Monday, 27 October 2014

‘Kele’ | Dr. Atta Kwami’s fourth solo exhibition at the Beardsmore Gallery.

Rabo, 2014, acrylic on linen, 122 x 122 cm

‘Kele’ | Dr. Atta Kwami’s fourth solo exhibition at the Beardsmore Gallery.

The Show Kele (translated as ke-roots; le-exist) is the Ewe word for elephant grasses that reach their fullest height in the month of October | Black History Month throughout England. During this month in Ghana and Togo the elephant grasses are cleared in the minor or second harvest period and new corn is planted. Uprootedness, replanting and renewal are implied in this process of cultivation and these key aspects of life are of great significant to the artist, who splits his time between two countries and two opposing cultures - England and Ghana - Colonial and Colonized. Dr. Kwami was born in 1956, in a time of British occupation of Ghana and in this year Independence was claim on the Gold Coast under Kwame Nkrumah and full Independence a year later. Nkrumah gave birth to the idea of Pan-Africanism and the hope of a United Africa. 57 years on from those times Art is now the driving force for the Cultural Independence of Africa. Art is the root to all things and Dr. Kwami is in the glorious position to shape new ways of educating and revolutionary ideas of seeing. The time for Africans to learn about their Culture via SOAS (Part of London University) and elsewhere are almost at an end. It is the time for the Post-Colonialized to gain their true Independence by transforming and expanding the parameters of life and education, which are only half enjoyed, throughout the West Hemisphere. The pillars of Society are quietly creaking as we open up the idea of African Art. Exposing the chains that are so easily attached upon us all; forcing us to be apart of a mast that just keeps on whipping us. An Establishment that excludes the Continent and has even gone as far as building up a framework in order to keep Africa in the dark. Why do you think that is? What is so important about Africa? What has Africa got that the Establishment wants to hide so badly? It’s all about the Art, for authentic African Art is simply the freedom to be. It is not to be trapped and presented as scenes on a stage or on a page or even a tweet. The canvas can not hold these ideas for they are too Grand and high-feluted and so we must ask ourselves, how does Dr. Atta Kwami present these thoughts that occupy everything? How on earth will he be able to communicate this magnitude that is Art of Africa?

Having trained in England and written out his PhD via the Open University, Dr. Kwami is acutely aware just how rigid the West is. How narrow it is; streamlined down a tight-pipe, like sewage it runs and continues, seemingly, to flow forever in the favour of Post-Colonial eyeballs. With these thoughts in mind he constructs a series of paintings that serve as a mapping system as an Aid for a Western audience. Using only the visual bare necessities of the horizontal and vertical lines, which could also be seen as a loom of sorts; reducing the art down to its basic, a Modern African Abstraction, using a colourful binary system that acts like digital code in order to communicate. Dr. Kwami quietly explains his challenging ideas and concepts.

Gaining a Solo show outside the mainstream of controlled Post-Colonial Africa is quite something, especially in London. Here in England the support for Contemporary African art in the established art world is near to non-existent. The African stables are via the October Gallery in Holborn, Jack Bell Gallery in Mayfair, the African Rooms in the basement of the British Museum or via the occasional Nigerian Sponsored Bonhams Africa Now Sale, there are very few other places or individuals, that would dare to take the risk. Tiwani Contemporary in Little Portland Street, has taken an interesting approach in trying to fill the gap but although the artists are all of African descent, the art being produced is created by the brianwashed, Post-Imperial Art Colleges of the West, in Paris, London and even Oxford University. The practitioners all have a full understanding and a trained eye in regards to the successful Goldsmiths YBA artists of the 80’s and the constant following on from the 1920s Marcel Duchamp influences. It is understandable that black artists are not keen to be regarded as African as they have invested so much in becoming European. The necessity to be regarded as equal, in terms of their Art is imperative but that leaves the artists in Africa out on a limb. So it becomes clear we are at a turning point in the History of African Art.

“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history; teach you your true heroes; if they know that, that knowledge will help set you free.”
― Assata Shakur

Life is a series of complex systems. Industries if you like. You pay your way to educate and find yourself agreeing and accepting into a ghastly system. A system only allowing those that have financially contributed into it, to have a say. It excludes everybody else that hasn't learnt or coughed up the cash to support this broken system. All is so rigid and suffocating and in joining this kind of cult, so much of the rest of the world is lost. The understanding of happiness is denied or is regimented and regulated. The idea of rituals, worship and love of the natural world are blocked and our creativity is stunted. We need to jump out of this box, this terrible empty and lonely windowless white room. Although it is bright there seems to be no light whatsoever. In thinking about the way in which we approach Africa it is interesting to see how these ideas are paralleled by James Rhodes, the Concert Pianist who is campaigning for a similar approached to be taken up at the earliest of ages with musical instruments. “Don’t Stop the Music” Campaign. Of course he is correct in all that he is thinking. We must learn to dance on stilts, wear colourful trousers, drum and sweat and put on terrifying masks and learn what it means to be free.

*Michael Harris from Yale University states: “You might consider the philosophical writing of Rowland Abiodun who works to define African art within its cultural intention and language. Art is a verb, but the West tries to turn it into a noun.”

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