Saturday, 28 June 2008

Owusu-Ankomah | Ghana/Germany

Source: Michael Stevenson Gallery

Born 1956, Sekondi, Ghana
Lives and works in Lilienthal, Germany

Born in Ghana shortly before the country gained its independence, Owusu-Ankomah enrolled at the Ghanatta College of Art in Accra in 1971. In his twenties he started travelling to Europe, and in 1986 he permanently relocated to Lilienthal, near Bremen, Germany.

Group exhibitions include the currently touring Africa Remix; the 2006 Dakar biennale; Journeys and Destinations at the National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC (2003); and A Fiction of Authenticity at the Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis (2003). He designed one of the official art posters published in conjunction with the soccer World Cup in Germany in 2006. His work was seen in South Africa in 1995 on the United Nations exhibition A Right to Hope which travelled to the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Over the past decade Owusu-Ankomah’s imagery has moved away from symbols and references that relate directly to Ghana and Africa, yet he has simultaneously nurtured his relationship with Ghana. In 2004 he held a solo show at the Ghana National Museum in Accra, entitled Heroes, Sages and Saints, and he visits and exhibits there regularly. His imagery in the early 1990s, soon after he moved to Europe, revolved around figures inscribed with traditional African designs and wearing masks. As his work evolved, he started decorating his figures with symbols from the 400-year-old Adinkra sign system – representing “proverbs, historical events, and attitudes as well as objects, animals, and plants”(1) – traditionally printed on textiles by the Akan people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Gradually the figures recessed into the grids of symbols, recalling textile patterns. In recent years he has introduced symbols from other cultures into his imagery. His choices range from antiquity through to contemporary culture, from African, Asian and European sources as well as graffiti and some scientific and technical symbols. In his experience, these symbols, interspersed to create a universal vocabulary, are remarkably similar to each other and illustrate the relativity of cultures.

Integral to Owusu-Ankomah’s work are ideas around rhythm and movement. He has titled many of his paintings from recent years Movement, and writes:

"We are tormented by movement. It being the genius of life, we enjoy its pleasures. There is even motion in repose. We are not motionless in death, we are in a state of transition.

To move is to strive for perfection. Music, dance and sports are an expression of the dynamics of movements.

The human has been on the move at all times. Movement of peoples, the shifting of cultures and religions. Free or forced migration of peoples is a form of movement".(2)

Male figures are set within the rhythmic grids of symbols, the partial outlines of their bodies refracting light. The figures are in motion, making gestures. His inspirations for these figures are diverse, ranging from the muscular bodies drawn by Michelangelo through to capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art which, disguised as a dance, once served the slaves of Bahia as an instrument of resistance. In his continual reworking of this imagery, he reminds us that we are literally entwined with our particular cultures and universal symbols.

(1) Mafundikwa, Safu, Afrikan Alphabets: The story of writing in Afrika (New York: Mark Batty Publisher, 2004), 33.
(2) An excerpt from a statement written for a panel discussion at the St Louis Contemporary Art Museum on the occasion of the exhibition A Fiction of Authenticity in 2003.

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