the pre-existing artistic culture that facilitated artistic expressions in the various cultures of the Gold-Coast. The assimilation of European artistic agendas into Ghanaian culture could be traced to the establishment of European curricular training institutions – one of such being Achimota College (founded on 5 April 1924). The nineteenth century saw the establishment of many educational institutions which eventually benefited from the British education code of 1887.

The introduction of hand-eye coordination technique in artistic training arguably ignited the urge for mimesis in artistic representation in the early twentieth century. Atta Kwami recounts that hand-eye coordination was highly criticised by George Stevens (an expatriate and the first art tutor appointed at Achimota College). Stevens regarded hand-eye coordination as an imposed model and sought rather for conceptual as opposed to the imitative (Kwami, 2013: p. 68). However, the assimilation of mimesis through the training curricular led to the development of a favourable appreciation of realistic works. The emergence of photography introduced by missionaries in the nineteenth century for documentation purposes also added to this. Photography brought the exploration of portraiture for state and personal commissions from the wealthy in society.

“The integration of a modern tool such as the camera into the life of West Africans was bewildering for some, even after almost a century of photography on the West Coast. Some observers were worried about a local West African shift to photographic realism.” (Kwami, 2013: p.38).

Over the years till contemporary times, the aspiration towards attaining photographic accuracy in painting consequently underpinned both the curricular of the art colleges and the workshops alike. Although no restrictions are placed on developing personal styles in both training avenues, attaining accuracy in copying images resonate as a great influence in achieving favourable recognition from a majority of art audience, tutors and patrons.  In his essay, “Reprendre: Enunciations and Strategies in Contemporary African Arts” (1999), V.Y. Mudimbe presents a categorization of the genres of African art that could also well describe the artistic scene of Ghana. Like Kwami, Mudimbe also discusses three trends. These are the tradition-inspired trend, the modernist trend and the popular African art trend. In relation to Ghana, the tradition-inspired trend could encompass works like stool carving, kente weaving and wall paintings of Northern Ghana. The modernist trend which he explains is usually made by formally educated artists will encompass the college trained artist of Ghana who explores most European originated styles. The third trend, popular art, Mudimbe deems it as the antithesis of the culmination of aesthetic acculturation (Mudimbe, 1999: p.37). Popular art in this sense would be regarded as “low culture”, with the tradition-inspired and modernist trend being the “high culture.” In Mudimbe’s words; “Popular art may simply be the art regarded with favour, sympathy, and approval by a given community… It may also refer to art that represents the common people… There is also a popular art suited to and intended for an ordinary intelligence and a common taste” (Mudimbe, 1999: p.39).
 

The urge to paint to suit the people’s preference and gain their admiration is undeniably high. This is where photographic realism in figurative painting comes in keenly. Allied to the popular art spree are the issues of economics and commercialisation. Making a living by the arts is another critical issue of the workshop artists and often the college-trained as well. The commercialization of art is a space where these two different schools of practice clash and compete. Making art that can be sold is a basic principle that the majority of art students of both training avenues are taught. Though in some lectures and discourses in the art college, the practice is not encouraged, it is still prevalent. Maruska Svašek in her essay “Identity and Style In Ghanaian Artistic Discourse” (1997) recounted an occasion where an art tutor of the College of Art, University of Science and Technology (the only art degree-awarding institution in Ghana) have warned their students about the harsh reality of the art market. “Most foreign buyers were not interested in purely abstract art because they did not perceive it as ‘typically Ghanaian’” (Svašek: 1997) – a tutor confided in Svašek. This therefore often pushes many artists in pursuit of “popular taste” in order not to incur the risk of not selling.

Particularly in the workshop system, commercialism is not a taboo, rather a positive sign of success. Yet again, commercialism and creativity are not mutually exclusive. Hence, photographic realism in commissions of all genres, which Mudimbe sees as “Popular art”, comes with no prejudice for most workshop artists. Bob Acheampong, an artist who is schooled in both the workshop and the College (what Atta Kwami categorises as the ‘hybrid’), affirms the quintessence of market demand to Atta Kwami in an interview. “What the market needs is what we provide”, he states. (cited in Kwami, 2013: p.288)

Maruska Svašek mentions in his research that the college-trained artists at some point regard the informally trained artists as “commercial copy-artists” whilst defining themselves as free individuals, creators of non-commercial but genuine art (Svašek: 1997). This is questionable because the college trained artists do likewise sell their works yet the difference could be the patterns and mode of transactions. Controversially, some western curators rather regard the workshop-trained artists as “genuine artist”. This is argued on the basis that the college trained have been influenced extensively by westernised ideals. Likewise, this is also debatable since the workshop artists may perhaps not be influenced by western theory yet are influenced by styles and mediums of European expression as encountered to educational catalogues and other publications.  1989 France exhibition Magiciens de la Terre serve as an ever strong case study within this historical context. The exhibition received huge critique for not selecting college-trained artists in Ghana to participate. Rather, workshop-trained sculptor Kani Kwei who produces functional funerary arts represented the contemporary art of Ghana. Decades of debates on issues of curatorial autonomy, misrepresentation and misinterpretations would follow after this incident. Similarly, the same criteria of disregarding the formally trained artists were used for other African states. Hence drawing huge criticism from the body of African elite who felt the chosen participants in the exhibition were not a fair representation that captured the then contemporary art of the African continent. In Okwui Enwezor and Olu Oguibe’s (1999: p.9) words:
 

“…a closer examination [of the participants from outside Europe and North America] would reveal that the enterprise [of Jean-Hubert Martin, curator of Magiciens de la Terre] failed in its method, because it not only retained those impulses proper to modernism, it misinterpreted the most productive arguments of postmodernism via postcolonial discourse by playing into the hands of a form of postmodernism that Fredric Jameson would call sheer heterogeneity.”

The antagonism initiated by exhibitions like Magiciens de la Terre among the diverse artistic practice in different parts of Africa, and in this case Ghana, would continuously receive reviews. Research works like Atta Kwami’s Kumasi Realism (2013) dealing with the dichotomy and relationship between these two artistic training avenues (the college and workshop system) consciously builds upon a soothing process of the hidden yet prevalent rift between the two art worlds, the university campus and the city/street workshops in Ghana. The element of Acculturation finds itself deeply rooted in the developing art history of Ghana.

To a degree, acculturation of photographic realism fosters the characteristic of possessing on one side, exhibition focused approach to art practice and on another, a solely commercial approach. Arguably, this forms part of the canonical framework of practitioners of both the workshop and the college system. Art, as encountered by the majority Ghanaian populace is through the storefront outdoor exhibitions of the workshop artists due to limited exhibition spaces. With the exception of people who have experienced exhibitions from the art college or other cultural outfits, the workshop exhibitions serve as a didactic educative avenue on art for many. The incorporation of mimesis and naturalism into the artistic development of Ghana has had both merits and demerits – on one side it generates a market/income for the street and even college painters through commissions on advertising, portraiture and landscape paintings aiding their survival and further practice. On the other side, a disadvantage would be the static appreciation majority of the populace have developed towards naturalistic art as the superior canon and automatically forming an instinctive prejudice in many towards other forms of creativity; like abstract or conceptually-led artworks. The consistent production of the “popular art‟ to some degree enforces an obvious development of bad taste among the general public.

 

NB: [Solely for educational purposes. This piece is an extract and re-edited version of the writers’ unpublished postgraduate dissertation completed in 2015. No portion of this material should be used without consent]


Bibliography

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus (2014), Application Software, Available from: http://play.google.com/store (June 2014).

Ghana – History and Background (n.d). In State University. Available from: http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/529/Ghana-HISTORY-BACKGROUND.html (July 2014).

Kwami, A., Kumasi Realism, 1951-2007: An African Modernism, (2013: Hurst).

Mudimbe, V.Y., “ Repredre: Enunciations and Strategies in Contemporary African Arts” in Oguibe. O. and Enwezor, O. (eds) (1999) Reading the Contemporary: African art from Theory to the Marketplace, Institute of International Visual Arts [inIVA], London, pp. 31-47.

Oguibe, O. & O. Enwezor, (1999) Reading the Contemporary: African art from theory to the marketplace, Institute of International Visual Arts [inIVA].

Svašek, M. “Identity and Style in Ghanaian Artistic Discourse”, Contesting Art. Art, Politics, and Identity in the Modern World, ed. Jeremy MacClancy. Berg Publishers, Oxford, 1997, pp. 27-62.