Saturday, November 25, 2006

Kwesi Afedzi aka George Hughes

Kwesi Afedzi aka George Hughes
QT | October 2004
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Kwesi Afedzi aka George Hughes

Q.1. Why did you choose to leave your mother country Ghana and head for the USA?

ANS. I am very curious. After receiving a Master`s degree in Art Education in Ghana in 1991 I decided to go to Europe - Paris, Boudreaux, and finally London to see for the first time the original works of Western and contemporary masters. I ended up living in London for two years during which time I met my wife Jayne originally from Ohio who was studying in London at the time. We lived in Ghana from 1993 to 1994 but found it practical at the time to relocate to the United States because my wife had College loans to pay in the States.

Q.2. What are the advantages of those that live in the US, opposed to those that live in a West African country?

ANS. There are both advantages and disadvantages to artists who live in West Africa and those who live in the US. In the US there are more galleries, art journals, critics, art historians yet the competition is very keen for the above opportunities. There is a hierarchy of opportunities available in the US and only few renowned artists benefit from them. Although West Africa may lack in some of the affluent opportunities that support art and artists, there is a sense of belonging within the artists who operate in their own countries.

Q.3. As an African/Black artist what part does race play in your work?

ANS. Every single piece that I have done is an expression of who I am, my heritage and my beliefs. The works are about my total being and my relationship with society and nature expressed in residual effect through colour and form. I hardly sit around thinking I am going to do an African/Black painting. I just paint. It is like combat, you react.

The paintings are layered technically and also thematically. The works involve all my experiences, varied processes, social, political, and psychological concerns. Race issues pop up every now and then. The paintings can be likened to a complex recipe. After the soup is done, it is difficult to separate the ingredients. The viewer has to approach my paintings like every other art form with an open mind.

Q.4. Segregation is epidemic in the United States, how does your work reflect this reality?

ANS. Since the onset of The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, several changes have occurred in favour of integration, however there is still discrimination in the United States against minorities. My works reflect integration rather than segregation. I combine all kinds of processes and imagery in an attempt to show the cosmic unity within our being and existence.

Q.5. Professor Ablade Glover founded the Artist Alliance in Teshey, Accra, Ghana. What effect do you feel this Institution has had in Ghana West Africa Africa and on a Global basis?

ANS. Artists Alliance Gallery for a decade has been a place where West African artists have shown their work. Galleries are invaluable to artists. West African artists need more galleries such as the Artists Alliance to represent them.

Q.6. What advise would you give to an artist working on the Continent of Africa?

ANS. They should keep working, seek innovative forms of artistic expression, avoid falling into a rut, and be open to documentation.

Q.7. Do you feel that there should be a genuine authentic African art market?

ANS. Yes. However some collectors jumble all the various art forms in Africa together, because it a lot easier than to carefully research their quality. For example crafts, folk art, sign writing fall within the same category as long as they are made by an African. It is ridiculous to the point where even fake poorly made contemporary art are valued sometimes as authentic. Whereas genuine contemporary works by trained artists are considered inauthentic, because they have been influenced by Western ideas. We do not condemn modern and post-modern Western artists for being influenced by African art.

Q.8. Are artists in Africa capable of joining the International Art Community and if they are how will they fit in?

ANS. Yes, African artists are capable of joining the International Art Community. There are several great artists of African decent working at this time. There is no doubt that they can compete within an International Art Community. I think more African historians, critics and patrons should get involved in promoting both traditional and contemporary African art. It is a good thing that several books have been written about traditional African art by Westerners. However very little has been written about Contemporary African Art by both African and Western writers. There should be more institutions such as museums, galleries and organizations set up in Africa to compete with the few institutions abroad that specialize in African art. It`s easier said than done. Most African countries do not have the economic resources to
fund and promote art.

Q.9. As an artist what value do you consider an African artist can bring to the International Art Scene?

ANS. Cultural diversity, mutual understanding, an open cultural dialog and divergent aesthetics.

Q.10. What is your interpretation of Contemporary Art and do you feel a part of that Western Art Movement?

ANS. Contemporary art may mean two things at the same time- significant art being done right now and/or modern art. I consider my work as contemporary but not necessarily part of a Western Art Movement. I don`t believe in movements sounds too early C20th, and it is limiting. I have done several projects that are purely self- exploratory and cannot be classified as part of or derivative of specific Western influence but rather of tribal or shamanistic origin. For example the ritual Ego Transformation performed at The Fred Jones Museum of Art in February 2004 was meant to purge my ego by the use of confinement, exposure and vulnerability.

Q.11. Airport Art or as I call it Artport Africa, was a phrase used in the late 60`s early 70`s. What combatants do you feel is needed to create a genuine art movement in Africa - the talent is quite noticeably there - this is a specifically focused on West Africa.

ANS. As I said earlier - more galleries, museums, and art publications. West African historians should develop interest in writing about contemporary African art. Most western writers confuse the eclectic art forms and genres and they just generalize. A typical analogy would be to categorize America music genres such as rock & roll, jazz, country, blue grass, techno, rap, rhythm and blues all with the same attributes but then pick blue grass as the most authentic. Some historians even avoid speaking with experts in Africa and would not even record what the artists have to say because it is not in their favor. More often than not some Western writers see folk art as the highest form of art that Africans can produce. To them any art forms in West Africa that shows traces of vanishing point perspective, or correct anatomical proportions is not genuine. They have become victims of previous ignorant and stereotypical beliefs concerning the capabilities of black people.

Q.12. Those on the continent of Africa feel that ART is about a Menu. If the Menu feeds the buying public, well - Why change it? Congolese Music is a wonderful example - Trapped Rotational Art. The scratched record - I once saw a man in Ghana painting with both hands the same painting on two separate canvases, a trick that is best seen in a Circus. He had sold a painting to a Westerner and painted the same painting over and over again. The issue, How does the artist break the chains of poverty and start to value him/her/self as an artist? is paramount. What are those in more beneficial seats outside Africa doing to ensure that art thrives on and off the Continent?

ANS. Breaking away from poverty has always been the plight of artists everywhere, more so in Africa. Until the economic and political climate of African countries are strengthened it will be difficult to promote and fund art programs on a national basis. Marginal success has always been achieved by individual artists whose dream still is to attain mainstream international acclaim.

The Ghanaian you saw painting with both hands- that is something you
May find in most tourist cities in the world. I have travelled to several cities abroad and you always see clownish feats done to entertain tourists. The art scene in West Africa is very diverse. There are artists who show their work by street sides and those who only show in galleries. Graphic designers inn West Africa mostly work on commissioned basis and sometimes do other imaginative work self-initiated. Exclusively there are artists such as Rikki Wemega, self-taught Wiz Kudorwor, college-trained who paint for themselves.

Generalizations are dangerous especially in African countries where you have so many ethnic groups, languages, customs and therefore a wide variety of art. Ghana is a small country yet has about 72 languages spoken by several ethnic groups. Sign-writers in Ghana are very popular with some Western historians, because the later has been conditioned by misconstrued beliefs, and propaganda to think that authentic art of Africa should be naive or folk-like. The truth is that most able artists of all cultures and origins are capable of expressing themselves in any stylistic form by volition. Artists who are well equipped may choose to be influenced by the art of children or the art of the insane or by the art of ancient civilizations such as that of the Egyptians or the Greeks. There is an evidential distinction that needs to be made concerning artists who consistently express themselves by means of a naive iconography and those who use correct anatomical proportions in their work. Both approaches evolve based on cultural, traditional, and philosophic orientation and has very little bearing in measuring authenticity. Authenticity has little to do with style, but rather an individual and honest compulsion to express built up aesthetic energy by means of an effective media and process with absolute conviction. Artists who repeat themselves might have said everything they want to say. However they are better off than those who quit working all together with no tangible reason.

Q.13. What role does poverty play in becoming an artist?

ANS. Poverty is not a very good experience because I have experienced it myself.
Not everyone can combine poverty with creative work. It has often been said that a certain amount of suffering is necessary to ignite the reservoirs of creativity. Beyond a certain point suffering can obviously be detrimental and destructive to the creative individual. Poverty can inhibit creative regeneration or stall conceptual leaps by reducing art to mere craft and canonical death. In periods of severe national crisis only a few artists emerge within the pool of creative genius by means of their resilience, vision, and hope. Examples of my personal experience with poverty will pale next to others, so I will not give examples of what I have been through. I have always countered my worse experiences as an artist with the age-old romantic view of the assertive artist who keeps working diligently hoping that in the future his or her works will be appreciated and rewarded. With this self-imposed fantasy, I never hesitated several years back to wash the dishes, clean to toilets, and stock merchandise in order to feed the family and art.

Q.14. From the African artists I have met to date they all seem to come from wealthy families and are able to leave the country at will. Who narrates for the poor of Africa and are the messages that we hear/see in the West clear ideas of the problems faced by those most troubled by those on the African Continent. Are there any success stories from those from the Ghetto Classes?

ANS. Personally I do not come from a wealthy background. I was lucky to have received a good formal and informal education through the encouragement and support of my parents. I took care financially of my brother and myself mostly through University by selling paintings. After that I saved money, bought myself a ticket and left Ghana in 1991 for Paris. I was just tired of doing commissioned work for my clients who were mostly Europeans.

I also wanted to know more about the world. I told myself `if I could sell that many paintings to Europeans in Ghana then I would even sell more in Europe. I was wrong.`

By not being an instant success I have matured effectively. I have also had more time to discover the significance of art to my personal freedom. Now I can say I am not afraid when I paint.

There are many success stories such as Phillip Kwame Apagya, and Kwame Akoto, to mention a few.

Q.15. On a more general basis how do you see yourself As a Ghanaian Artist or an African Artist or an International Artist?

ANS. All of the above.

Q.16. If you see yourself as an International Artist, what do you feel should be put in place to ensure that African/Black artist can be viewed as equals to their white counterparts?

ANS. African/Black artists should not be excluded from major international shows and publications in Africa and the world at large. Request seems like a dream at this time.

Q.17. Many in the West view your work as crude African art. Why is it that West African artists continue to shroud themselves in crudity and ugliness when in reality those in West Africa have the most clarity and understanding about the world as they live or have been brought up in Creation? [The Tropical Rainforest, where life began]

ANS. Not all West African artists paint crude and ugly pictures. Some of my paintings may be described as crude and ugly and I take that as a compliment, because I have come a long way to understand the extremes of the human condition and I have not hesitated to express myself vehemently. Not all paintings are meant to entertain or to sooth expectations. On the contrary art is a bridge between our physicality and the transcendental extremes of reality and the unknown. Crudeness is an informed reality and an experiential choice.

Q.18. How do you feel about being brought up in a Post Colonial Britain, Ghana, how do you feel this has affected you as an adult living in the USA.

ANS. I feel empowered and grateful to all the great leaders of Africa who fought for independence, and are still fighting against exploitation. I realize that not many people know about Post Colonial Africa. Many people outside of Africa have a `television` viewpoint of Africa safaris, and famine. I try to educate people who would listen, and also through my paintings I do not hesitate to incorporate cultural elements foreign to me. I am so much in love with the art of my African ancestors and I combine that with my experiences Ghana and that of my travels abroad.

Q.19. What role can the Western World play in the development of a genuine African Renaissance?

ANS. Any role that the Western World will offer in helping to resuscitate African Art will probably come from a humanitarian disposition. Help from the West can only come from institutions that are not in denial of the African predicament. I believe in self-help which leads to empowerment. African artists including myself should work harder in order to attract the needed support from African governments and also from International Institutions. Recent art text books published in the West have started including examples of art outside the Western hemisphere, which is a step in the right direction.

Q.20. What role does the African, outside Africa have to play to ensure the development of Contemporary African Art History, in terms of art, sculpture, political activism/thought and the inclusion to the rest of the World?

ANS:: An artists living abroad should create significant works of art and seek to exhibit their work more often. They should also be involved in documenting their activities. Furthermore they should exhibit their work frequently in Africa so that they can show the evolution of their work to those living on the continent of Africa.

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