It was the perfect balance of contrasting, yet complimentary styles, as two young, female, indegenous artists, and graduates of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Department of Painting and Sculpture, Lois Arde-Acquah and Theresa Ankomah, unveil their authentically Ghanaian bodies of work at the opening of the Nubuke Foundation’s Young Ghanaian Artist (YGA) 2021 themed ‘Look at WE’.
Following a two-year hiatus for the renovation of the foundation’s campus and the advent of COVID-19, the YGA 2021, which was set up to prepare artists for their career journeys, saw pieces by the artists sprawl across the expansive grayscale, concrete edifice.
During the ceremony held at the foundation’s campus at East Legon, its director, Odile Tevie stated that the programme seeks to give young artistes a safe space to acquire a sense of direction, as they are often inundated with numerous, and sometimes conflicting ideas of what areas to focus on.
“We work with self-taught artists and artists who have formal training, and whilst formal art education provides a solid foundation, artists can be overwhelmed as they have so much you have to deal with. They struggle with questions such as ‘what is my language?’, ‘what do I want to say?’, ‘what is my voice?’, ‘where is my authentic spot that I am springboarding from?’,” she said.
She further indicated that the exhibition component of the programme allows for significant growth for the artists, as they are presented with more responsibilities, have their bodies of work open to real world appreciation and offers them the platform to monetise their offerings.
“Art goes beyond aesthetics, the goal for the artists is to see them have holistic growth. To grow at a personal level but also seek ways to grow the entire ecosystem, other artists and lay down the marker for younger ones and invariably allow them earn their due.”
Despite the constraints brought about by the ongoing pandemic, which has seen the foundation limit the number of viewers at the gallery to a maximum of 10 at a time, Ms Tevie was confident of the success of the exhibition and expressed belief that the innovations in technology brought about over the last year will be crucial in shaping exhibition experiences in the near future.
At the exhibition, patrons are greeted by the kenaf basket weavings of Theresa Ankomah, which appear to provide shelter to the building from the sweltering Accra sun.
Following her love for the arts, which was nurtured in her formative years at James Town, Ms. Ankomah proceeded to KNUST, where she first interacted with the kenaf baskets on an artistic scale for the first time. Used to transport onions, primarily from Niger, she saw the potential for beauty of these discarded baskets on her visit to the Anloga market in Kumasi.
Employing different techniques such as twisting, weaving, stitching and knitting with jute ropes to realise tapestries, she dyes some of the baskets into different colors such as yellow and blue using local Sundine dye.
“For this exhibition, the two facades of Nubuke Foundation’s gallery are draped with tapestries. In this context, the artist is exposing her works to the harsh conditions of the weather even though the materials are biodegradable. The exhibition space then becomes a place of knowing. Of learning.
Under the partially raised reinforced concrete storey building structure, the artist hangs folded onion baskets like chandeliers. The contrast of shadows cast by the different refractive effect of colour light bulbs, and the dyed onion basket add to the perception of the work.
The basket retains carrier plastic bags that are used as personal identifiers in the market. When transporting their onions, traders tie the bags to the baskets for them to recognise their goods. But here is the paradox. Ankomah, to elevate her materials from craft, uses the element of functionality or the decorative to point to the art,” the Foundation said of her work.
Further in the gallery, patrons are stunned by the sharp contrast of Lois Arde-Acquah’s painstakingly overwhelming black rubber drapings.
Drawing inspiration from her childhood, when she would jab pieces of paper in angst, the KNUST alumnus would connect the holes that were created to form patterns. She would later transfer this skill to the imported synthetic leather, ubiquitous among shoemakers in Kumasi.
Of her piece, the Foundation stated, “In the main gallery, Arde-Acquah drapes the interior with cut out synthetic leather. The draping is done in a way so as to invoke an impression of a jungle. In that fashion, some of the drapings fall off like a leaf in the forest.”
Complementing the draping was a stunning performance where she cut some of the synthetic leather, which employed theatrical elements such as spotlight, platform and the draping as the curtain.
“The ability to draw the audience into theatrical performances with singing, clapping and responses mark Akan theatre differently from its Western counterpart. When Arde-Acquah and the audience interact, there is the potential that the audience will contribute to the work even if they empathise with the artist’s self-affliction. Or when they urge the artist to stop working.”
The theme ‘Look at WE’, which is defying of English grammar rules, was chosen as an expression of ‘breaking the rule and pushing the boundary of art making.