Friday, 14 September 2012

Adelaide Damoah in Conversation with Wiz

Art Success. Adelaide Damoah in Conversation with Wiz Kudowor


Born in 1957 in Takoradi, Ghana, Wiz Kudowor is one of Ghana's most respected visual artists. Kudowor's career as a professional artist spans more than 30 years and he has exhibited in more than 50 group shows and 12 solo shows around the world. Kudowor's unique works are held in public and private collections the world over. Public collections include Ghana's National Museum, China's Ministry of Culture, Japan's Osaka Prefecture Collection, and a public mural at Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. Kudowor's style is unique and instantly recognisable. His abstracted figures, faces scenes and shapes are created using a roller brush and pallet knife, creating bold paintings reminiscent of traditional Ghanaian themes while simultaneously referencing cubist and futurist styles. Kudowor kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his work and his thoughts on success in art with me.

Urban Funk 140x150cm

Adelaide Damoah (AD) : I read that you studied art at the Kwame Nkrumah College of Science and Technology. When did you decide that art was in your future?

Wiz Kudowor (WK) :Yes I went to the College of Art of the then UST, Kumasi(now KNUST). I completed my studies in 1981 and specialized in Painting. Art has always been a part of my life. I am one of the few artists from Africa whose story is not based on the system of parents trying to dissuade them from pursuing art as a career. I had been drawing and painting since I was a child and was very much encouraged by my parents to express myself through art. By the end of Secondary School, I knew art was definitely in my stars.

AD: How did you develop your particular technique (roller and pallet knife)? Could you tell me about your process?

WK: At college, I was doing strictly representational work, mostly satisfying the requirements of academic work. The roots of my current technique were however developed after graduation. I was inspired by Sami Bentil’s technique of using dots to create images and actually indulged in it for a while and became well noted for it. Being a restless being and finding the dotting process laborious and a bit too monochromatic, I began to look for new challenges and new ways to do my work with a lot more speed and still achieve the same result. The multicoloured bead-works from East and South Africa began to court my attention. I started to research ways to create the same textures with any tool I could lay hands on. The aim was to achieve the same pointillist feel. In short , the roller brush which came with all sorts of textures became my favourite tool for laying colour areas and the painting knife helped with details and finishing.

AD: What inspires your subject matter?

WK: My subject matter remained quite representational for more than ten years after school. My ideas were sourced from my immediate physical environment. I still source from my immediate surroundings but deal more with the essence rather than the physical .My environment therefore serves as a database for my metaphysical explorations into existence or life. Subject matter is served by my subconscious and experiences. I express ideas derived from what I read, feel, touch and see all mixed up and manifested as art. I Regard myself as a vessel that captures images from the energy fields around me and make it manifest for people to see. I do not reject the promptings that come to me, nor try to understand or explain the results.

Clan Gathering 120 x180 cm

AD: African Encounters refers to you as a "transcultural visionary." Why do you think that is?

WK: I don’t really know what “Transcultural visionary” means in relation to me. I may have to ask Ama De Graft Aikins who came up with that. However,I believe it is due to the fact that I translate, capture or source from any environment or experience I find myself in. I can’t really say!

AD: I read that you have been exhibiting for more than 30 years! Do you remember your very first solo exhibition?

WK: My first solo exhibition was in 1990 at the Centre for National Culture in Accra, nine years after I graduated from school. I was still very much into the “Dots Dynamics” as I called my style then. I had 36 paintings on display and the exhibition was only for three days which was all I could get from the Centre. I curated and financed every aspect myself and it was well worth it.

AD: Did you sell any work?

WK: I sold half of the work exhibited.

AD: What has been your biggest challenge to date as an artist? How did you overcome that?

WK: My biggest challenge artistically is that I am still trying to channel my energies along a defined path and be recognised for that. That is, being able to be selective with the ideas which come to mind to express. I am still stuck in there and enjoying the challenge because it allows me to explore my every whim.

Cultural Confluence 120 by 120 cm

AD: There is a perception that the public has about artists. That of the starving artist. Has this ever been your personal experience? If so, how did you overcome it?

WK: Most artists have had their starving moments especially here in this part of the world where there are limited or non existent resources for artists to access. I have faced moments of stark need , however, this has sometimes been out of choice, because I preferred spending my last resources on materials for work ignoring my own comfort. But, being a creative person, I have found ways of indulging in creative commercial art ventures.

AD: Could you tell me a bit more about these creative commercial art ventures, how they came into being and how they helped you to overcome the "starving artist" situation?

First of all Public perception of a starving artist has really never been directed towards me. People always saw me as doing well. I was the only one who knew what I was going through at all times. However, I did try to keep my head above water by identifying commercial ventures like translating some ideas I had at the time into post cards and general greeting cards... I designed textiles with screen prints for sale and also indulged in fashion. I started producing African print shirts and clotheslines for women.

AD: What has been your biggest achievement in your artistic career to date?

WK: My biggest achievement.... I wonder. I am still waiting for the “aha moment...” Seriously though, I think it will be that I have been able to stick with the art practice in this environment even in spite of all the obstacles. I have worked for 30 years as an artist and achieved some amount of recognition for it. That will be my achievement. I do have a few public commissions to my credit which I consider as a matter of course.

AD: I know one of those public commissions is the famous Relief Mural at the Kwame Nkrumah Museum in Accra, Ghana. What other public commissions have you had? How did you get commissioned to work on these public pieces of art?

WK: The Kwame Nkrumah memorial park relief mural was as a result of my first solo exhibition. The Chairman of the Commission of Culture then saw the exhibition and was so impressed that he pushed for this project which at the time was in the pipeline to be offered to me. Others were the Nestle new head office murals which was through a short-listed competition and the Volta hotel. The Akosombo commissions were just direct commissions.

Relief Mural: Kwame Nkrumah Mueum, Accra, Ghana. By Wiz Kudowor, Kofi Setordji, Sudzi Agbeko

AD: There is an almost palpable shift in the consciousness of the art world toward African art today with you and artists like the legendary El Anatsui, Romauld Hazoume and Brother Owusu Ankomah leading the pack. What effect do you think this shift will have on African artists going forward?

WK: I have always believed that Africa needs to put systems in place to appreciate value and accept our own art. The practice of waiting upon the Western Art Establishment to authenticate evaluate and validate our art in my opinion is outmoded. I sincerely believe I am one of those artists whose work is watched by the art establishment from the corners of the eye, like an accident waiting to happen. Not completely in the mainstream and not shut out as well. The new consciousness will open doors I believe for a lot of African Artists to grow yes, but how many will be able to sustain their craft when the tide changes(and it will change) is what I dread. The tendency is for a lot of African artist to crave acceptability in the West by indulging in activities or work that lacks character and identity. It is important for an artist to be himself and challenge his conscience every chance he gets. That is the essence and character of artistic practice.

AD: What effect has it had on your career?

WK: In terms of how this will affect me as an artist, I think I have already established myself as Wiz and just have to be accepted as is.

Migration Patterns. 120 x 180 cm

AD: Many artists of African descent are intimidated by the so called Western Art establishment, fearing that they would not accept them. As an internationally acclaimed artist, have you had any experiences that would substantiate that fear?

WK: The Western Art establishment have a right to stick with what they know and what they define as art. I do not see why artists should be intimidated by the spectre of Western rejection. African artists should also be able to define themselves and develop character and identity intimidating enough for the western establishment to desire like the legendary El Anatsui. Yes, I have offered my IP(INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY) on various platforms for appreciation and validation on a number of occasions. I did not get a definite response and therefore decided very early in my career to stick to what I know best, being WIZ. This is where I am.

AD: How would you define success in the art world?

WK: Success- I don’t know how that really relates. All I know is mine will be significantly different from another person’s success.

AD: Would you consider yourself a success?

WK: Having defined parameters for myself from the beginning in terms of being a professional in full time practice, I believe I have achieved some level of success. I will measure my success by how far I have come in terms of stick-ability, quality of work, general impact and level of recognition I have attained. I also affect the younger generation positively.

Sanctity of the Union. 150 x200cm

AD: What is the biggest and most ambitious dream you have for your work?

WK: My dream is to be able to affect the generality of the world more positively with my work and be the ultimate viable investment option for collectors worldwide in my lifetime. I am on track if you ask me.

Folklore. The Question of the Apple 150 x180 cm. 2011

AD: What advice would you give to young artists wishing to follow in your direction?

WK: For the younger Artists, there is no free lunch. When you want to impact the world,it is important to impact and impress yourself first, then the world will have no choice but to pay attention. Keep working and develop your intimidating character. Hard work,stick-ability and love of your own work. These carry you over any obstacle that will come your way.

AD: Do you have any new shows coming up in Ghana or abroad?

WK: 2012 is more or less a fallow year for me. I don’t have any shows scheduled. I am evaluating what I had at the end of 2011.I do have a few group shows to occupy me till the end of the year.

Folklore. The Tree of Wisdom. 100 x120 cm. 2011

Wiz Kudowor



The normal reaction when the African Space Research Programme (ASRP) based in Kampala is discussed is one of disbelief. But when international media houses – like BBC and CNN – start paying attention and Hillary Clinton decides to phone, people start to take it more seriously.

Chris Nsamba, the 27 year old from Kampala who heads the programme describes getting the call from Clinton as one of the most shocking experiences of his life. “She said congratulations on what we’re doing and asked me to ‘stop by and say hello’ when I’m next in the U.S.”

In the international press, the idea has been portrayed mostly as a variation of either sweet but ultimately doomed or downright crazy. Chris is well aware of the perceptions saying that they placed a poll on the ASRP website to get an idea of what Ugandans thought about the idea of Ugandan space research and exploration and about 70% just don’t believe it.

But this doesn’t dissuade him and he has a profoundly pragmatic approach to space exploration.

“The only thing we can do,” Chris says. “Is let what we do do the talking. It lets people know that we’re serious about our mission; that we’re focused on our work and we don’t mind what people think. Some people view us as heroes and some make fun of us. We just keep focusing on what we’re doing.”

Where did this compulsion to put Uganda in space come from? It started early. In his third year of elementary school in 1996 in the U.S. (primary 4), Chris built a manned glider out of Manila paper and then, ‘jumped off a small cliff’ in it. He was airborne for few minutes. From there he kept designing more complicated planes including remote control planes. As a child, Chris says he used to have arguments with his friends insisting that the sky was filled with ‘other worlds’ and that those worlds were grouped around suns that shone in the night. His friends told him that the stars were just small light bulbs.

Chris developed a strong interest in astronomy which he studied at the University of Texas before returning to Uganda and starting the African Space Research Programme. In 2011, the team built a small prototype thruster which they launched from Ntinda. Using GPS, they tracked it crossing the Kármán line (100km above sea level) which is considered the lower boundary between earth and outer space. Everything in the thrusters they made themselves – including the rocket fuel.

Chris thinks that space travel will become normal in our lifetimes. “Space travel isn’t a big deal,” he maintains. “It’s expensive because these guys sell the planes and planes are expensive. They aren’t expensive because of the materials but because of time, knowledge and technology invested. Right now space travel and tourism is way too expensive because all that technology is being sold at a high price. I’m not a rich guy and I launched a thruster into space. That shows you that it’s not expensive.”

At the moment the team (which consists of 38 technicians and 364 other people who support them) is working on the ‘Independence Mission’ where they hope to launch another space craft from Kololo grounds on Independence Day. It is hoped that the small craft will travel into the lower orbits of space with mice on board, take sampling of space dust and then the craft will be stalled bringing it back to earth. A video camera will be attached enabling Ugandans to see the travel from Kololo grounds to outer space. It is expected that it will take 8 hours, 45 minutes before they stall the engines.

To make his point about the cost of space research Chris adds that they’ve done some research and basic estimates place the Independence Mission project at between 2.8 to 4.9 million dollars. “We’re designing it for a few thousand dollars.”

In general space has always been viewed as the purview of governments – mostly because they’re the ones with enough money to do the construction and research – so how does the Ugandan government feel about the programme? Well, strongly enough to offer a $250,000 USD gift as well as giving permission from the vice-president to launch on Independence Day if the mission is ready.

The last, unanswered question is the ‘why’ of it all. Why start a space programme? “I wanted to do something for Uganda,” he says. “I’m trying to do my part. I want to get to be 70 and see that I’ve done something for my country.” He laughs, “I want to be a responsible citizen. My dream is to see our future generations reaching space successfully. My other dream is to see crafts manufactured in Uganda – scientific and space related crafts – not commercial space planes.”

When asked what he would tell kids in Uganda if they’re interested in space exploration and research he said, “they should try to become practical. In school guys learn all sorts of things that they can’t execute. They teach physics and how an engine works but then they can’t build one. They should become practically and build their expertise with their hands – not recording notes in books but learning practically and then they’ll design projects that are practical.”

Of all the things for which Uganda has gotten attention in the past year – Kony 2012, Ebola, not being Spain – the African Space Research Programme is by far the most inspiring. As Robert Kennedy said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” This could be Chris Nsamba’s motto as well.

If you’re interested in supporting the ASRP they accept donations by both Paypal and MTN Mobile Money. Chris can be reached at +256 (0) 775 517 1881.

To read the BBC article on the ASRP go to:

If you’d like to visit the African Space Research Programme’s website it can be found here: or you can read about them on Wikipedia:

David Adjaye Architect


Pieter Hugo's #NOLLYWOOD - The Devil is a Liar
Photo: Pieter Hugo's #NOLLYWOOD - The Devil is a Liar

Robin Riskin is travelling Africa.

Our inspiring Project Director, Robin Riskin, is on an African tour. It's been hard saying good bye. Help us wish her a wonderful trip. We can't wait to have her back!
She loves Nima
Photo: She loves Nima

The Art of Being Unreasonable

source: Wiley: The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking

ISBN: 978-1-1181-7321-3
192 pages
May 2012

Unorthodox success principles from a billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist
Eli Broad's embrace of "unreasonable thinking" has helped him build two Fortune 500 companies, amass personal billions, and use his wealth to create a new approach to philanthropy. He has helped to fund scientific research institutes, K-12 education reform, and some of the world's greatest contemporary art museums. By contrast, "reasonable" people come up with all the reasons something new and different can't be done, because, after all, no one else has done it that way. This book shares the "unreasonable" principles—from negotiating to risk-taking, from investing to hiring—that have made Eli Broad such a success.
  • Broad helped to create the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Broad, a new museum being built in downtown Los Angeles
  • His investing approach to philanthropy has led to the creation of scientific and medical research centers in the fields of genomic medicine and stem cell research
  • At his alma mater, Michigan State University, he endowed a full-time M.B.A. program, and he and his wife have funded a new contemporary art museum on campus to serve the broader region
  • Eli Broad is the founder of two Fortune 500 companies: KB Home and SunAmerica
If you're stuck doing what reasonable people do—and not getting anywhere—let Eli Broad show you how to be unreasonable, and see how far your next endeavor can go.